A few months ago saw the passing of one of South Africa’s pre-eminent wine producers and social philanthropists, Graham Beck, at the age of eighty. Mr. Beck was a self-made entrepreneur who prided himself in bringing jobs to thousands of people and thereby improving their lives. His varied investments and interests included renovations, the mining industry, international thoroughbred breeding (he owned the Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Kentucky) and – beginning with the purchase of the Madeba farm in Robertson in 1983 – the wine industry. He later became a partner and then owner of the Douglas Green Bellingham winery, which he sold in 2006, and bought and developed important properties in the famous South African wine areas of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Constantia.
Having a bold and insightful approach to life, his dream was to produce wine to the “highest possible standards.” He was a recognized leader in environmentally friendly farming in South Africa. As he states on some of his labels – “Farming in harmony with nature means healthier crops, more responsible wines and a better life for future generations.” The Graham Beck Winery will continue to operate as it always has, in respect of the final wishes of its visionary leader. It will continue to be “A South African Family Winery.”
With this in mind, let’s look at some of his excellent wines –
Steen (a.k.a. Chenin Blanc) has traditionally been South Africa’s claim to white wine fame, but few can stand up to the quality of Graham Beck’s Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2009 ($15.99), which shows ripe pineapple, melon, peach, and honey flavors on the nose, is full and juicy on the palate, and has a crisp and refreshing finish. I don’t know anybody who’s tried this who hasn’t loved it for its bold fruit flavors and crisp acidity, including myself.
But don’t forget that South Africa makes some excellent Sauvignon Blanc too, and a delightful one is Graham Beck Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($13.99). Originating from their Franschhoek winery, this wine has typically grassy, green fig and gooseberry notes on the nose, followed by tangy tropical fruit on the palate. Enjoy this one as an aperitif, or at lunch with fresh figs, parma ham, and calamari salad.
Traditionally, Pinotage has been the red grape that was South Africa’s own, but watch out for their Shiraz, which is even better. The Graham Beck Varietal Selection Shiraz 2004 ($13.99) is a real beauty. Using both open fermenters and submerged-cap tanks for flavor enhancement, the wine is matured for 12 months in French and American barriques, and has rich, spicy flavors and complex layers of ripe fruit tannins. Pair this wine with grilled meats, venison, rich casseroles, Carpaccio, and smoked fish dishes.
A class wine that drinks very easily is the Graham Beck Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($11.99). This is a blend of 61% Shiraz and 39% Cab which has a rich and spicy Shiraz nose with layers of berry flavors, and supple Cabernet Sauvignon fruit and tannins. Perfect with lamb, veal, duck, or roast chicken.
The big boy among the reds is the Graham Beck Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($17.99), which has a great complexity of black berry fruit and cassis on the nose, spicy mineral and cigar box flavors, a rich, juicy, intense palate, and a long lingering finish.
With the end of year holidays coming up, don’t forget the sparkly. Amongst my favorites right now are the Graham Beck Brut N/V and the Graham Beck Brut Rose N/V (both $17.99). The Brut is made from 53% Chardonnay and 47% Pinot Noir, which of course are the major Champagne grapes. Made using the traditional method, the wine underwent secondary fermentation in the bottle and was left on the yeast before degorgement. The Brut Rose is 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir and has an alluring silver-pink hue, a nose redolent of raspberry and cherries, and a hint of minerality. Flirtatious and fun, yet elegant and structured, both sparkling wines are perfect for all seasons and settings.
–Bill Stobbs, Wine Supervisor, West Coast/South
Note: all prices and vintages reflect what we have on our shelves today–they are, of course, subject to change.