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Texas Wine Lover devotes a lot of space to Texas sparkling wines and published a list of Texas sparkling wines in August. Back in 2018, Carl Hudson wrote a thorough article about Texas Pét-Nat. Occasionally, Texas Wine Lover publishes wine reviews for wines from regions outside of Texas. These reviews expand our vinous horizons beyond our borders. Today my focus is a sparkling wine made in South Africa by the acclaimed wine estate Graham Beck.
What is Cap Classique?
In 2021, the Cap Classique Producers Association will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cap Classique, a term that is unique to South Africa. It indicates that the wine has been in the same bottle from start to finish. The second fermentation happens in the bottle, just as in Champagne. The bubbles in the bottle are the result of fermentation, not artificial injection of CO2. It takes at least nine months to create a bottle of Cap Classique, and many times much longer. Rather than calling their winemaking technique “Methodé Traditionnelle,” producers developed the new name “Methodé Cap Classique.”
Cap Classique is the fastest growing category in South African wine. Only wines that satisfy strict requirements are eligible to use this term and the related logo on the label. With the tagline “perfected by time,” Cap Classique producers have made an investment in production methods and winemaking techniques that enhance some of the finest grapes in the land.
Graham Beck is celebrating 30 years as a Cap Classique producer this year. The late Graham Beck came to winery ownership after many other successful careers. From the start, his goal was to make sparkling wine the flagship wine of his wine estate. He certainly accomplished that goal. Graham’s son Antony is now at the helm of the organization.
The Graham Beck Brut NV (Non-Vintage) is made up of almost equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Brut indicates that the wine is dry, and this wine has just 9.2 grams per liter of residual sugar. Alcohol is a modest 11.85%. Like most sparkling wines, a low alcohol percentage means fewer calories and fewer intoxicating effects.
Flavor wise, the Graham Beck brut provides aromas of lime zest, brioche, and stone fruit. On the palate, it has a creamy richness and the delicate structure of a fine Champagne. After having spent 15-18 months on the lees (spent yeast cells), the wine imparts a yeasty characteristic that is also reminiscent of Champagne.
Non-vintage on a wine label indicates that the wine is not from one harvest year, but from two or more. This common winemaking technique allows sparkling wine producers to maintain a house style that can be replicated year after year. It is not clear from the technical sheet how much reserve wine is used.
This wine is the entry level Graham Brut sparkling wine. Averaging around $20 per bottle, it is certainly a good value when compared to Champagne or most American sparkling wine made in a traditional method. The full Graham Beck lineup includes vintage sparkling wines as well as my favorite style, brut rosé.
Production of this wine is approximately 250,000 bottles / over 20,000 cases. It is widely available in the United States. Retail price: $17-$22
South African wineries have suffered tremendously in 2020 as COVID precautions led to a governmental shutdown of all alcohol sales and exports in March through mid-August (with a brief reprieve in June). Losses across the wine industry are estimated to top $460 million. By reaching for a South African Cap Classique wine, you help an industry that is struggling to rebuild. I’ll drink to that!