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© Cape Times Friday 30th October 2015 I’ve had a very bubbly last few weeks.The Amorim MCC Challenge results came out...

Celebrating bubbles

© Cape Times Friday 30th October 2015

I’ve had a very bubbly last few weeks.The Amorim MCC Challenge results came out (congrats to all winners), the Nederburg Auction served one of my favourite fizzes, Scintilla, non-stop to very thirsty guests, Avondale’s Armilla won a major international award and two icons of the SA world of bubbles celebrated Silver Jubilees with two great events. For me – any excuse to celebrate with bubbly is a good excuse, but there’s no denying that these two events were slightly better than most.

First up was the celebration of Pieter Ferreira’s 25th vintage at Graham Beck Wines.  It’s hard to imagine the world of Cap Classique without thinking of Pieter and his passion for his wines, his cheeky sense of humour, his super-cool footwear and his genuine joie de vivre. When he first started out at Graham Beck Wines in 1990, Robertson was neither well-known for Chardonnay, nor MCC and there can be little doubt that Pieter’s efforts and achievements have helped put both on the map. MCC is such an important and growing category in SA and this is a lot to do with his enthusiastic chairmanship of the MCC association, which all makers of MCC are well-advised to join, offering guidance, advice and continually-driving standards upwards.

Graham Beck Wines is littered with accolades and testimonials of the great and the good around the world with the brand being chosen by royalty, presidents, film stars and more. They do three different tiers of wines, very much like most of the top Champagne houses in France, but at the recent celebration lunch they opened something which makes me think they should create a fourth tier of wine as well. My favourite wine from their stable has always been the Blanc de Blanc and for their celebrations, Pieter opened a 1992 which he had recently-disgorged. It reminded me of some of the finest P2 Dom Perignons which I was lucky enough to try earlier on this year – rich, savoury, salty, creamy – a wine to dream of over and over again. Graham Beck RD anyone? I’m right there.

Also celebrating 25 years in the business this year is an equally well-loved name – Pongrácz. Pongrácz winemaker, Elunda Basson, has a while to go to equal Pieter’s record but she is nevertheless one of the longest-serving winemakers for the brand. Created 25 years ago in honour of Desiderius Pongrácz, a Hungarian viticulturist responsible for many of the vineyard practices still used today. ‘Pongie’ as he was known, was a larger-than life character and the celebratory party was all about being bold, over-the-top and exciting, matching the three wines in the Pongrácz range to different tapas nibbles. The prestige Desiderius with its very distinctive bottle was launched in 2002 (the 2003 won Museum Class in this year’s MCC Challenge) and in 2009 the rosé Pongrácz was born.  The wine is now sold in 49 countries around the world with Africa being the fastest-growing region, making for a proudly South African story all round.

With new MCC’s being launched almost on a weekly basis, it can be easy to forget such stalwarts as Pongrácz and Graham Beck, but I think the importance of having a brand and a winemaker solely-dedicated to crafting fine MCC cannot be overstated. People tend to think that if they can make wine, they can make bubbles, but this really isn’t the case – sure you can have the odd flash in the pan, but to consistently top the awards lists around the world takes serious knowledge, concentration and effort. Staying put and getting really good seems to be the recipe for success in the world of MCC so happy anniversary Pieter and Pongie – may you continue to rock and rule the roost for many more years to come.

© Cape Times Friday 15th February 2013 When is champagne not champagne? When it’s an MCC of course. If...

Cape Sparkle

© Cape Times Friday 15th February 2013
When is champagne not champagne? When it’s an MCC of course. If you have no idea what I’m talking about – not to worry, it’s a subject that often confuses a lot of people. Champagne is a region in France and the term ‘Champagne’ can only be applied to wines made there. Here in South Africa, we make sparkling wines in exactly the same way as they do in Champagne, but legally, we have to refer to them as Methode Cap Classique – ie, made in the classical way in the Cape. So now we’ve got that confusion cleared up, onto the wines themselves which can also confuse and bemuse! Take one of our foremost MCC producers, Graham Beck Wines, for example. Currently they have seven MCC’s on the market, covering a bewildering gamut of different styles and tastes. A recent visit to the farm in Robertson threw up a few new favourites, and since my fizz-drinking is never confined to just one day a year, this is what I shall be drinking post-Valentines this year.

Unlike most still wines, the least expensive sparklers are often the ones which involve the most work. Pieter Ferreira, cellarmaster of Graham Beck, has been making MCCs there for over 20 years and his entry-level non-vintage MCC, which comes in both white and pink versions (R105 for both), is the one most people buy – production is now at a staggering 90,000 cases per year. Unlike a lot of other styles of wine, Pieter’s job here is to ensure that when you buy a bottle of this wine, it tastes exactly the same as the last bottle of it you bought. Consistency is the key – after all, MCC often denotes a special occasion and the last thing you want is yours ruined by your celebration fizz – and Pieter must bring all his years of experience to bear to keep it tasting the same, year in, year out. He does this by a process called ‘back-blending’ which means that every year he keeps some wine in reserve and he adds this in differing proportions to tinker with the next year’s blend and make the final wine taste the same as all the others.

It’s a tough job – which I know people never believe when you say that about anything in the wine industry – and can seem almost prescriptive for a winemaker, in that they don’t have the chance to put their own stamp on the house style. That privilege is reserved for the vintage wines and prestige cuvées which is where Pieter is able to pick and choose the most interesting parcels of wines and turn them into something spectacular. His current drinking favourites (and mine too, I must say) are the 2008 Blanc de Blancs and the 2006 Brut Zero – more confusing terms! A Blanc de Blancs simply means ‘a white wine made from white grapes’ which seems rather obvious, until you remember you can make a white wine from black grapes. The 2008 is 100% Chardonnay and has been in the bottle for more than 3 years. It’s a rich savoury wine with flavours of toasted almond croissant and a lemon meringue pie finish. Costing R205 from the farm, it is well worth splashing out on.

Pieter’s other favourite of the moment is the Brut Zero 2006, where the ‘zero’ bit refers to the fact that there has been no sugar added to the wine, something which commonly happens with most styles of MCC or champagne. This means that it is a delicious, tangy, yeasty, bready mouthful which cries out for a salty oyster and which lasts forever in your mouth. Also costing R205 from the farm, this is something to savour slowly with someone special. Who cares if Valentine’s Day was yesterday – I refuse to pander to the dictates of petty commercialism and shall be drinking this tonight and any other night I feel it’s appropriate. And I think that might be pretty often…..

St Cyprian’s School PA ‘Bubbly Tasting’ with Steenberg Vineyards & Graham Beck Thursday 10 May (6pm for 6:30pm) Venue:...

Let’s get fizzical !

St Cyprian’s School PA ‘Bubbly Tasting’ with
Steenberg Vineyards & Graham Beck

Thursday 10 May (6pm for 6:30pm)
Venue: The Voorkamer
St Cyprian’s School
Gorge Road

Hosted by Cathy Marston (wine educator, Cape Times wine columnist and wine editor of Food24.com),
this is a unique opportunity to taste leading South African Cap Classique Sparkling Wines presented by
John Loubser (the General Manager of Steenberg Vineyards)
& Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira (Graham Beck cellar master)

Bookings: email susan.litten.agent@gmail.com.
Tickets include tasting of 6 sparkling wines plus cheese and biscuits, and great lucky draw prizes.

In the words of Damon Albarn, I ‘know my claret from my Beaujolais’ but frankly any excuse for a...

Ooh la la!


In the words of Damon Albarn, I ‘know my claret from my Beaujolais’ but frankly any excuse for a wine festival will do me even if it is one involving barely fermented grape juice with dodgy Gothic text labels. So Friday night saw me, along with some like-minded Francophiles, heading to the French ambassador’s residence to celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau on these shores. The great and good of Cape Town appeared to be there including some notable wine folk (Lowell Jooste from Klein Constantia, Pieter Ferreira from Graham Beck and John and Lynn Ford from Main Ingredient), media darlings (Priya Reddy and her lovely chap whose name I am sorry to say I never remember) and 300 other thirsty and hungry people. The evening was balmy and warm, the Pastis and Beaujolais were flowing freely, the band was playing charming background music and the MC had graciously apologised to all Irish people present for the football results and had promised not to sing any national anthems, so all seemed good.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a big deal in the UK with people racing to be the first to drive the stuff from the depths of Burgundy to London, preferably wearing fancy dress and driving a vintage car. Normally held on the third Thursday of November, I suppose it is allowable to give them an extra day to get it to the depths of Africa, and in any case, partying on a Friday is always more fun. All seemed well until the food came out. People were starting to circle like vultures, hovering over the delicious trays of Jambon Persille, Terrine, Camembert and delicious Pain au Raisin. After taking a titbit or two, we graciously stood aside to let the rest of the queue have a go, thinking we would make polite conversation and come back for more later.

BIG MISTAKE!! By the time we muscled our way back through the chomping crowds, our stomachs were rumbling, but the platters were bare. It appeared the plane over here was so full of wine, they forgot to load enough of the delicious imported charcuterie and cheese we had been promised. The only answer seemed to be to appropriate 3 full bottles of Beaujolais to assuage our disappointment, hide them in the large red bags advertising an international moving firm which were handily being distributed, walk out with our heads high and our bags clinking and drive off to Bardellis for pizza. We had a great night in the end even if it was atrocious value for R250 a head plus the pizza on top of it all. So vive la France, I suppose, but vive even longer the Italians say I!!!