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Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Graham Beck, who died last July at the age of 80, made a large fortune out of coal-mining in Northern Natal and was well-known as a breeder of racehorses, but he is probably best remembered today for the fine wines that have emerged from the estate which he established nearly 30 years ago at Robertson, followed later by another at Franschhoek.

Graham Beck Wines now produces a wide range of about 30 different wines, and the establishment had the distinction of being represented by its wines at the inauguration ceremonies of both President Nelson Mandela and President Barack Obama. The cellarmaster, incidentally, is Pieter Ferreira, who was born and bred in Durban.

When our private tasting group met recently the host, Alf Sudheim, presented an interesting and most enjoyable selection of Graham Beck wines.

We began with the Graham Beck Rose Brut, a Methode Cap Classique sparking wine made from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. This was a distinguished starter, a delicate pink colour with raspberries and cherries in the bouquet and the taste. It retails at about R80 a bottle.

For the tasting proper we were given three whites and four reds, all with the Graham Beck label. As usual, the tasting and scoring were blind, the order of the wines not being revealed until afterwards.

Identification was no problem with the whites; I think all eight of us named them correctly. Top marks among the whites, and indeed in the entire tasting, went to the Sauvignon Blanc, an outstanding example of this cultivar, herbaceous, grassy, with fig and gooseberry features. Price: about R57. The other whites tasted were the Chardonnay, matured in French oak barrels for nine months, with citrus and lime on the nose and palate (R76) and the Waterside White, an unoaked chardonnay, not as vivid as the other two but very pleasant, light easy drinking (R35).

The red wines were: The William, 2006 vintage, named after Graham Beck’s grandson, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, pinotage and petit verdot, full-bodied (14,5 percent alcohol), complex, with mulberry and plum flavours - price R110. The Game Reserve 2008, cabernet sauvignon, typical dark colour, blackberry flavours, excellent now but will probably be even better in two or three years’ time (R80). Merlot 2006, barrel matured for 14 months, berries and fruit cake (R77). Railroad Red, a very attractive blended wine, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Rich and spicy, 14,8 percent alcohol. It scored well in our markings. It is a big seller. You can buy it in Durban for R35, and at that price, or even a bit more, it is very good value. – Michael Green