Think MCC and you will think Graham Beck. Think cheap MCC and you will think JC Le Roux (to be fair, I have not tasted there yet). Think quality MCC and you will think Graham Beck. Such is the brand reputation. It was with this in mind that I looked forwards to the Monday evening tasting at the Vineyard Hotel, Newlands in Cape Town. I passed the vineyard en route to the Wacky Wines Weekend in Robertson but it was closed for refurbishment. There was also extensive replanting of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir underway as the estate focuses solely on MCC production. I did however, and unexpectedly given the MCC reputation, taste a Graham Beck Merlot from the Game Reserve Range at Rooiberg Winery.
Just 3 wines were offered for tasting. I chose to taste in conventional fashion in increasing order of sweetness. First was the most expensive wine, a 2012 Blanc de Blancs from the Vintage Collection. The sparkling wine the only wine made solely from grapes on the Robertson estate. The aromas were shy and simple. I detected apple only and none of the ‘tangerine explosion’ that the Tasting Note describes. I was surprised too, given 36 months contact with the lees, that I could not taste the yeast and brioche complexity that is customarily associated with extended lees contact. The mouthfeel was thin and with none of the long, elegant finish that the label promised.
The 2 remaining wines were Non-Vintage (NV). It is a fallacy that NV equates to lower quality. It simply means that the wine is a blend of grape juices from current and previous harvests. MCCs and particularly champagnes are a masterpiece of blending. A NV wine from a near exceptional year can be superb. The Brut MCC was the best of the 3 wines. It was very pale in appearance and with few bubbles in the glass though these emerged on the palate. Mild green apple aromas showed on the nose and it tasted noticeably dryer than the Blanc de Blancs. This was an eminently drinkable but undemanding wine.
The Bliss Demi-Sec showed a few very fine bubbles. Complexity of flavour was limited. I tasted the characteristic fruitiness of slightly baked apple crumble from the Chardonnay but little yeasty evidence from 15 to 18 months on the lees. Like the NV Brut the wine needed more bite to get my attention and enjoyment.
It will not surprise that I was disappointed by the tasting. The wines were short of flavour and body and thin on the palate and shy in finish. Disappointment often happens with wineries that have high brand loyalty or reputation. The 2018 Platter’s Wine Guide will soon be for sale and I shall be interested to read the ratings, noting that wines are not judged ‘blind’. Certainly, the 2017 ratings for the 3 wines tasted are at the lower end of those for those of the estate. The higher-rated Brut Zero and Cuvée Clive were not included for tasting. Interestingly, and to give me a cross-check, I noticed from the Graham Beck website that the Blanc de Blancs, Brut and Demi-Sec sparkling wines have not won significant awards since 2010, 2014 and 2011, respectively. It may therefore be timely that the estate has chosen to focus exclusively on sparkling wines. I shall wish to visit to taste in situ and be intrigued as to whether my tasting experience is similar to that in the Vineyard Hotel tonight.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2012 Brut Blanc de Blancs – R250
NV Brut MCC (53% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir) – R139 FAVOURITE WINE
NV Bliss Demi-Sec MCC (53% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir) – R139