Experience elegance at Arabella

Driving down the white-stoned gravel road en route to Arabella Wines’ tasting room, with stunning views of the muscular Arabian horses galloping on the side felt, for a split second, like a scene from the 1980’s television series, Dallas. The Arabella farmstead, situated on the spectacular Route 62, could easily be mistaken for the Ewing’s famous Southfork Ranch.

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The scenic entrance to Arabella Wines.

The farm, which is named after the famous endurance riding horses for which the De Wet family has an inherent passion for, has views to spoil you rotten. Endless mountains and skies to impress even the fussiest landscape snob, a sea of greens to calm the soul and a massive front porch that is both inviting and relaxing; the perfect resting place for a thirsty throat. Arabella Wines, right outside Ashton, is where my journey took me this week.

The tasting room with beautiful vernacular architecture was perfectly designed to capitalise on the exquisite landscape views. You immediately feel at home upon entering this very comfortable setting with large couches to help you feel right at home. I met with Winemaker, Marna Brink and Marketing Manager, Nelmarie Baard for a lovely afternoon of tasting and touring.

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The beautiful tasting room with vernacular architectural designs.

The Arabella brand has market itself successfully as a supermarket brand and supplies to most major supermarkets within the country. Their exports have also increased substantially over the last few years with around 60% of produce exported, mostly to the UK, and 40% distributed locally.

Arabella has a long harvesting season; around two and a half to three months, Winemaker, Marna explains. “This is mostly because we use a variety of grapes, for our wines. We use both the younger grape with higher acidity, but then we also use the sweeter grape that stays longer on the vine for our sweet wines and rosés. This is why our harvesting season tends to be slightly longer than other farms’.”

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Stephen de Wet inherited this beautiful Bible from his parents.

Although the farmland belonged to the De Wet family for generations, the Arabella farm was only established around eight years ago when brothers Stephen and Freddie de Wet divided the two farms, forming Excelsior (Freddie de Wet) and Arabella (Stephen de Wet), respectively. Stephen insisted on the latest technology and built a state-of-the-art wine cellar which has the capacity to produce and store around 3.6 million litres of wine at any given time. He also invested in the best bottling and labelling machinery to ensure a completed process under one roof, so to speak.

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The high-tech bottling and labelling machinery. 

“We focus a lot on producing easy drinkable wines for the greater public”, says Nelmarie. They launched their latest offerings, the Natural Sweet Rosé and the Natural Sweet White earlier this year during the Wacky Wine Festival, and were pleasantly surprised at the reception it received. “It was our most successful launch to date, it really exceeded our expectations”, she added. The reason, she reckons, is because a sweet wine or rosé usually attracts first-time wine drinkers and since the Wacky Wine Festival generally attracts a younger crowd, it was a total hit between festival goers.

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Arabella’s two new offerings; the Natural Sweet Rosé (left) and the Natural Sweet White.

Arabella Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Vintage

The Sauvignon Blanc was the first target in the tasting process. This is their most popular white wine, Nelmarie says and not surprisingly so. I love that it’s light enough to lure the gentle wine drinker yet it will also appeal to the more complex palate. A burst of summery, fruity flavours settle on your tongue from the very first sip. It’s a lovely soft wine to be enjoyed during warm summer evenings.

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I sipped leisurely on their Sauvignon Blanc (left) and their Merlot. #yum

Arabella Pink Panacea

Although a dry rosé, the Pink Panacea still offers that sweet, fruity taste that lingers on your palate. A little more complex than their sweeter varieties, this wine is a lovely alternative to a sweet rosé if that doesn’t tickle your fancy. Another one for the summer, this rosé makes for the perfect poolside wine.

Arabella Merlot

One of their most awarded wines, the Arabella Merlot proved why it is such a favourite amongst consumers. Rich flavours of plum and blackcurrant, this wine is soft on the palate yet has a long, slow finish. This was by far my favourite of all the varieties. I loved the complexities, yet it makes for a simple, easy companion.

Reserve range

Next we moved onto their premier brand, the Reserve Range.

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Their Reserve Range boasts an elegant black label.

Arabella In Unison Reserve

The In Unison Reserve was up first. An equal mix between Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, this red was truly a delight to savour. This is the wine you want to drink like an alcoholic; alone after a tough day at work. Nelmarie’s words, not mine. It is 12 months wood matured in oak barrels and offers that rich, seasoned taste. It truly is a ‘special-occasion’ wine to enjoy leisurely.

Arabella Shiraz Viognier

Recipient of the 2011 Michelangelo Silver Award, the Shiraz Viognier was another lovely treat. It contains all the complexities of a Shiraz yet is gentle on the palate. Full-bodied, this red exemplifies all the qualities of a dark, rich blend, offering a long finish. It has a blackcurrant and rich coffee aftertaste. It’s a wine to be appreciated and cherished.

I concluded my trip to Arabella with a tour of their ultramodern wine cellar, including the entire bottling and labelling operations. The tour is also open to the public pending prior arrangement, Nelmarie said. It is truly amazing to see how much work goes into what we perceive as just a ‘simple’ bottle of wine. It was incredible to view the process first-hand.

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The lovely ladies from Arabella Wines; Nelmarie Baard (left) and Winemaker, Marna Brink.

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Arabella’s state-of-the-art wine cellar can produce and store around 3.6 million litres of wine.

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2014 Merlot anyone? Marna has to check and approve all labelling (left).

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The Arabian horse dominate the discipline of endurance riding and is one of the oldest breeds in the world.

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Arabella offers picture perfect views.

Electric Vines, in association with Arabella Wines, will host a New Year’s Eve Music Festival, featuring a whole bunch of great local artists, including the likes of Just Jinjer, Prime Circle and Jesse Clegg. It will be a two-day event from 30 to 31 December and promises to be great fun. If you don’t have your tickets yet, please visit Electic Vines for more info.

I’d like to thank Marna and Nelmarie for the lovely visit at Arabella, I had an awesome time. If you’d like more info, including prices on their wines, please visit their website. Also follow them on twitter and facebook.

Did you like this review (of course you did!), then please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side →). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time… xoxo

 

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Step into luxury at Graham Beck Wines

From the time you step into Graham Beck Wines’ tasting room in Robertson, you immediately notice that this is not just another tasting room. The opulence is immediately noticeable and you know you have entered into a completely new ball-game. The tasting room is like no other I’ve experienced before. I used the word ‘experienced’ on purpose, because the Graham Beck Wines’ tasting room offers you exactly that; an ‘experience’. It was thoughtfully designed purely for leisure.

I could tell you about the exclusive pieces of art on the walls; or the crafted sculptures which add a mix of contemporary and antiquity flair; or the carefully selected pieces of furniture in the room; or the endless glass walls which capitalise perfectly on the exquisite views; but instead, I really want to tell you about their unique selection of MCC’s.

Upon entering the tasting room on Friday, I was greeted pleasantly by sales executive, Ricardo Booysen and escorted to their little bar-seating area, which again, looks out on the most gorgeous views of the Langeberg valley. The tranquillity of the views compliments the tasting impeccably.

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A massive bottle of Graham Beck bubbly (left) and the beautiful views from the tasting room (right).

I’ve touched slightly on what an MCC is in my previous post, but I was completely fascinated with Ricardo’s explanation that I really want to delve a little deeper into it, in this post. Also, Graham Beck is mostly known for its delish MCC’s and so I think it ought to be the cornerstone of this review.

An MCC, or Méthode Cap Classique is, in layman’s terms, a champagne. However, the word ‘champagne’ is restricted to be used only for wine that’s produced from the grapes grown in the Champagne region in France. The method, however, for producing both an MCC and a bottle of champagne is essentially the same. It requires, amongst other, a secondary fermentation period of the wine in the bottle to create the carbonation. This method is exclusive to a bottle of champagne or MCC.

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Their gorgeous bar-seating area (left) and one of the many sculptures in the tasting room (right).

Graham Beck Wines is one of only a handful of cellars that produces MCC’s in the region and not surprisingly so. I have renewed respect for winemakers Pieter Ferreira and Pierre de Klerk. It takes an intensive process of planning and nurture to produce the perfect bottle of MCC, Ricardo explains to me. The MCC grapes are harvested early to ensure the perfect balling reading. Essentially, the balling reading should contain a high acidity and low sugar reading of the grapes. Grapes are then harvested before sunrise to manipulate the balling reading.

After the first fermentation period, which includes settling the juices of the two cultivars and fermented separately, the two are then cross blended and bottled for the second fermentation period. The second fermentation (as mentioned) requires the MCC to be bottle-fermented. It is then bottled and left for 15 month to 18 months yeast contact time before disgorgement. During this period, the bottles are riddled occasionally. Although this process was done manually during earlier years, it is now all automated, Ricardo says. (Apologies for the in-depth explanation but I was completely blown away by this info.)

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Another bottle of bubbly (left) and their spacious tasting room (right).

After the second fermentation period concludes, and after numerous tests have been performed to ensure the MCC is perfect (and delish!), the yeast is disgorged. To ensure a slightly sweeter taste, a hint of dosage (liqueur d’expédition) is then added to all the MCC’s with the exception of the Brut Zero, which contains no sugar.

All Graham Beck Wines’ MCCs contain a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with the exception of the Blanc de Blanc which contains 100% Chardonnay grapes. The red Pinot Noir grape is sourced from Graham Beck’s Firgrove farm while the Chardonnay grapes are grown at the Robertson estate, right here in the Langeberg valley. All MCCs are produced at Graham Beck’s state of the art cellar, in Robertson.

You may also notice a substantial difference in price between their Vintage and Non-Vintage MCCs. Essentially, the long and short of it is that; the Vintage wines are produced from one specific year while the non-vintage varieties can be more than one year’s harvest. No year is thus recorded on the non-vintage bottle labels. This makes their vintage wines a tad more expensive than their non-vintage range.

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I was literally in bubbly heaven with endless bottles of MCCs (left) and a portrait of the legend himself, Graham Beck (right).

Ladies and gent’s, we have officially reached my **favourite** part of the interview; i.e. the tasting!

Graham Beck Brut NV

Of course I insisted that Ricardo opens our tasting with the legendary Graham Beck Brut NV. It is after all the MCC that both former president Nelson Mandela and US President Barack Obama served at their respective inaugurations, and it did not disappoint. A citrus, limy taste explodes on your palate from the very first sip. Ricardo explains this is because the soil is treated with a limestone which gives it the zesty flavour. I loved it because it is so refreshing and citrusy. A real treat.

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Ricardo doing what he does best (left) and a lovely glass of bubbly (right).

Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc Vintage 2009

If I thought the Brut was a lovely treat, I was in for a pleasant surprise; the Blanc de Blanc completely blew me out of the water. This was my absolute favourite of all the varieties. I loved the complexities yet elegance that accompany this MCC. It is robust and full-bodied yet fresh and versatile. If you never try any of Graham Beck’s MCCs, please at least try this one. It was a real delight.

Brut Zero Vintage 2008

Although a tad bit drier than their other varietals, the Brut Zero Vintage 2008 is not only fresh on the palate but also light on the hips, with no added sugar. If you’re anything like me and like to watch what you cram into your pie-hole, this MCC is a lovely alternative. No dosage was added to this MCC making it one of the purest wines. It offers an invigorating, natural taste to be savoured and enjoyed leisurely.

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Bubblies to pick and choose…

Graham Beck Brut Rosé Vintage 2009

Ricardo was filled with child-like excitement upon pulling out the bottle of Brut Rosé. Cheer filled his voice as he explained this MCC, his absolute favourite, to me. Pretty and pink, this 82% Pinot Noir and 18% Chardonnay MCC is slightly softer and fruiter than its Brut counterpart. In a South African first, the whole bunches for this MCC were co-fermented; the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes were jointly pressed as a blend in the same press. The Brut Rosé’s delicious salmon pink hue makes it attractive to both the eye and the palate and I could relate to Ricardo’s enthusiasm.

Graham Beck Bliss Demi-Sec NV

Another light MCC, the Bliss Demi-Sec NV, offers full flavour yet is softer on the palate. A mix of sophistication and simplicity, this MCC is a tad sweeter than the other varieties. It is easy drinkable and those who prefer a lighter wine will appreciate this MCC.

Graham Beck Gorgeous

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Their lovely new rosé, Gorgeous.

Let me start off by saying that I’m always sceptical of the media hype around a new wine. I’ve read a lot about the new Gorgeous before I had the change to actually taste it and so of course I had to insist that Ricardo sends me off with this new rosé.

Please quote me on the following: “Graham Beck’s Gorgeous completely and utterly lives up to the hype as portrayed in the media.” I think it is safe to say that the media frenzy around this new wine is completely justified. Point proven. Wow, what a lovely rosé it is!

Gorgeous is lower in alcohol content which means that I can have more glasses of wine (score!). Just in time for the summer, this rosé is a refreshing pick-me-upper. The fruity salmon pink hue makes it softer on the eye and gives it a slightly feminine characteristic. It’s a delightful wine and will appeal to both the delicate and the complex palate. It truly is this summer’s must-drink wine.

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Ricardo (left) with Tasting Room Manager, Nadia Lakey (right) who ensured that I had a lovely tasting.

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GBW Accounting Manager, JC Kriegler (right) lend a helping hand when the tasting room started to fill up.

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Both Ricardo and I were very impressed with his great tasting. This picture was taken right after the tasting.

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The impressive GBW building in Robertson.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Graham Beck Wines and was so sad to leave. I will return to their tasting room soon, if only to get another sip of their Blanc de Blanc and delish Gorgeous.

I’d like to thank Ricardo Booysen for his enthusiasm and professionalism. I had a fab time drinking (oops… I mean tasting!) and learning about their lovely wines. Please visit Graham Beck Wines’ website for more info and prices. Follow winemaker Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira on twitter. Please also follow GBW on twitter and facebook.

If you liked this review (of course you did!), please subscribe to my blog (see top right hand side). Please also follow me on twitter and follow my blog on facebook. I’ll be posting a lot more reviews over the coming months.

Till next time… xoxo