Most oenophiles visiting South Africa head straight to the wine lands that surround charming Franschhoek and savvy Stellenbosch. But, a lesser known wine foray, the Robertson Valley, awaits. Found along Route 62 in the Western Cape, abutted by the Landsberg Mountains, it lies around two hours from buzzy Cape Town. Punctuated by the Breed River (ideal for gentle rafting), the pastoral region unfurls as an emerald patchwork of vineyards, orchards, farms and rose gardens. Victorian buildings and jacaranda-lined streets define its main town, Robertson.
It’s all plenty paradisiacal, but add in the fact that more than 50 wine estates beckon, most known for their Methode Cap Classique—fresh, velvety wine in champenoise mode—and that equals epicurean magic.
Undoubtedly the jewel in that region’s bubbly crown, family-owned Graham Beck, founded in 1983, reigns as one of South Africa’s most famous wineries. Called the “President’s Choice” (as it was served at both Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and at celebrations of Barak Obama’s presidential nomination), Graham Beck produces a large scope of award-garnering MCC (Methode Cape Classique) wines using locally grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Its three tiers include non-vintage, vintage, and prestige. Made from hand-picked, gently-pressed grapes, fermented with Graham Beck’s own unique strain of native yeast, the reserve wines age in Austrian-made, French oak vats. Winemakers use a higher percentage of reserve for blending, and the finished sparkling creations spend extended time on the lees. The result is exuberant wine with gravitas; it boasts a chewy lightness that ends with a green apple’s crispy snap.
While visitors can tipple in the winery’s art-adorned tasting room, those stranded at home in North America can be content with the fact that the United States accounts for much of Graham Beck’s exported stock. As South Africa’s most visible brand in the United States, it also stands out for being devilishly affordable. For the holidays, try the Graham Brut NV, made with 57% Pinot Noir and 43% Chardonnay. Its brioche-y aroma lingers, then melds into a citrus-cream middle, that pops at the end with a profound, perky pow. Alternatively, or also (because one is never enough), pour Graham Beck Brut Rose NV—one of the most popular wines sold in the United States in the $15-$20 price category. You’ll want gorgeous flutes to portray its silvery pink hue. The nose will be summer fruit and jam—cherries, raspberries, plus some Robertson Valley red rose garden, too. Alive in the mouth, this wine ends fast,with some mineral sizzle and a ping.