Producer Profile: Graham Beck

Round & About

Giles Luckett

Our wine columnist, Giles Luckett, catches up with Graham Beck’s Cellarmaster, Pierre de Klerk

I’ve called this piece a producer profile as that’s technically what it is, in the same way that a Ferrari is technically just another car. This is probably closer to a hymn of praise. As regular readers of this column will know, I’ve recommended Graham Beck’s wines on many occasions – and rightly so, they’re fantastic, and offer a mix of quality and value that’s hard to find. I’ve been an admirer of their wines for over twenty years and I’ve never had a bad bottle.

So what makes Graham Beck’s wines so good? To find out I caught up with their Cellarmaster Pierre de Klerk to discuss his vineyards, his wine, his thoughts on climate change and wine, and the future of South African wine in general.

Giles: Graham Beck is based in Robertson, one of the cooler areas of South African wine production if memory serves. How important is this location to the quality of your wines?

Pierre: The site is everything. You can have the best vines, the best winery, and the best winemakers in the world but if you don’t have great sits to produce great grapes, you can’t make great wine. Robertson has a cool climate, but within any one vineyard you can have microsites that produce different results. It can be challenging, but it also gives you amazing raw materials to work with.

Giles: How would you sum up your winemaking philosophy?

Pierre: For me, winemaking is about nurturing and respecting what nature gives you. When making sparkling wines, you need to keep your eye on the ball as there are just too many pitfalls. Most of the time you’re working with a mix of grapes from a number of different sites and to get consistency and harmony you need to be vigilant.

Graham Beck Brut (Majestic £11.99). White gold with amber lowlights. It’s elegant, fresh and refined, with a lovely nose of Granny Smith apples, limes, coconut, and yeast. On the palate, it’s clean yet rich and offers plenty of white fruits with hints of honey and spice. It’s perfect as an aperitif, with seafood or white meats and creamy cheeses.

Giles: South Africa makes great wines across the board. I’ve had fantastic Chardonnays, Cabernets, and Pinot Noirs from districts such as Stellenbosch, Walker Bay, and Paarl. Why do you think South Africa is so well-suited to producing sparkling wines though?

Pierre: It’s cool enough to give grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay the long ripening season they need. The sunny, dry climate, low levels of disease and the diversity of the South African soils add colours to your palate to paint the final picture. Chardonnay on limestone in Robertson [very similar to those found in Champagne] is completely different to Chardonnay on granite in Stellenbosch. It’s ideal for world-class, sun-kissed sparkling wine.

Graham Beck Vintage Rosé (Simply Wines Direct £17.99). Deep pink with an inviting bouquet of red berries and blossom, this is fuller than the Graham Beck Non-Vintage Rosé (Majestic £16.99 or £11.99 on mixed six) and has cherry, mulberry and blackcurrant notes, good intensity and sufficient weight to partner with food.

Giles: ‘Right grape, right site’ is a mantra I hear a lot these days, and it’s one that seems to have played a significant role in the elevation of the quality of wines in Australia, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa. Is site selection important to you?

Pierre: Respect the best combination of soil and climate. Site selection matters hugely. Come into our cellars and taste 200 base wines [still wines from which the final sparkling wine will be made] and from two cultivars [Pinot and Chardonnay], you’ll be flabbergasted by the differences.

Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs (Majestic £18.99) is 100% Chardonnay, it’s golden, with a nose that’s delicate yet weighty and complex with apples, pears, toasted brioche, citrus and yeast. On the palate, it’s soft and yielding, with white peach, yellow plum, and red pear fruit offset by honey, spices and vanilla. There’s an intriguing mix of delicacy and intensity that is the hallmark of a great blanc de blancs, and the obvious bottle age has added depth.

Giles: How do you see the future for South African sparkling wines? More innovation? New wines?

Pierre: The future is bright for varietal [single grape] wines. We traded some Pinot Noir for some Pinot Meunier [one of Champagne’s black grapes] a few years ago and we were impressed with the results. We have now planted our own Meunier vines which will give us our first vintage in 2026. That should be very exciting.

There’s been a trend in sparkling wines in recent years to offer ‘ultra-dry’ styles. These low or no dosage – dosage being a mix of wine and sugar that’s added to balance acidity and improve mouthfeel – can be delicious, particularly when they have had some bottle age. These wines leave a winemaker with nowhere to hide, however. Underripe grapes, blending miscalculations and winemaking errors are laid bare.

Get it right though and you have marvellous wines such as the Graham Beck Ultra Brut 2016 (Vinum £19.95), a wonderful expression of this style. Deep gold with a rich, dried white fruit nose, it’s ripe on the palate and displays white fruits, honey and a touch of cocoa bean creamy bitterness. The finish is bone dry, clean, and mineral-laden. This is an intriguing style of sparkling wine that’s well worth trying.

Giles: Is climate change having an impact on South African wine?

Pierre: Climate change isn’t happening, it’s happened. It’s getting drier and it’s getting hotter. I was in Elgin, one of the coolest regions in South Africa, in February and it was 23 degrees at 7 in the morning. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir might not be the be-all and end-all in the future. We’re experimenting with new varietals. We’re excited about the possibilities, but there are challenges ahead.

Thanks to Pierre for his time and keep up the great work!

My last recommendation is the Graham Beck Cuvee Clive (Frontier Fine Wines £42.95) – this is their top wine, their cuvée prestige as they say in Champagne. Made in the finest years and using their best fruit, it doesn’t just take South African sparkling wine to new heights, but sparkling wine in general. Made from vines in Robertson and Darling, it receives three months of ageing in oak before spending five years on its lees (yeast and other bits left over after the second fermentation in bottle) ahead of its release.

The resulting wine is amber in colour, with a complex nose of apricots, dried pears, vanilla and blood orange. The palate is weighty and nuanced and floods the mouth with sweetly tinted green and yellow fruits, vanilla smoke, lime, and salt-tinted minerals. This is a mighty wine that somehow manages to remain balanced and refined.

Spring Whites

Round & About

Giles Luckett

Feel fresh this year with a crop of palate pleasers – Giles Luckett reviews some seasonally appropriate wines

Spring is in the air.  Well, spring rain is in the air at least, and the new season calls for a fresh crop of wines.   For this month’s column, I’ve looked for classics that will pair with the new season’s produce alongside a couple of head turners that you may not have encountered before.  Anyway, enough preamble, let the recommendations flow…

I’ll start with a wine that’s always been synonymous with spring, Muscadet.  One of the breakthrough wines of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Muscadet played a big part in turning the UK into a nation of wine lovers.  At its best, it’s as fresh as a spring morning, with citrusy fruit offset by a yeasty tone and a taste of the sea that makes it the perfect partner to fish and seafood – it’s glorious with new season oysters.  The Adnams Muscadet (Adnams £9.99) is as a delicious example of this classic wine, providing the complexity that many a more expensive Chablis can only dream of.  Dry, crisp, and loaded with green apple, melon, and greengage fruit, the creamy-saline finish makes for a surprisingly satisfying glassful.

Next up the first of two Rieslings.  Riesling is invariably an excellent wine, but many people are put off as they think it will be sweet.  Riesling is capable of astonishing sweet wines such as the fabled Trockenbeerenauslese from Egon Mueller (a snip at around £10,000+ a bottle), but most New World producers focus on producing crisp, dry wines that are as food-focused as my Springer Spaniel.   A great example is the Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling (Waitrose £10.99).  White gold, the piercing bouquet comprises of apple blossom, citrus, and white peaches with a suggestion of honey and lime.  On the palate, it’s just as complex, with green and white fruits vying with minerals and a rapier-like grapefruit acidity.   This is just the thing for new- season asparagus or a herby spring chicken.

Staying with Riesling, we have something that shows this grape’s incredible range.  The Empire Estate Dry Riesling Reserve (Good Wine Good People £34.50) hails from New York’s Finger Lakes region.  This is an arresting iteration of Riesling that nods at France’s great Alsace Rieslings in its dryness and piercing intensity, but it is very much a Finger Lakes wine in its sophisticated, slightly idiosyncratic style.  Pale green-gold with an evolved nose of candied lemons, grapefruit, apple blossom, and a green herb bitterness, it seems to change with each inhalation.   In the mouth, almond-tinted grapefruit leads the fresh, tangy attack.  This is followed by ripe pears, peach stones, a white peel bitterness, and a very fresh, lemony acidity that’s mellowed by honey and minerals.  This is a wine to buy by the case and see how it evolves over the coming decade.

Viognier is an interesting, not to say mercurial grape.  In California, it can produce buttery behemoths, while in South Africa it tends towards leaner, cleaner wines.  In its home of France’s Rhône Valley, it can produce wines that combine freshness with depth, power with finesse as showcased by the Chapoutier Combe Pilate Viognier (London End Wines £15).  Opening up with a surprisingly subtle nose of apricots, oranges, and bergamot against a background of citrus, it was love at first sip.  Supercharged with fruit and very fresh, it quickly develops in the mouth revealing juicy apricots, peaches, and vanilla spice that contrasts beautifully with the firm mineral and lemon finish.  This would be lovely with baked white fish, pan-fried poultry, or salmon.

A good Chardonnay is always a treat and is the ideal foil to spring staples such as roast pork, goats’ cheese and rocket salad, or roasted guinea fowl.  I recently tasted one from Austria, the Allacher Chardonnay Reserve (Good Wine Good People £24).  I’m a big fan of Austrian wines, though my experience has been largely confined to their stylish Rieslings and brilliant Gruner Veltliners.  This was an unusual and delicious take on this noble variety.  Deep gold, the nose brims with honey-coated tropical fruits with a soft, perfumed edge.  Big and bold, the generous palate has a creamy texture and is suffused with baked apples, apricots, honeydew melon, vanilla, and spices before the fresh, zingy finish adds a refreshing balance.

Sauvignon Blanc is another great spring wine.  Its freshness and easy drinking nature means it lends itself well to garden sipping or as a partner to new season treats like steamed Jersey Royals, creamed broad beans, or roasted celeriac.  Sauvignon grows well all over the world except for Tasmania, apparently, where a leading winemaker told me it was a ‘weed that needs grubbing up’.  I touched a nerve there, it seems.  South African wineries are better disposed to it and when you taste wines like the Journey’s End ‘Eagle Owl’ (Majestic £9.99) it’s easy to see why.  Rhubarb and gooseberries are the signatures of this weighty, rounded Sauvignon.  The nose is bright, zesty, and suitably intense, but – as with the body – it’s not green peppers and citrus that dominate, there’s more to it than that.  Over a bedrock of acidity is overlain a tart-sweet tone of stewed rhubarb with a sherbet edge and some riper flavours from the gooseberries, giving a wine that’s refreshing and seriously good fun.

I’ll finish on a patriotic note with an English wine, the Denbies Chardonnay 2022 (Denbies £24.50).  When I started in wine, England’s vineyards were just about getting marginal grapes like Müller-Thurgau – which usually tastes as good as it sounds – to produce something.  Roll forward thirty years and leading English wineries like Denbies are being spoken of by the likes of Oz Clarke as being capable of giving Burgundy a run for its money.  On the evidence of this, I think he has a point.  The nose is creamy, nutty, fruity, and harmonious with the rich red apple and peach fruit freshened by lemon and lime.  On the palate, it has a lovely peachy texture that displays nectarine, red apple, and lychees with a honey and lemon coating.  Thoroughly impressive it shows that English wine, not just English sparkling wine, is capable of being a world-beater.

Well, that’s it from me for now.  Next time I’ll be joining in the World Malbec Day celebrations and running down (bigging up) my top ten Malbecs.



Valentine’s Day wine pairings for lovers

Round & About

Giles Luckett

Make the most of Valentine’s Day with these romantic wine recommendations from our wine columnist Giles Luckett


I’ve always liked to think that when Ernest Dowson penned the immortal line, “Days of wine and roses” that, he took his inspiration from Valentine’s Day. As a self-confessed romantic and someone who has more than a fleeting infatuation with wine, the two have always been inexorably intertwined in my eyes. After nearly three decades of marriage, I can recall the wines that marked significant anniversaries in our lives. Proposal accepted, Krug NV. Our first house, Dom Perignon 1990. Wedding Day, Laurent Perrier (innumerable bottles!). Daughter adopted, Lafite 1961. Silver wedding anniversary, Comte de Champagne 2009.

“As a self-confessed romantic and someone who has more than a fleeting infatuation with wine, the two have always been inexorably intertwined in my eyes.”

And so, with the annual excuse for romance upon us again, here are my wine recommendations for making February the 14th a date for the diary and the cellar book.

Let’s start with a couple of rosés. Rosé wines are versatile, often delicious, and obviously pretty in pink. My first recommendation is from my favourite Rioja producer, CVNE. While I’ve loved CVNE’s wines since my Harrods days, their rosé is a wine I only discovered last summer. The CVNE Rosado (the Co-op £8.50) is a joyous wine guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips. Mid-pink, the nose is all red berries, and cherries, with a touch of blossom, while in the mouth, there are gentle notes of strawberries, peaches, and a whiff of pepper.

My next wine is the oh-so-chic Whispering Angel (Laithwaites, £20). The Cotes de Provence producer has become the darling of the wine trade – Jancis Robinson described the winemaker as “the golden boy of rosé”. The estate’s top wine, Garrus, goes for an eye-watering £100 a bottle, but even their entry-level wine is something special. Easy on the eye and powerful on the palate, this is a rich, opulent rosé that exhibits peppered strawberries, dried raspberries, and watermelon notes, before the dry, full finish. Food-friendly, this is excellent with lamb or baked cheese.

Red is the colour of romance, so let’s look at a couple of red wines. Given its still winter, I’d recommend a couple of heart-warming winter reds. First up, a winery that has become very dear to my heart over the past couple of years, Vina Zorzal. Hailing from Navarra (head to Rioja and turn left), this is one winery I cannot fault, but if I had to pick my favourite, I’d say it was the Vina Zorzal Ganarcha (The Wine Society £8.50). Plump, luscious, easy-going, and brimming with soft blackberry, cherry, and plum fruit, this is a lovely cheery wine that is great with food or conversation.

If you’re looking for something more serious – perhaps to accompany a serious question…? then try the Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-lès-Beaune (Waitrose £21.99). Burgundy has enjoyed a succession of good vintages so that even (relatively) lowly villages wines such as this have been turning in mouth-watering wines. With a bouquet of fruits of the forest tinted with woodsmoke and a palate that offers red cherries, raspberries, cranberries, and a touch of spice, this is an easy wine to love.

And so on to fizz. Regular readers of this column will have gathered I have a bit of spot soft for sparkling wines. And when I say soft, I mean butter in the Sahara at midday, and when I say spot, I mean every fibre of my being. Now while there are lots of great ones to choose from – Cloudy Bay’s Pelorus (Sainsbury’s £26), Nyetimber (Waitrose £38.99), Tesco Cava (£6), or Chandon Garden Spritz (Majestic £19.99) – I’m going to recommend one from my sparkling wine producer, Graham Beck.

The Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 (Majestic £19.99) takes Beck’s superb wines to a new level. Beyond the stunningly pretty rose gold colour, lies a wine that offers strawberries, red cherries, and dried raspberries with satisfying notes of yeast, peaches, and limes in weighty, yet clean and fresh form.

Of course, Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without champagne, and here are my three top picks for this year’s romantic night in. The first is Gosset Grand Rosé (Berry Brothers £58). I visited Gosset in September and was reminded of how special their wines are. The precision, clarity, and piercing beauty of Gosset’s wines is something to behold. Put in less winey language, they are bone dry, refined, high-toned, driven by pure red and white berry fruit, and are gloriously complex. Try this stunner with food from smoked salmon to chicken.

Bruno Paillard is another champagne house I’ve had a long-lasting affection for. This is a house of (relatively) modern origins that produces stylish, elegant wines of great complexity. Their Rosé Premiere Cuvee (Champagne Direct £55) is a delightful take on this classic style. Pale pink, it offers everything from rose petals and summer pudding to cranberries and brioche. This is a wine to sip and savour on its own.

And to finish a wine that a friend of mine at Laytons once memorably described one Valentine’s Day, as ‘A prelude to an happiness it’s the Taittinger Rosé (Sainbsury’s £44). Taittinger’s wines are framed for their elegance and refinement, and these fine traits are on show in this beguiling wine. Deep pink, the nose is fruit-driven, with lovely notes of super-ripe summer berries tinted with savoury yeast. The palate is light, yet the persistence gives it power and depth, and Taittinger’s hallmark preaches in syrup tone adds a luscious flavour to the finish.

Well, that’s it from me for now. I hope you’ll have a fine Valentine’s Day, and I’ll be back soon with some spring wine recommendations.


Raising a glass to Australian wine

Round & About

Giles Luckett

Our wine columnist Giles Luckett is on a mission to raise January spirits with these wizard (wines) of Aus!

Hello, and a belated Happy New Year.

While for many people January can be a trying month, for the wine trade it’s a time of excitement and discovery. With the Christmas rush a distant memory and stocks as low as many people’s moods on Blue January, this quiet sales month gives wine professionals the chance to get out and taste. While tasting invitations are already piling up like pizza leaflets, there’s one that’s a big red-letter day in my calendar: 24th January and the Australia Trade Tasting.

I’m part of the generation of wine lovers who got to know wine thanks to Australia. In the late 1980s they exploded onto the scene, offering big, bold, fruit-bomb wines that were about as reserved as an Aussie backpacker in an Earl’s Court pub at closing time. They were a revelation. Affordable and accessible, they offered budding wine students the chance to get to grips with a range of grapes and styles.

Fast forward 30 years and Australian wines have matured and now boast a raft of examples that are fit to rank with the world’s best. Wines such as Penfolds’ Grange Hermitage and Bin 707, Henshke’s Hill Of Grace and Mount Edelstone, Leeuwin’s Art Series, and Wynn’s Michael Shiraz should be on every fine wine lover’s tasting wish list. And beyond these super stars there remain hundreds of exceptional wines that encapsulate Australian wines’ founding principles of individuality, brilliance and value. So, here are some suggestions for alleviating the January gloom with a taste of Australian wine excellence.

My first recommendation is the Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay (The Co-Op £11.50) Oatley produce wines in various parts of Australia with the emphasis being on producing ones that have a “taste of place”. Modern in origin and outlook – the winery was founded in 2006 – the Signature Series Chardonnay is a fine wine at an affordable price. Pale green gold, the use of oak is well-judged and the nose is focused on fruit and floral tones. In the mouth there’s an immediate freshness and lift from apple, white peach and melon tones, before richer, fatter vanilla and honey comes through. The whole thing is rounded off with crisp acidity and touch of savoury minerals. Sophisticated is the word that leaps to mind, this is a far cry from the ‘bottled sunshine’ Chardonnays of old.

Next up is a wine that’s as leftfield as its much-missed creator, Taras Ochota. I had the pleasure of meeting Taras in London and his home in the Adelaide Hills before his untimely death at the age of 49. He was a maverick, a devout punk – wines such as Fugazi and In the Trees are named after bands and songs he loved – and one of the most talented winemakers of Australia’s modern era. Ochota Barrels Weird Berries in the Woods (Indigo Wines) Gewurztraminer is, for me, his best white.

I’ll be honest, usually Gewurztraminer isn’t my cup of tea. I find the combination of lychees, black pepper, sickly lavender honey, and tinned peaches about as lovely as it sounds. Taras, however, managed to tame these wild elements to produce a dry, elegant, complex wine that flows with oriental fruits with hints of spice and add a dryness, and a cleansing acidity that make for a memorable glassful.

Jacob’s Creek were one of the first brands to make it big in the UK wine market. Their wines have always been good value make for a great buy when popping into a corner shop for a last-minute bottle. Their Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay (£6, Amazon) is on another level though. Adelaide Hills is a cool climate region that’s making some of the most exciting wines in Australia. This fantastically well-priced wine offers a smoky, crisp, elegant example of Chardonnay. Peaches, pears, stonefruit, and a touch of grapefruit make for joyful drinking.

I’ll leave the whites with a Riesling. Australia is rightly proud of its dry Rieslings, with examples from the Clare or Eden Valley being as good as the finest French and German efforts. One I’ve always liked is the Tim Adams Riesling (Tesco £10). This Eden Valley wine offers an intense nose of limes, grapes, and citrus mingled with apple blossom. In the mouth its precise, clean, and poised, with a lovely combination of white berries, green apple, pear and citrus fruit, with minerals on the long, dry finish.

Australia arguably offers the most consistent and consistently good value reds in the world. From entry level wines such as Koonuga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet (Waitrose £7.99) to the likes of the mighty Hill of Grace (£250 Berry Brothers & Rudd), Australia has it all. I’m going to start my red recommendations with a pair of Cabernet Sauvignons from revered producer Wynns.

Wynns’ wines are classically styled and are made to reflect the vineyards from which they are made. Founded in 1891, their years of experience shines through their wines which are always beautifully crafted and offer an exceptional drinking experience at all levels.

My first wine is The Siding Cabernet Sauvignon (Tesco £15). This is produced in the Coonawarra region which is famed for its iron-rich terra rossa soils. This soil gives wines minerality and an extra level of complexity and depth, something Wynns have taken full advantage of. The Siding offers fresh, intense notes of blackcurrants, mint, mulberries and raspberries on the nose, while in the mouth fleshier notes of black cherries, roasted meat, plums and dried herbs come through. Medium-bodied but with powerful intensity, this is one for the hearty winter dishes.

Providing a fascinating contrast we have the Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (Majestic £25). Same grape, same producer, very different results. This is Aussie Cabernet showing its elegant, nuanced side. While the characteristic blackcurrants, mint and cherries are present, there’s also plums, earthy spices, these are all low-key, seamlessly integrated and nuanced. This is a fine wine that deserves respect. If you’re drinking it this year, I’d decant it or at least give it several hours open and serve it with fine red meats or baked cheeses.

Good Australian Pinot Noir was once a rarity. This notoriously fickle vine was once ‘a nice idea’ as one Australian producer caustically described Australian Merlot. These days great examples abound, and one of my favourites is the Yering Station (Waitrose £12.99). Based in the cool Yarra Valley in Victoria, Yering Station has established a reputation as one of Australia’s leading Pinot producers. The 2016 has a fragrant nose of plums, raspberries, with highlights of flowers and spices. In the mouth this gentle, medium bodied wine gradually reveals layer upon layer of black fruit flavours intermingled with creamy oak and touch of jamminess to the finish. This has to be one of the best value Pinots on the market, and it well-worth seeking out.

My last red is another Cabernet and another wine from Western Australia, the Robert Oatley “Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (Taurus Wines £13.99). This is Cabernet in the Bordeaux mould. The benign climate and exceptional soils of Margaret River give us a Cabernet whose emphasis is on elegance and complexity rather than power and drama. Deeply coloured, the nose is a quiet riot of fresh blackcurrants, eucalyptus, black cherries, spices, and smoke. The silken palate is packed with fruit, but everything is sedate, unhurried and poised. Like a great Bordeaux, it deserves time and fine food to appreciate its charms.

“I was lucky enough to spend some time in Tasmania on my last trip to Australia”

And finally, a fizz. Well, I couldn’t write a column and not mention at least one sparkling wine, could I? I was lucky enough to spend some time in Tasmania on my last trip to Australia, a region that is probably the most exciting in Aus. Cool, damp, and undulating, it’s ideal for sparkling wine production and Jansz Rosé (Fenwicks £15.99) is a fantastic wine. Pretty in pink colour, the vibrant red berry and yeast nose is followed by a fresh, tangy palate that leads with raspberries and strawberries, before darker, richer notes of dried cherry, rhubarb, and yeast come through.

Right, all this writing and meandering down wine memory lane had given me quite a thirst so it’s on to the practical for me – well, I need to have my palate in shape for the trade tasting, don’t I?

Next time out I’ll look at some reds that will banish those winter blues.

More soon…

Dark wines for long dark nights

Round & About

Giles Luckett

Our wine expert Giles Luckett shares his red wine recommendations to raise your mojo levels!

Hello. Since I became a wine lover autumn has become my favourite season. Without the harshness of winter, yet with long evenings populated with hearty food, it’s a red wine drinker’s ideal. Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken advantage of this situation and I’ve been doing some ‘research’ for this column. Several trade tastings and somewhat less formal sessions in my sitting room later, I’ve picked up my super six for the autumn. These are food-friendly, warming, and mellow wines, which I hope will bring a smile to your lips as they have mine.

First up is a wine from the South of France, the Domaine Saint Rose La Garrigue 2018 (Majestic £5.99 on offer, down from £8.99). The Domaine Saint Rose was established by a couple of British corporate high flyers Charles and Ruth Simpson, who have brought modernity to a traditional blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre to great effect. Plum-coloured, the nose offers mulberry, raspberry, and blueberry tones with a twist of herbs and raspberries. These are reflected on the ripe, soft, plump palate, which is spiced by hints of white pepper and earth.

Next, a new wine (to me at least) from one of my favourite wineries, Vina Zorzal. I’ve had several Vina Zorzal wines; the Garacha (The Wine Society around £9) is likely to be one of my wines of the year (again), and the Viña Zorzal Cuatro del Cuatro Graciano (The Wine Society £16), is about as good a red as you’ll find for under £20.

My recommendation this time, however, is the Vina Zorzal Graciano (The Wine Society £8.95). Graciano isn’t a grape you see adorning a label that often. It’s a problematic vine as it’s easily affected by rot and doesn’t give great yields, which is not exactly a recipe for commercial success. It is, however, capable of brilliance, as this shows. Inky in colour, this lip-staining beauty is powerful, concentrated, and glorious. Packed to the gunnels with flavours of cooked blackberries, redcurrants, and spices, its bright acidity stops it from becoming overwhelming or cloying. At this price, it’s a wine to buy by the case and partner with hearty, mid-week suppers.

Sticking with Spain, and another new wine from an old friend, we have Cune’s Asua Crianza 2018 (£12.99 – The Surrey Wine Cellar (or Harvey Nichols if you’re passing). Rioja is one of my favourite regions, and let’s face it, no one does it better than Cune. The Asua is made exclusively from Tempranillo (so no Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, etc.) and offers an intense, pure, and delightfully different take on Rioja. Endowed with plenty of black cherries, blackcurrant, and mulberry fruit, shot through with vanilla, dried herbs, and citrus peel, this is already delivering the delightful goods, but has the capacity to age and develop for another 3-5 years.

South African wines have been hitting the high notes for some years, but many remain outstanding value for money. A great example is the Journey’s End ‘Sir Lowry’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (Waitrose £14.99). Journey’s End Honeycomb Chardonnay (Ocado £9), then do. It’s got more vanilla than Madagascar and is fruitier than the man from Del Monte’s dinner party conversation.

The Sir Lowry shows the refined side of their wines. Deep purple, the nose is a complex mix of raw blackcurrants, black cherries, woodsmoke, and mint. On the palate, this medium-bodied offering gives layers of black fruits, chocolate, plum, cherries, creamy vanilla, and a crack of black pepper on the end. Food-friendly (we had it with lasagne), it also showed well as an evening solo sipper.

“South African wines have been hitting the high notes for some years”

Another new-world winery that never fails to impress is Catena. Catena is my favourite Argentinean producer, and the Wine Society’s Exhibition Malbec (The Wine Society £12.50) is worth the membership on its own. The wine I’m recommending is the Catena Malbec 2019 (Majestic £9.99). This high-altitude, cool climate Malbec shows this grape’s impressive range and depth. Almost opaque, the nose if full of dark notes of blackberries, charcoal, and prunes that are lifted by scents of rose petals and raspberries. The palate reveals an. equally delicate balancing act, with hefty quantities of super-ripe, black-skinned fruits, coffee, cocoa, and earth given life by a refreshing splash of raspberry and redcurrant acidity. One for steak night, decant it or give it some time open before drinking.

I’ll finish with yet another new wine, one that hails from one of the greatest producers on the planet, Gaja. The Gaja family made their name in northern Italy in and around Barbaresco. Today, they’re acknowledged as Italian winemaking royalty, and their wines sell for serious money – the sensational 2019 Barbaresco, for example, will set you back £200 a bottle.

The Idda (London End Wines or Fareham Wines, £29.50) is the result of a joint venture with Sicily’s Etna pioneer, Graci. This is a terrific wine, one that combines power with elegance, purity with complexity. The bouquet offers floral herb notes backed by vibrant black and red fruits. The palate is dominated by tones of raspberry and strawberry, with touches of coffee, mint, and liquorice adding a savoury dimension. This is a serious and seriously good wine that will develop for another few years. Try it with mushroom risotto or lamb shanks.

Well, that’s it for autumn wines and almost for autumn. With the festive season on the way, next time, I’ll look at festive fizz and suggest a couple of wines that will make even the driest of turkeys taste like manna from heaven.

More soon…


Celebration of Champagne with Giles Luckett

Round & About

Giles Luckett

Round & About’s resident wine columnist gives his top picks of Champagne which are worth a pop!

Hello. I’ve just returned from my latest foray into the wonderful world of wine, this time a visit to one of my favourite regions, Champagne. To many champagne is a by-word for celebration; the wine with which to mark life’s highlights. While I wouldn’t disagree with this sentiment, that is to overlook champagne’s place as one of the great wines, one that can be enjoyed with food or as a celebration in itself.

In my latest column for Round and About, I’ll give you a brief guide to this fascinating region, its styles, and run down of my top ten champagnes. So, without further ado, let’s talk chalk.

Champagne: Beauty isn’t skin deep

Take a former inland sea, a hill with delusions of grandeur, trillions of dead fish, a good supply of trees, and place them in cool, north-western France, and what do you get? You get the world’s greatest sparkling wine region, Champagne. 

Beneath a thin layer of largely poor soils, lies meters of ancient chalk. It’s this chalk that allows grapes to ripen in what would otherwise be (pre-climate change) an inhospitable place for vines. By leaching heat and storing water, the vast chalk deposits that underlay the region, Champagne manages to get chardonnay alongside the black grapes of pinot noir and pinot meunier to ripen and produce its wondrous wines.

For many of the top champagne houses – names such as Taittinger, Ruinart, Moet & Chandon, and Gosset – the chalk plays another vital role in the creation of these singular wines: ageing.

In the 5th century Roman settlers planted vines here. The name Champagne derives from the Latin’ campania’ in reference to the rolling hills of Campanula near Rome which the area resembles. When they arrived, they discovered very little in the way of building materials on the surface and so they started to dig. They soon discovered the vast deposits of chalk which they excavated to build cities such as Reims and Epernay, leaving behind huge subterranean caves – the ‘crayeres’ as they are now known – in their wake.

Today, many of these are used to house champagne while it slowly matures. Given the crayeres impressive depth – some go down over 30 metres – they provide the continuously cool, vibration-free environment the wines need as they develop.

Time is an essential element in the production of champagne. Even non-vintage wines, those blended from several harvests, received at least 18 months of bottle ageing prior to release, and vintage wines, ones from a single year, needing at least 3 years. And when it comes to rare cuvee de prestige wines such as Taittinger’s sublime Comte de Champagne or Gosset’s Celebris, a decade or more of ageing may be required.

Champagne’s Grapes and Styles

Given the wine itself is white or rosé, it may come as a surprise to you that most wines are made with black and white grapes. Around 75% of champagne’s grapes are black, the rest being made up of chardonnay.

As the juice of almost all grapes is white when pressed, the colour comes from contact with skins, and while there are seven authorised varieties in Champagne, the three most important vines are:

Chardonnay – which produces mineral-rich wines with wonderfully pure fruit, fragrance, and aromas

Pinot Noir – an aristocratic red grape that gives acidity, backbone, depth, and body to the wines

Pinot Meunier – rarely seen elsewhere, pinot meunier adds fruitiness and roundness to the finished blend

In terms of styles, that is largely in the hands of the winemaker and even wines produced from similar blends – the ‘cepage’ – can deliver markedly different wines. Try a bottle of Taittinger’s Prelude with its ripe, peaches in syrup fruit, subtle yeasty undertow, and generous weight beside Gosset’s equally long-aged Grande Reserve and you’d be forgiven for thinking the wines were made in different regions. The Grande Reserve is high-toned and fresh, with a piercing citrus flavour that’s softened by a rich seam of red berries and creamy yeast.

In terms of labels, the following are the styles you are most likely to see:

Brut – this is a dry wine which has a limit to the amount of sugar that gets added to the wines – the ‘dosage’. In the case of a Brut wine, this is less than 12g of residual sugar per litre. Brut is a movable feast, however, and some Houses have residual sugar levels that are close to the limit while others, such as Gosset, tend to be far lower

Demi-Sec – this is an off-dry champagne that is often served as an aperitif or with deserts

Blanc de Blanc – white wine made from white grapes; this is invariably 100% chardonnay. Most of these wines are good for early drinking while the fruit is young and bright, but given the structure of Champagne’s chardonnay, some blanc de blanc can age wonderfully. Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne is routinely aged for a decade before release and will reward another decade or more of cellarage. I’ve enjoyed venerable bottles of Ruinart’s R de Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, and my recent encounter with the sublime Gosset Blanc de Blancs show it’s a wine that has time on its side

Blanc de Noir – made exclusively from black grapes, blanc de noir is an odd category. Much of the cheap (and let’s face it, nasty) supermarket champagne is blanc de noir and is made almost exclusively from pinot meunier with the aim of being drunk young. At the other end of the scale, you have wines such as Bollinger’s Vielle Vignes Francaise or Krug Clos d’Ambonnay which combine extraordinary power, depth, and concentration and are amongst Champagne’s most revered (and expensive) wines

Rosé – in Champagne this is invariably bone dry and can be made in one of two ways. The first is to allow the grape to come into contact with the black grape skins and bleed its colour into it the must – the ‘saignee’ method. The alternative is to add around 15% of red wine to the white

Champagne’s Best 10 Wines

The following is my top ten and is based on a combination of excellence, value, and availability. It would be easy for me to reel of the off top ten greatest champagnes I’ve ever had, and some of them are included on this list. But unless you work in the trade or have a bank balance the size of Moet’s marketing budget, listing the likes of Krug’s Clos de Mesnil 1982 (£3,300) isn’t that helpful. 

Now, the following represents ten wines that show champagne’s diversity, styles, and that its brilliance doesn’t have to be reserved for special occasions:

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (£150 Waitrose) – Comtes is an astonishing wine. 100% chardonnay – so a blanc de blanc – logic would suggest that it wouldn’t stand up to a decade of aging before release, let alone that it would cellar well for years to come. Equally how does a chardonnay have such intensity, complexity and depth of flavour? Comte’s nose is flowers and white berries with a whiff of creamy yeast.  On the palate it begins as a gentle vanilla mousse, but this soon builds as tones of apple, preaches in syrup, minerals and brioche flood in. Yes, it’s expensive, but in terms of quality phenomenal and is well-priced when viewed against its peers.

Gosset Grand Rosé (Ocado £60) – Gosset’s wines are intense, precise, capable of seemingly endless ageing, and wonderfully sophisticated. Their Grand Rosé is pale pink, with a nose that combines fresh summer berries, pear drops, and yeast. In the mouth it’s clean, tangy and fresh with an underlying richness and power. This is a wine for the mind as well as the mouth, and I would urge any wine lover to try it. 

Vilmart Grands Reserve (The Champagne Company £35) – Vilmart is a small, high-quality house that takes a Burgundian approach to making wine. Visit winemaker Laurent Champs and you’ll find a small, pristine cellar that’s lined with new oak barrels. Oak ageing is at the heart of what Vilmart does, and it imparts a richness and weight to their wines, giving a creamy mouthfeel without smothering the fine red and white berry fruits.

Taittinger Prelude (The Champagne Company £48.50) – while the Taittinger Prestige Rosé (Majestic £44.99) was named as the ‘Best Rosé’ by Good Food Magazine in 2022, the Prelude is probably my favourite Taittinger. Such is my ardour for this glorious wine, that at my recent visit I passed up a second glass of Comte de Champagne 2012 (lovely, but so young) in favour of this. Prelude is aged for six years prior to release, and this gives the Grand Cru chardonnay and pinot noir fruit time to mellow and soften. Mid-gold, the nose is a complex blend of yellow autumn fruits, honey and citrus. In the mouth it’s weighty and ripe, but with that signature Taittinger elegance. 

Roederer Brut Premier (£35 Majestic) – I first encountered this while working at Harrods as part of a tasting that included every champagne in the shop – over 100 wines. This was a standout for me and remains one of my favourites. The ripe, peach, apricot, and citrus nose gives way to rich, weighty, brioche and red berry palate that oozes class and refinement.

Alfred Gratien (£38 Vinatis) – Alfred Gratien is one of a few Houses that still age their wines in oak – other notable Houses include Krug and Bollinger. The barrels in question are old and the idea isn’t to add a vanilla flavour, but to allow micro-oxygenation (apparently) that imparts a richness and roundness to the wines. Richness is certainly a key trait. These are super-ripe, luxurious, sumptuous wines with a baked apple tone that’s balanced by minerals and a touch of salinity. 

Adnams Selection Rosé (Adnams £33.99) – there’s a lot to be said for own-label or buyers’ own brand champagnes. In many cases these wines are from prestigious Houses who create bottlings for merchants. This is definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s made by Blin, an excellent, but not that well-known House, and gives you a lot of wine for your money. Deeply pink, the nose is an enticing blend of red berries, citrus, and brioche. The palate is broad, rich, and satisfying but with enough freshness to keep it balanced.

Billecart Salmon Rosé (Laithwaites £60) – I first bought ‘Billy Rosé’ as we call it as it had a pretty bottle, and pretty is a good way to describe the wine. The pretty in pink colour is flecked with amber highlights, while the nose is a complex, fragrant blend of black fruits, rose petals, and yellow plums. The palate is soft, silky and loaded with strawberries and raspberries, minerals and a lovely yeasty finish. This is a great champagne to serve with lamb, salmon, and chicken.

Pol Roger Brut Reserve (Waitrose £39) –Pol Roger was Winston Churchill’s favourite champagne, and their cuvee de prestige is named in his honour. This is a traditional style of wine that never disappoints.  The nose combines intense berry fruit with brioche and white flowers.  The palate is taut, refined, and gives the sense of everything being where it should be giving a perfect balance to a rounded, yet clean tasting wine.

Dom Perignon (£160 Sainsbury’s) – despite its vast production and rising price, this remains an excellent wine. Best drunk a few years after release, Dom Perignon is a charmer of a wine. Its appeal lies in its complexity, which is admirable, and it offers a classic ‘biscuity’ nose that combines berry fruit with yeast and honey. The palate is typically rich and rounded, with noticeable flavours of Mirabelle plum, raspberries, peaches, and offers a long, complex finish.

Until next time…

Well, I hope that’s whetted your appetites for all things Champagne. Next time I’ll look at some reds that will make the long autumn evenings seem just a little too short.



Wines for autumn with Giles Luckett

Round & About

Giles Luckett

Round & About’s resident wine columnist gives his top picks for the new season – mellow wines for the mellow season!

Hello. As a wine lover, I’ve always liked autumn as a season. Unlike winter or summer, where the weather and food tend to prescribe reds or whites, autumn, with its early warmth and latter chill, offers a much broader palate to work with.

As Keats put it, doubtless, after a glass of wine (or something altogether stronger knowing what the Romantics were like), this is the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and the following suggestions make for the perfect accompaniment to this golden transition.

First up is a white from Portugal, The Lisboa Valley Selection (The Wine Society £7.95). Portuguese reds have been a favourite of the wine trade for some time now, but the whites have never quite caught people’s attention. I tried this for the first time last year, and it’s become a regular in our house. Offering an intriguing combination of freshness – grapefruit, green apples, and watermelon – with a balancing richness – peaches and dried pears – it has a tang of Atlantic salt to the finish. Marvellous with seafood, it’s also lovely on its own.

As Keats put it, doubtless, after a glass of wine (or something altogether stronger knowing what the Romantics were like), this is the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’

Next is a wine from Sicily, a wine-producing island that has seen its fortunes soar in the last decade or so as winemakers have got to grips with the natural gifts they have been afforded. My recommendation is the Nostru Catarratto Lucido (Kwoff £12.49). This organic wine is made from the rare (I certainly had to look it up) Catarratto grape. Mid-gold in colour, it offers a complex nose of jasmine cut with almonds and peach stones. The palate is fresh and tangy with plenty of gooseberries and white currants, but this soon deepens as greengages, peaches, and apricots come in at the end.

And for my last white, we have one from another region whose fame lies with its reds. Abruzzo sits east of Rome, where its coast borders the Adriatic. Its Montepulciano is a great source of inexpensive, often highly drinkable reds, such as Tesco’s Finest Montepulciano (£7).

Whites are thinner on the ground, but wines such as the Contessa Abruzzo Pecorino (£9.95) are well worth seeking out. Pecorino gives fragrant wines with plenty of citrus freshness that also offer riper notes of apricots, Mirabelle plums, nuts, and dried herbs. The Contessa is an excellent example of this, and I found it went well with creamy cheese pasta – one that was loaded with pecorino cheese, funnily enough.

There will now be a short interval for a glass of Champagne.

I’m a huge fan of Champagne. Good as sparkling wines are, even the best cannot match the complexity, elegance, and depth of the greatest sparkling wine on Earth. While I am a fan of many houses, the one I keep coming back to is Taittinger. Across the range, their wines are the epitome of style, and their Prelude (John Lewis £55) is arguably the best sub-£100 Champagne on the market. But it’s to the Taittinger Brut Reserve (Tesco £39) I’d like to give a nod to. This is a show-stopping wine. Mid-gold, the tiny, even bubbles (‘bead’ if you want to get technical), lift notes of spring flowers, red apples, citrus, and yeast. In the mouth, it’s gentle yet persistent, and at its core is a glorious note of peaches in syrup that is offset by taut acidity and creamy yeastiness.

And so to the reds.

You can’t talk about wines that boast mellow fruitfulness and not mention Rioja. Rioja’s reputation is at an all-time high. A succession of good vintages coupled with innovation and investment from leading producers has made the wines of this fantastic region world-beaters.

One that’s been turning my head lately is the Cune Reserva 2017 (Majestic £12.99), and it’s autumn bottled. The nose is a smoky, rich mix of red and blackberries with highlights of citrus fruits and spices. The medium-bodied palate is loaded with crushed black fruits, vanilla, cranberries, and liquorice, and finishes with a fresh, fruits of the forest in cream flourish. Magnificent now with hearty tomato dishes or red meats, it will improve over the next three to five years.

South African wine has undergone a reinvention to match Australia’s over the past couple of decades. Their traditional ‘big is better’ approach has been replaced by the pursuit of perfection done their way. Like Australia, South Africa has a hugely diverse mix of soils and microclimates that lend themselves to the creation of truly fine wines. One of these is the Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon (Cellar Door Wines £19.95). Cabernet Sauvignon is often said to be the king of red grapes, one that is capable of producing aristocratic wines that combine elegance, power, and longevity. The Neil Ellis shows these characteristics to the hilt. Inky black, the nose is an inviting mix of blackcurrants, prunes, and mint, while the palate offers a powerful mix of cassis, raspberries, chocolate, and a whiff of cigar smoke. I had this with a cheeseboard – and it was excellent – but with a fine steak or mushroom risotto, I think it would be even better.

And finally, a claret. I don’t recommend red Bordeaux that much these days because the good wines tend to be horribly expensive, and the cheap ones are just horrible. Stalwarts like Château Talbot – a wine I used to buy for under £30 – will now set you back over £60 a bottle. Great vintages, hysterical scores from critics, and wine investors have sent prices skyward and left drinkers out in the cold.

It was with deep joy then that I recently tasted the 2016 Caronne St. Gemme (Majestic Wines £16.99). The Nony family has worked wonders with this excellent estate, and the winemaker claims that the 2016 is the best wine he’s ever made. Classical nose of blackcurrants, smoke, cigars, and grilled meats, the medium-bodied palate is choc-full of plums, currants, blackberries, and chocolate, that lead to a long, well-integrated, satisfying finish. Just starting to open up, it will be fascinating to see how this develops.

Until next time...

Well, I hope that’s whetted your appetite. Next time out, I’ll look at some affordable fizz.



Cheers! Best wines for summer

Round & About

Giles Luckett

Columnist Giles Luckett recommends some sensational summer sippers available locally.


Summer is a brilliant season for wine lovers. There’s nothing quite like being able to sit in the sun and sip some time away in the company of a diverting glass or two. Over the last 30 years, I’ve written dozens of best of the summer wines columns, most of them under strict deadlines.  Not because of pressure from my editor, but because spells of good weather have often lasted about as long as a bottle of Graham Beck Rosé (Majestic £11.99) lasts in my house. The current two-person record being 14 minutes and 18 seconds.

That certainly isn’t a problem this year. And with the forecast for our part of the country giving better odds on cloudy with a chance of meatballs than rain, here are some summer sipping wine recommendations that should bring a smile to even parched lips.

First up, a fizz. I’ve always been passionate about sparkling wines, and the last few years have proved a golden age. When I joined the wine trade, Harrods’ wine department reflected the mood of the times by listing a wide range of Champagnes but virtually no sparkling wines.

This was great for tastings – the evening we spent tasting every Champagne in the shop was one of the best tastings I’ve ever attended – but woeful for the wallet. Good (drinkable) sparkling wine was rarer than a hen’s dentures, but how things have changed…

South Africa, Australia, California, France (who knew?), and Italy all offer great tasting; great value fizzes these days. For this column, though, I’m going to recommend a homegrown wine, the Denbies Whitedowns (Waitrose £18.99). This is everything you could wish for in a sparkling wine. From the fresh, floral, white berry nose to the refined, zesty palate with its flavours of pears, citrus, and peach stones, it’s complex as it is and refreshing.

There's nothing quite like being able to sit in the sun and sip some time away in the company of a diverting glass or two.

Next up, the first of two whites. CUNE is one of the great names of Rioja. Wines such as Vina Real and Imperial are the stuff of wine trade legend, and even their entry-level Crianza (Sainsbury’s £7.50. No, seriously £7.50, I couldn’t believe it either) is brilliant. Their whites can be just as compelling, and the Cune White Rioja is deep joy Barrel fermented; this traditionally styled white Rioja offers masses of peach, red apple, and honeydew melon fruit, with overtones of spicy vanilla. Versatile enough to partner with white meats, fish, or creamy cheeses, it’s also lovely on its own.

My second white couldn’t be more different. It’s the Wine Society’s Vihno Verde (£6. ) Portugal’s wines have been a trade secret for years, though attention has focused on the reds. I’ve had quite a few of their whites of late, and if you’re looking for value and excellence, look no further. The Society’s Vihno Verde is a wonderfully pure, clean, fresh-tasting wine that is light, delicate, and has a touch of spritz to it Fruit-driven; it has a pear and almond flavour to it that finishes with a twist of lemon. The perfect summer evening sipper or elegant aperitif.

If you’re looking for a serious rosé for summer sipping, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Domaine des Echardieres (£9.50). This is made by Vineyard Productions, which is headed up by Liam Stevenson, the youngest ever Master of Wine and someone who holds world records for rowing across the Atlantic. Hero worship is due, especially when you try his wines. The dedication to the cause of creating great wines with a ‘taste of place’ shines through this delicious Loire Valley wine. Made from Cabernet Franc, Gamay, and Malbec, it offers an intriguing blend of blackberries and green peppers from the Cabernet, cherries from the Gamay, and a richness and a hint of ripe plums from the Malbec. This is an outstanding choice in a cluttered and often disappointing rosé market, where presentation counts for more than contents.

And so to the reds. My first choice is a perennial summer favourite of mine, the Zuccardi Los Olivos Malbec (£11.50 Oxford Wine Company). I’m a massive fan of Argentinean Malbec, and Zuccardi is one of the finest producers of it. Inky purple, the sumptuous nose is a combination of stewed black fruits, offset by notes of raspberries and rose petals. In the mouth, it’s generous, full, multi-layered, and offers everything from blackcurrants and chocolate to red berries and charcoal. This is an absolute must for barbecued red meats.

And finally, another wine from Liam, the Petite Immortelle (£11.95 Vin Cognito). This hails from the South of France’s Roussillon region and is a traditional blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Carignan. Earlier this year, I tried this with its big brother, the Immortelle (£20.95 Dawe Wines), and I knew that both would make my top ten wines of the year. The Petite Immortelle is approachable now (its big brother is a beast that needs time to show its full beauty) and offers up masses of sweetly toned black fruits, plum skins, smoke, herbs, and a long minerally finish. This is another outstanding wine from a winemaking team that is doing some fantastic things.

Until next time...

Well, that’s me, for now at least. Given a following wind and an available glass, I’ll be back soon with a few words on affordable fizz.