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Image: Bottle of Graham Beck Brut
Graham Beck Wines
Graham Beck Brut is a reasonably priced sparkling wine from South Africa that pairs well with food.
By Wine columnist
updated 5/20/2009 9:33:23 PM ET 2009-05-21T01:33:23

I have to admit that South Africa was about the last place I would think of as a source for indulging in a nice glass of bubbly. Champagne comes to mind first, of course. Then maybe a sparkling Vouvray from France's Loire Valley or any number of spumantes from Italy, including the popular Proseccos. But South Africa?

My impression quickly changed the other evening after opening a bottle of Graham Beck Brut from the Robertson region of the Western Cape, which has a suggested price of $16. The occasion was Mother's Day, and I thought that a glass of something sparkling might add a special note as we prepared dinner and talked.

The truth is, my wife is not big on sparkling wines when it comes to everyday drinking, an attitude I've been trying to change over the years as my own appreciation of the wines as versatile food companions has grown. So the first little victory the other night was getting her to consent to my opening a bottle in the first place. (I felt I needed to ask because it was Mother's Day, after all.)

Within a few minutes, the Graham Beck Brut proved to be one of the more appealing non-Champagne sparkling wines I've tasted recently, and my wife added her own endorsement as we enjoyed a glass on the patio. The blend is 54 percent chardonnay and 46 percent pinot noir, which are also the signature varieties of Champagne. (It's important to remember, by the way, that when talking about Champagne the name should be used only when referring to wines from the Champagne region of France.)

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Graham Beck's wine — "brut" signifies that it's dry — is lightly yeasty when you breathe it in and shows pleasing fruit in the mouth, including notes of apple, white peach, a touch of strawberry and then a little burst of lime on the finish. There's some creaminess in the background.

Dinner was on the simple side — grilled chicken breasts marinated with herbes de Provence, white wine and lemon juice; freshly picked local asparagus and wild rice — and my intention was to open something else, either white or red, with our meal. But since we were enjoying the Graham Beck wine we decided to stick with it. We found that it gave our dinner a refreshing lift, reinforcing the point about sparkling wines as good food wines.

This one also will pair well with all kinds of seafood and a variety of appetizers if you prefer to serve it as a first-course wine. One of the reasons people sometimes hesitate about buying sparkling wine is the mistaken belief that they'll have to spend a lot to get something good. Graham Beck's Brut delightfully proves otherwise.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at edwarddeitch@hotmail.com

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