It had been one of those days. We had arrived in Cape Town early in the morning from London after a night of little sleep, non-functioning seat-back TVs and rather too much alcohol (refer to previous item regarding seat-back TVs!). I had purchased a data bundle at the airport to load onto my South African phone, only to discover that the fact that it was unlocked from the clutches of T-Mobile to accept calls on an SA SIM card did not mean it could accept data. One fruitless hour later spent in a mobile phone shop and still no prospect of a data connection, Ma-in-law had suggested we visit a nearby shopping centre that had been refurbished. But up until the point that we found ourselves stuck in the mile-long traffic jam she had neglected to mention that it had only re-opened the day before and was evidently jam-packed with customers. Many others might, at this point, have said “just shoot me” and given up. I, on the other hand, spotted the signpost to Steenberg and said “Let’s go to Gorgeous”.
One of the happy coincidences of being married to Nick is that his mom lives in the middle of a wine-making area in Cape Town. This means that if you have a little time on your hands and some comfortable walking shoes, you can actually walk from her house to Steenberg estate. Steenberg has been a farm since 1982 and wines were first produced there in 1695. Initially called Swaaneweide (“feeding place of swans”), it was later renamed as Steenberg, in honour of the imposing mountain which towers over it. It is the southern-most wine farm in the Constantia Valley, and is today also home to a luxury hotel, a golfing estate and some outstanding restaurants including Catharina’s, Bistro Sixteen82 and most recently, Gorgeous by Graham Beck. Anybody who has read my blog for any length of time will know of my deep affection for Graham Beck sparkling wines which I rate as some of the very best that South Africa produces – so you can imagine my excitement when I read on Twitter that the Graham Beck estate in Robertson was to launch an outpost at Steenberg in the shape of a brand-exclusive champagne and canapé bar. And so when the going got tough, I decided it was time to pay Gorgeous a visit for a quick, bubbly pick-me-up.
The first surprising thing about Gorgeous is how small it is – and the second is how perfectly formed it is. The sleek bar beneath the glowing Gorgeous signage seats only about a dozen people and the 3 or 4 secluded booths opposite the bar with their plush crushed velvet circular banquettes seat propably only about 4-6 each. Frosted glass cabinets behind the bar cover the racks where the bubbly is stored and are decorated with the swirls surrounding the GB logo. Colours are muted mushrooms and purpley greys, and the Vivienne Westwood-designed “paper jewellery” wallpaper adds a bit of sparkle. But the main sources of sparkle are the super-friendly staff, and the wines themselves.
As far as the menu goes, Graham Beck sparklers are the only beverages on offer at the bar and are available either by the bottle or glass. Prices start at R40 per flute and R200 per bottle, but you can also choose to try a specific range: a flight of the three non-vintage Graham Beck sparkling wines; the three Graham Beck vintage cuvées; or their iconic Cap Classique flagship range, Cuvée Clive. Gorgeous to Go also allows guests to buy the Graham Beck bubblies by the bottle to take home, at cellar door prices. For those who are feeling peckish, Executive Chef Garth Almazan of Catharina’s restaurant has created a selection of canapés to complement the sparkling wines. The selection includes fresh Saldanha Bay oysters; poached tiger prawns; and an asparagus and goat’s cheese risotto croquette; as well as a couple of dessert canapés. On our first visit, we sat in a booth and tried a flight of the non-vintage bubblies which reaffirmed my belief that these offer some of the best value in South Africa. The Brut was bright with grapefruit and light yeasty flavours, as well as a super-fine mousse; while the Rosé (50 % Chardonnay and 50 % Pinot Noir) had a delicate salmon colour and subtle notes of ripe strawberries – although not cloyingly sweet.
On our second visit, about ten days later, we sat on the terrace to take advantage of the gorgeous late-afternoon weather and the view. On this occasion we opted for a bottle of the 2005 Graham Beck Brut Zero. Launched in late 2011, this is one of South Africa’s few non-dosage bubblies (dosage being the process whereby a small amount of sweet liquid is added to bottle-fermented sparkling wines at the end of the production process, to replace the volume lost in disgorgement and to add balance). It doesn’t make the wine taste sweet, but merely offsets the usually very high acidity. Sparkling wines without dosage are a niche category, and are the driest category of sparkling wine you will find. The Brut Zero 2005, made with 87% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot Noir, spent six years on the lees, and the resulting wine is crisp with the flavours or tart, fresh green apples. It’s not for everybody, but it will silence the critice who think South Africa cannot make a French-style sparkling wine – and it makes a wonderful accompaniment to a Cape sunset!
So if you find yourself at a loose end in the Tokai/Constantia area, or if you are a simply a fan of beautifully crafted sparkling wines, do make a plan to visit Gorgeous. The staff are super-charming and friendly; the space is sleek and, well, gorgeous; and the wines are definitely among South Africa’s best.
Gorgeous by Graham Beck
Open Monday – Sunday 12h00 – 22h00
Tel. +44 (0) 21 713-7177