Iona Red Blend
Ashbourne Pinotage 2018

Graham Beck Ultra

Brut 2016

The world of Cap Classique remains one of intrigue with a spellbound character making it one of the most sought-after wine categories. As a leading Cap Classique producer, Graham Beck’s motto, celebrate what matters, carries significant gravitas after what can be considered one of the most challenging years for South African wine.

Consumers want to buy the best they can afford, and this brand makes it possible in several sweetness levels.

Staying ahead of the game, Graham Beck renamed one of their premium Cap Classique’s Brut Zero, now known as Ultra Brut. This decision was driven by market research to avoid confusion amidst an increased supply of non- and low alcoholic beverages referencing the term Zero and misinterpreting Brut Zero as a non-alcoholic product. This has persuaded the Graham Beck team to introduce a new name to better communicate the fundamentals of this remarkably complex and fascinating style of sparkling wine. The name was implemented with the launch of the 2015 vintage.

Since the brand’s inception over three decades ago, Graham Beck Cellarmaster, Pieter Ferreira, has been at the helm of every single vintage, one of the reasons for their consistent quality.

Graham Beck is recognized as one of the foremost specialist Cap Classique producers with a reputation for superior elegance, quality, utmost sophistication, and world-class appeal.

Graham Beck kicked off their very first night-harvest on Monday, 11 January 2021, at midnight.

The benefits include cooler temperatures, better aroma and flavour concentration and energy efficiency in the cellar. 

“I have to quote the Graham Beck team: ‘Making a sparkling wine with no sugar is like walking a tightrope; there is no room for errors.’ The natural conclusion would be that this wine is faultless. Or as close to faultless as can be. It is after all only produced in exceptional vintages.” – Samarie Smith

The Recipe

Clam, Fennel and Lemon Risotto

  • 500g clams
  • salted water, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 fennel bulbs, halved
  • Handful of fresh fennel/mint leaves
  • 300g Arborio rice
  • Handful of flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 100ml Cap Classique
  • 1 lemon, grated zest and juice
  • 800ml boiling water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 anchovy fillets (optional)


Scrub the clams under cold running water and place them in cold salted water for an hour. Drain the water and rinse under cold running water.


Heat oil in a pan. Sauté the onion, garlic, anchovies, and fennel. Add rice and parsley, sauté while stirring until rice is translucent. Pour in sparkling wine, lemon zest and lemon juice, reduce almost completely. Gradually pour in the water and sparkling wine, stirring frequently. Ensure that the rice is always just covered with liquid. Simmer for 20 mins until the rice is creamy and al dente. Season to taste.

To complete

Heat the oil in a wide pan. Briefly sauté the garlic. Add the clams, cover and cook over a high heat for 4 mins, agitating the pan occasionally until the clams open. Pour in the sparkling wine, reduce for 2 mins. Add clams and resulting liquid to the risotto. At the same time, fry the fennel in another pan until slightly golden and caramelised on the edges


Plate up the risotto and top with the reserved fennel greens, cooked fennel and parsley.


  • This is a sculpted wine that almost acts as a palate cleanser with various flavours. While it contributes to the tasting experience, it has the power to stand up amidst the richest and fattiest elements.
  • When choosing the perfect food partner, the art is to go with a subtle flavour that will distinguish the delicate features of the wine, like its fine mousse and savoury quality. Clams have a clean and briny note echoing the same characteristics in the wine.
  • Freshly grated lemon zest adds brightness to this pairing and accentuates the creamy notes in the wine.
  • Suppose you can get your hands on fennel bulbs. In that case, the simple caramelization in the pan adds a delicious sweetness and a pleasant bitterness. However, the anise flavour of fresh fennel can be a bit overbearing, so go easy on that or include a few mint leaves instead.
  • Add some bubbly when you steam the clams for that delicious marrying of flavours. As simple as clams are, they can add a perceived sweetness to the wine and enhance its fruit.

Our Experience

Who can say no to a glass of sparkling wine on a hot day, a celebratory occasion or when friends gather to share quality time? First and foremost, the physical attraction of Cap Classique is the craftsmanship that helped create those delicate pearly strings of bubbles in the glass and they didn’t happen overnight. That is why it is crucial to empower the consumer with the correct information to help everyone enjoy this product best. In fact, they say there are about 49 million bubbles in a 750ml bottle of Cap Classique, and these little guys can magnify minor mistakes, so there is absolutely no compromise on quality. Of course, one doesn’t want to think about the technicalities when a chilled glass is handed to you. You want to drink it! But it is essential to understand why you are paying a premium price for it.

We recently presented a tasting of four of their Cap Classique’s, and the preferences varied from sweeter to drier styles. The Ultra Brut had the most fans after we divulged more about its production and suddenly, the price was less irrelevant. 

The sweetness categories of Cap Classique can be pretty confusing, and the names don’t reflect the sweetness level per se. Dry styles vary from Brut nature (0-3g/L sugar) to extra brut (0-6g/L sugar) and Brut ( 0-12g/L sugar). Extra sec indicates a noticeable sweetness (12-17g/L sugar), Sec is sweeter (17-32g/L sugar) and Demi-Sec (at 32-50g/L sugar) is the sweetest style in the Graham Beck stable, although there is also Doux that contains 50+g/L sugar.

Therefore, the purpose of renaming Brut Zero to Ultra Brut was to highlight its intrinsic as a Brut Nature Style and no alterations whatsoever. Before we get to our experience of this wine, let’s recap the basics for those new to Cap Classique. Refer to their website for the whole story.

Grapes for Cap Classique are harvested earlier with lower sugar and higher acidities as it needs to go through alcoholic fermentation and the second fermentation in the bottle. As fermentation converts sugar into alcohol, the product needs to maintain low alcohol and freshness throughout. Because of its high acidity, Cap Classique, like champagne, is balanced with a dosage that includes sugar, making it more palatable for most consumers, although still tasting dry. The Ultra Brut received no sugar additions, so one can say it is the purest expression (brut nature) of place. But how can it taste so harmonious? The outstanding quality about the Ultra Brut is that although it is bone dry, it spent 60 months on the lees, adding weight and a creamy texture that built incredible layers of flavour into this wine. It is much bigger than one would expect and a preferred companion for summer.

Aromas of lemon zest, lemon preserve, lemon shortbread,

 peeled wedges of ruby grapefruit, loquat, fleshy figs, some hints of fennel and oyster shell all help build out this sparkling wine’s character. It shares an endless array of aromas and flavours, and as you serve different dishes, it weaves itself around the elements, always being the last taste standing. The wine is commanding with the first sip, the delicate mouse bracing your palate and filling out the corners of your mouth, carrying the flavour with its balance of fruit, creamy mouthfeel, and racy acidity. A salty trail adds dimension to its richness, leaving a porcelain

texture that refreshes your palate. We cooked a lemon, clam and fennel risotto as an accompaniment that will be a graceful starter for your 2021 Christmas table. Being lower in sugar also means you can have that helping of Christmas pudding with another glass of this Cap Classique guilt-free! 

Buy the wine here: or join the conversation by following @GrahamBeckBubbly on Facebook and Instagram. By joining the Graham Beck Society at no additional costs, you can also qualify for great benefits. 

See it for yourself

Gallery of our experience.
All images copyright Samarie Smith and/or the featured estate.

To have your wine featured and reviewed, please contact us.


Samarie +27 82 072 5451

Georgio +27 83 326 3016