Now there’s a word often thrown about when the conversation turns to wine. It’s usually in reference to the Wine & Biodiversity Initiative, but there’s much more diversity beyond the bio sort.
So many visitors come to the Cape in summer to admire its splendour, far too few in winter, when it dons a coat of different finery. The Cape winelands in winter turns its summer garb inside out, so to speak. Driving into the Swartland yesterday, we were met by blankets of green fields: the cover crops between the vines and the endless wheat fields. They offer stark contrast to the vines with their deathly dark appearance; so each has its turn at grabbing the attention of admiring travellers!
Our travels were to the Sadie Family’s annual open day; anyone who’s visited the cellar will know the approach is via a dirt road, also a very different animal in winter after rain – slushy mud and rivulet eroded dongas but there was no turning back, which Delana, Eben’s sister, told me some the previous day had decided to do.
Pity them, because this is an occasion not to be missed. Not only because of the wines but the way it’s held. It’s all about family – Delana with her brothers Eben and Nico (‘he’s the one who makes sure things get done,’ Delana confided, ‘we couldn’t do without him.) This year Eben’s two sons joined in; Marcus, aged 14, had his own field blend wine on the line up (that’s him – a chip off the old block! – pictured with Eben). So everything’s very friendly and casual – wines laid out on two tables, Palladius and Columella on one, the Old Vine Series on the other – how seriously you treat it is your decision. I did cause some amused interest by taking notes on my iPad, but even the casual tasters do just that – taste. ‘The relative difficulty of getting here is a detraction to the drinkers!’ Delana explains the reason for the venue.
To the wines, where as anticipated, there were no disappointments, more the fascination of new vintages. And what vintages; certainly among the best I can remember
I started with Palladius and Columella, both 2011, thinking it the more fruit laden year, with 2012 (the latest vintage of the Old Vine range) having more evident structure and, probably, longevity. Eben seems to disagree: ‘2011 has much more structure and texture, not so aromatic but longevity. The acidity held well.. It was a year with not so many heat waves,’ he explains. While, ‘2012 is more fruit driven, very primary and pretty; the wines have lower alcohols and retained high acid.’
In some respects we’ll have to agree to disagree. (Prices given are per 6 bottles ex cellar, including delivery)
Palladius – mainly Rhône varieties, 8-way blend R439.39
Here I do agree with Eben; Palladius is indeed tightly structured with few suggestions of that oxidative richness I have noticed at the same stage in previous vintages. After a few hours in the glass, it gave a glimpse of the future, an impressive one for sure but that’s several years off. A crying shame to open this one too soon.
Columella – Shiraz Mourvèdre R604.72
on the other hand is full of northern Rhone-like joie de vivre showing lots of lifted spice, red fruits and lively, grippy chainmail. Much less dense texture than usual in youth; it will be interesting to see how this beauty evolves. Neither is cheap but buyers need have no nerves about ageing potential or less than magnificent maturity of either. A treat in store later this year is a 12-vintage vertical of this wine.
I’ve tasted the Old Vine series every year since their first vintage. It’s so gratifying to see how, with each succeeding year, the wines have grown in identity. No doubt due to attentive farming and Eben’s own understanding of each block. As a whole the 2012 range seems to have taken a quantum leap forward.
Skerpioen – Chenin Palomino R178.96
Marked by pure yet unshowy fruit – sort of earthy, spicy – incisive freshness and linear length.
Skurfberg – Chenin R178.96
This wine just rejoices in its glorious fruit. Brilliance radiates from its flecked pale gold lights and into those expressive floral honeyed aromas. Intensity and breadth of flavour, weighty silk feel and a fantail finish complete this charmer. My favourite white (with Kokkerboom)
‘T Voetpad – field blend of Muscat d’Alexandrie, Semillon, Semillon Gris, Chenin and Palomino R217.85
Quite introspective, complex, very dry with a nip of muscat bite to finish. A serious wine which will probably make a happier partner with food at present.
Kokerboom – Semillon, Semillon Gris Sold out
A sense of great aromatic breadth but in semillon’s sometimes rather dour, waxy style. More than that, this wine is about texture; dense, grainy, pithy texture brought into focused by nicely paced freshness. The antithesis of cool climate aromatic versions, which have such a popular following. This lovely textured expression deserves equal loving attention. Well, maybe it has, as it was the one sold out wine!
Mrs Kirsten – Chenin R693.58
She’s the biggest of the whites this year, certainly needing time to settle. Two days of skin contact have imparted the deepest colour and a dense, chewy texture (of those skins?). Aromatically intense and a big mouthful, yet despite such impact, there’s so much more hidden away. So, if you do lay hands on a bottle or two, do just that – hide her away for a good few years. Don’t ask me how she’ll evolve but I’m sure it’ll be positive
Pofadder- Cinsaut R194.52
If ever Cinderella turned into a princess or an ugly duckling into a swan, it is cinsaut in its recent incarnations. This has a pinot like ruby translucence, the sort of seductive perfume that would be frowned on if worn by anyone at a tasting and bears no relation to the jammy overripe strawberries often associated with cinsaut. Can one have intensity with gentleness? Well, that’s the impression here of the mouthcoating yet fresh spiced red berries in their fine tannin nest. Yes, I was beguiled.
Soldaat – Grenache Noir R217.85
Soldaat puzzled rather than disappointed, mainly as I had loved it so much last year. On this occasion it appeared sullen, the tannins keeping all else under lock and key. Patience required.
Treinspoor – Tinta barocca R178.96
This was a revelation in more ways than one. I so clearly remember 2011, so dense, big and tannic, but which Eben has always maintained as the best red with time of the vintage. This one wants to show off that tinta can offer youthful charm. Its dark plummy, fresh earthy tones remind that it is also a Port variety, while the supple, fleshy feel with its complementary support structure proves its diversity.
And that’s where we came in. An occasion, a place, a family and wines I wouldn’t ever want to miss.