Come hell or high water

And you can throw in a gale too, but the one opportunity a year to taste through the latest vintages of Eben Sadie’s Ouwingerds range as well as Palladius and Columella is not to be missed. This year’s event had even more urgency given every wine had sold out within a couple of days.

Sadie Family Ouwingerds wines
Sadie Family Ouwingerds wines

Both last Friday and Saturday delivered one of this winter’s deluges along with cold and windy conditions, but the route I take to the Sadie’s Perdeberg farm, even when it’s wet and grey, is a relatively easy and certainly a scenic one with wheatfields lining the road and mountains in the distance. Relatively easy, for the last 4 kilometres is along a dirt track more suited to a 4×4 than a very old Toyota Conquest! But I made it in just on an hour, which is nothing in terms of many wineries strung out across the winelands.

The greeting, as always, was warm from the Sadie siblings – Delana, Nico and Eben – and other friends there; not too many of them at the early hour of my arrival, so I could get stuck into tasting without being diverted into the social chat that happened later.

Cross section of soils in vineyards where Sadie buys fruit.
Cross section of soils in vineyards where Sadie buys fruit.

With the Ouwingerds, it was the 2013s on show. As far as the whites go, I noticed an unusual firmness of structure about them; no question of imbalance, just a vintage character. That said, Skerpioen (chenin, palomino) is also a little fuller with good intensity of understated (if those two aren’t incompatible) earthy, honey flavours. The firm acid backbone is notable on Skurfberg (chenin), as is its subtle yet expansive ripe apple character. I believe T’voetpad (semillon, palomino, chenin, muscat d’alexandrie) is Sadie’s favourite this vintage. It has a lovely lightness of touch but also impressive mouthfeel, finishing with an intriguing hint of muscat. Apart from Mrs Kirsten, I feel T’voetpad has the most interesting future. Kokerboom (semillon) is also on the fuller side, with semillon’s typical beeswax features. These are relieved by a marked mineral tail. It will need time to come around from this and its current rather sullen nature. For concentration and structure, Mrs Kirsten (chenin) can’t be beaten; she will need lengthy ageing, but I hope the most appealing fennel and honey notes hang around as she does. There was so little made, none has been sold, so we’ll have to hope the Sadie’s hold on to her and we’re invited when her various bottles are opened.

If I enjoyed the whites, it’s the reds this year that have got me really excited: Soldaat (grenache), Pofadder (cinsaut) and Treinspoor (tinta barocca); all in my humble opinion are the best to date. Sadly, I didn’t manage to buy any Soldaat, but for those who did, please don’t be in too much of a hurry to open it. It glints like a valuable ruby, has deep and enticing wild strawberry and pepper spice fragrance. But there’s lot more to evolve and it has the structure to do so. It captures the essence of grenache in its light texture and freshness. I have managed to lay my hands on some Pofadder, which is a stealthy cat compared with Soldaat. A glimpse of wild red fruit spice is here one minute, gone the next, but it’ll return and develop. It’s very tight with tannins that are both vibrant and currently pretty impenetrable. Of course with sound balance, it’s worth however long it takes to settle and mature. I still remember the first Treinspoor, well, actually primarily the tannins, which were fearsome but which Sadie firmly believed will resolve. They’re much more balanced in this vintage, allowing for a more elegant expression of tinta with wet gravel soil and violets and a lively freshness. As with the other reds, ageing will be rewarded.

Back a vintage to 2012 with Palladius and Columella. It’s amazing how even 3% viognier, the amount in Palladius, makes its presence felt, as does the wine itself. It’s more forceful and pithier than usual but it also has underlying breadth. It really does need time to pull together, which I hope everyone who jumped in to buy it will allow for.
If I am a little ambivalent about Palladius right now, Columella is a totally different proposition, and my favourite vintage to date. Sadie says it reminds him of his 2010, but for me this has more precision, detail and personality. I keep saying what a wonderful vintage 2012 is for red wines – and crossing my fingers that I’m not the only one to have experienced these wines! – as with Columella, the best are totally in harmony if not yet unison, as structure is a big part of their success. Lengthy cellaring will be advisable for some.

Every year I come away full of admiration for the subtle yet characterful wines the old vineyards deliver thanks to Sadie’s ever-greater understanding of them. I fear these heirlooms are sold too cheaply; they are surely among the most authentic of South African wines.

I think I’ve written before how much I enjoy the way these new vintages are presented; all those involved are there to answer questions, otherwise it’s a happily casual occasion. Certainly worth the journey, whatever the weather.

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