A Swartland white

Palladius, Eben Sadie’s white blend, is a reflection of the evolution of the Swartland. As with any wine, its development remains a journey rather than destination, but last Saturday’s vertical of the first 15 vintages fascinatingly revealed achievements along the route from 2002 to 2016 .

Paardeberg in the Swartland from Eben’s house

 

It was never Sadie’s intention to make a white wine; his focus was on a single red, Columella but while exploring vineyards for this, his attention was caught by the many old chenin and chardonnay vines. At the time, sauvignon blanc-chardonnay blends were popular, which encouraged him to experiment with not just a new blend, but a new category, which even until today defies categorisation. As Sadie noted, his Platter White Blend of the Year, Palladius 2017 is described on the award certificate as ‘White blends, other’.

 

 

 

As much as our white blends receive high praise from international commentators, winelovers don’t understand what they are about, so these blends are difficult sells. We are still a varietally-driven wine-drinking nation; such a pity as many blends, Palladius a star among them, offer something unique.

2002 – a cool vintage, 2003 – one of the warmest vintages, 2004 – cooler vintage
The blend in these years was chenin, chardonnay and viognier, with grenache added in 2004. Fermentation in very old Burgundian barrels obtained from Gyles Webb, occurred naturally. A mistake saw a few grams of residual sugar in 2002, which, due being unfined and unfiltered, started to re-ferment in the bottle leaving a slight spritz, which the Japanese enjoyed and complained when there was none in 2003.
Bottles of 2002 can be hit and miss; here the mellowness of age is accompanied by some sweetness, fruit richness and 14.8% alcohol with the spritz introducing an unusual but welcome freshness. Not unpleasant but without great distinction.
2003 is dry, again very ripe and big – 14.9% on label, actually 15.5%. Eye-catching bright yellow gold colour; viscous, creamy and rich delivering an immediate impact; it received big scores outside South Africa. It would appear old style now. Lower acid but still flavorsome.
2004 One of Eben’s favourites and mine of the older wines. I had a bottle in London earlier this year; this one too showed similar complexity, vitality and tension. Grenache blanc adds to the flavour dimension. Delicious now, though unlikely to head downhill anytime soon.

2005 – great vintage here and in Europe, 2006, 2007 – Sadie’s most perfect vintage of early years
Start of a major change with grenache blanc playing a more important role (up to 40%) and viognier reduced to 10%. Larger, 500 L barrels introduced ‘for greater stability’. Chardonnay was dropped in 2006 when Sadie realised ‘Swartland isn’t chardonnay country’. Clairette blanche, picked fully ripe at 11.5% alcohol, filled the gap and brought alcohol under 14.3%. Roussanne, which ‘gives volume’, joined the blend in 2007.
2005 has a glowing yellow gold colour. Impact here is from the firm structure, freshness and grainy grip, as opposed to richness of earlier vintages. Grenache’s thatchy, dry hay character adds a new flavour dimension.
2006 more developed, strong reddish gold and suggestion of oxidation. Follows 2005’s style but unlikely to gain further interest
2007 speaks of sunny climes and the Swartland but also has great energy and a saline edge in its subtle complexity. Lovely wine with real personality and plenty in store.

Palladius old and new (right) bottles

2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
Changes beyond the blend itself in this trio of vintages. In 2008, the bottle changed from Bordeaux shape to one with a sloped shoulder, indicative of the wine going its own way and reaching a stature similar to Columella. Picking was earlier for greater freshness. 2009 was a reference year for Sadie; Palladius became a blend of specific vineyards rather than varieties. Viognier and roussanne were dropped, being replaced by semillon blanc and gris and palomino. A dream vintage, as everything was harvested prior to the heatwaves. 2010 an easy year, the only problem being it came after 2009. The blend settled at 11 varieties, each of which has a place in the Swartland though not all liked by Sadie. 2011 identical weather pattern to 2009. Verdelho added to the blend.
2008 – Platter’s White Wine of the Year. Underwent an extended 18 months’ fermentation with a vigorous burst to dryness in October 2009. Deep yellow gold, quiet and developed with a touch of sweetness. Offers some pleasure without vitality and dimension of 2007.
2009 extraordinarily youthful, pale lemony, green; compact build with a silky undercurrent. More a sense of flavour – savouriness, herbaceousness – than anything specific. Elegant and ageworthy.
2010 youthful, pale colour contrasted by broad, mouthfilling richness with some oxidation. Lacks freshness and complexity, maybe an unrepresentative bottle if not, drink up.
2011 semillon’s beeswaxy character and satiny texture plus undertone of verdelho’s smoky, tropical melon add distinction to the freshness and precise finish. Needs good few more years to show at best.

2012, 2013
A moderate vintage that went well, 2012 is notable for the first Palladius under 14% alc. 2013 is marked by Paul Jordaan joining the team in the cellar, sales of Palladius taking off and the style settled.
2012 more open, expressive than 2011; Sadie believes it’s a vintage that would better fit now on a restaurant wine list. Balance between freshness, weight and smooth flow. Doesn’t demand introspection, so good partner to conversation.
2013 the best from the old cellar regime. Multi-dimensional both in flavour – fynbos, wild herbs, dried grass – and texture – lots of energy, silky weight and grainy grip. Great precision and potential.

2014, 2015, 2016
A key change in 2014 was a new cellar, concrete eggs and clay vessels. Sadie’s thoughts on the purpose of each vessel is instructive. ‘Introvert grapes go into concrete eggs, where they are in contact with lots of lees. Louder grapes ferment in the amphorae which have a small base and less lees contact.’ After a year in these vessels, the wine’s blended and spends a further year in large, old foudres. No other oak is involved.
Colombar joined the mix in 2015. Sadie discusses psychological maturity, a term coined by Adi Badenhorst and meaning when the winemaker wants the wine to mature. Ripe and smooth reds for drinking in the year of release or tighter and structured for ageing. In relation to Palladius, Sadie believes the wine can’t get any leaner and still be a reflection of the Swartland.
2016 confirms a growth in complexity and confidence started with 2013’s stylistic change and 2014’s vinification modification.
2014 with alcohol under 14%, energy, a spring-like fragrance of fynbos and hay, juicy flavours held by a tightly-wound core, this is a charmer with plenty finesse.
2015 less exuberant than 2014, a more serious, complex and complete blend; still closed and very firm. I guess it needs at least three or four years to start showing its best.
2016 aromatically expressive, ripe but just 13.4% alc, prolonged concentration, brimming with vitality and refreshingly dry. For the long haul.

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