The wines of Adi Badenhorst and Jasper Wickens

The invitation to Kalmoesfontein, the AA Badenhorst home farm on the Paardeberg in Swartland, was for “something a little different”. “By different”, said Helena Badenhorst, Adi’s cousin who handles marketing, “I mean that we are going formal and serious”. That did indeed promise something of a change. Adi habitually disguises the meticulousness of his work behind a façade of easygoing jokiness (that I don’t think confuses anyone who’s seen his set-up – or indeed tasted his wines). Anyway, a later email from Helena said, a bit wearily in tone, that Adi was insisting it was all going to be really casual, so probably it would be something between the two.

As it was. A marvellous occasion on the long verandah outside the old but revamped Badenhorst cellar, including a delicious farm-style lunch prepared by Adi’s mother, Judy Badenhorst, a professional caterer of note, the whole event (attended by sundry retailers, sommeliers and the like – and a few friends) held together by the force of Adi’s personality and the excellence of his wines.

Adi Badenhorst presenting his wines at a trade tasting at Kalmoesfontein.

A case could be made, I think for AA Badenhorst being the most improved range of top-end Cape wines in the last decade. The whites were always good, but the reds not always quite up to the standard of some of the best Swartland stuff. Now all of them are superb – detailed, precise, delicious even in youth. To the extent, in fact, that another case could be made: for AA Badenhorst having one of the best quality:price ratios of top-end Cape wine (though they’re mostly not cheap). And if not biodynamic then certainly, as Adi claims, “baie dynamic – even fokken dynamic!”

We tasted eight wines formally, including the excellent value Secateurs Chenin Blanc and especially attractive Red Blend.

The AA Badenhorst Family White 2015 (R310+) blends ten varieties into an unshowy, lingering whole that combines ripe succulent fatness with a fresh, really firm acidity. A genuinely exciting wine.

Following up on Dassiekop Steen comes another single vineyard chenin, Golden Slopes 2016 (R360) off yellow granite soil on the home farm. I much enjoyed this and, while I dislike continual references back to old Europe, it seemed to me, with in its yellow stonefruit, straw, pear and spice , the closest the Cape has come to a Vouvray in its complex delicacy and hint of sweetness (4.1 g/l sugar). Though the acidity (and lifetime) is more Swartland than Loire – but very sufficient and well balanced.

Sout van die Aarde Palomino Single Vineyard 2016 comes off 73-year-old coastal vines (the same West Coast farm that Eben Sadie gets his Skerpioen from).  Delicately salty nose and palate; very fresh, good acid, but less complexity than the other whites.

The syrah-based, all whole-bunch-pressed Family Red 2015 (R305) is still notably tight and youthful;  bright red fruit, sweet primary fruit aromas but delicate. My note says: “Lovely lovely structure, great acidity. Such finesse. Perfect balance but still tight. Serious tannic structure. Good future, will gain flesh. Has ripeness.”

Raaigras Grenache 2016 (R425) has a refined and subtle perfume charm. There’s uncompromising but not too stony dryness (though chalky, perhaps), with great tannic power shaping the fresh, light elegance. Plenty of future here, I’d guess. Grenache shows up cinsaut as a comparatively minor variety, though Ramnasgras Cinsault 2016 (R425ish) is a serious wine, not simply charming – very pure and linear, with some dry tannic structure. Pretty aromas and flavours, but not much complexity.

That was the formal tasting, but on the back porch, for a few who penetrated that far, were two very recent bottlings of 2017 wines: Geelkapel Muscat de Frontignan, a gorgeous dry muscat,more or less along the lines of Adi’s fine 2013 CWG example. And, believe it or not, a remarkably promising pinot noir. Not a Swartland wine, you’ll be relieved to hear, but from Ceres. I happily took home a bottle of each, to try in a month or two when they’ve settled down, and will report on them then. They’re not released yet, anyway.

There’s little doubt, and I’m sure Adi would agree, that the credit for these wines must be shared with Jasper Wickens, who’s been working with him in the cellar for nearly a decade now. Jasper, as JC Wickens, has been making his own Swerwer range of wines for about half that time: a Chenin and a Red blend (cinsaut, grenache and tinta barroca in 2016), and a new straight Shiraz. These are amongst my favourite Swartland wines – subtly intense, dry and stony-mineral, the reds perhaps a little more tannin-structured than the Badenhorst range. The Red deservedly got five stars in Platter this year, and I see that the equally splendid, more obviously youthful, Shiraz is available at Wine Cellar for R200, making it surely the Swartland bargain of the moment.

Jasper, partnered with new wife Franziska, plans to be making his wines in his own Paardeberg cellar next vintage (I hope to visit and report more fully before then) – the next stage in fully establishing Swerwer amongst the Swartland elite.