Two banal Swartland revelations

For Jancis Robinson’s recent visit to the Cape winelands, I volunteered to WOSA, which took on the primary responsibility for organising tastings according to her wishes, to look after the Swartland side of things, as I thought I could do it usefully. I hope I did, but it took rather more thought, organising and effort than I’d expected!

In fact, I rather overdid it, perhaps, as I realised when our heroine, after a few visits to some luminaries of Porselein-, Perde- and Kasteel- bergs took a look at the tableful of wine bottles awaiting her in the coolness of the Mullineux cellar in Riebeek Kasteel. I actually can’t remember how many bottles there were, but it was not far short of 40. The picture below shows her grappling with the reds. But any dismay at the size of the task was a momentary flicker, and she bent to her work with the will, concentration and intensity which have helped her become the force she is today in the wine world.


My efforts were not entirely selfless, you’ll be pleased to learn. With Jancis’s permission, I also settled down to taste the wines (with the will, concentration and intensity that have kept me the negligible figure I am today…). It was a great line-up, without, in my opinion, a real dud (of course, I don’t know Jancis’s opinions of the wines – she’s very cagey and discreet about such things).

It had been, of course, impossible to include anything approaching everything. I’d asked a number of Swartland wineries to contribute a maximum of two wines each (of their own choice), and also  outsiders who make notable wines from Swartland grapes – some like Fairview and Radford Dale having them in their regular range, others like Jacques de Klerk (also Radford Dale winemaker) with their own small label (Reverie, in Jacques’ case).

I’m not going to report (here, at least), on most of the wines – just on two very different impressions that I took away most strongly from the tasting.

The first was the shock of tasting Spice Route Chenin Blanc 2014 amongst a line-up of rather marvellous chenins and chenin-based blends, all of them, I think, made very “naturally”, without additives like yeast, acid, etc. Well, the Spice Route stood out remarkably – it tasted so fruity! Tropical-fruity, in the way that so many modern-style sauvignons made with the help of Anchor Yeast taste. The others had plenty of falvour, but not this overt fruitiness, which now seemed rather crass and vulgar (“commercial” would be a common descrition, I think).  A good wine of its type, generous, soft and charming, subtly oaked, it simply didn’t belong among examples of what we’ve come to recognise as authentic Swartland chenin style. It was fascinating to have this shock, one that suddenly revealed (I knew already, but in a different way) what the Swartland revolution is all about: it’s about the Swartland and what it alone can offer in terms of (forgive me!) terroir expression.

aristargosMy second recognition also was a reiteration, but somehow a newly crystallised and important understanding. Among the line-up were four wines made by David and Nadia Sadie. One was a chenin under the Paardebosch label for which David is now responsible – he took over the winemaking in 2014, and the David wines will also be produced there. David had asked to substitute a third David wine in the lineup instead of a second Paardebosch.

So we had the Aristargos 2013 white blend, the Grenache 2013, and the Elpidios 2012 red blend. I do hope Jancis liked the wines as much as I did  – she’d rated the Grenache 2012 highly and made it a Wine of the Week last year, so she seems as struck by what these Sadies are doing as much as I am (the Paardebosch Chenin is very good too, by the way).

For that was my banal revelation: it became clearer to me than ever before that the David label needs no excuse to stand alongside the other great names at the head of the New Swartland pack – Sadie, Mullineux and now Porseleinberg, as well as Badenhorst and Sequillo. They have a profundity tucked away under their forcefully gentle elegance, a rigorous, ascetic purity combined with a real charm; individual character as well as typicity; altogether they amount to something new and wholly welcome in South African wine.

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