The 2016 vintage was a difficult one for the Swartland and other dryland areas and farms, thanks to heat (sunburnt grapes) and water stress. Unfortunately it looks as though 2017 will prove to have been at least equally problematic – and unless a great deal more rain comes in what’s left of this winter, who knows how bad 2018 will be, on the back of seriously depleted vine reserves.
That said, there have already been some very good 2016s, especially the white wines. But there have also been less good ones. I found the David & Nadia new releases a trifle disappointing, with the marvellous freshness and delicacy of their reds translating into what, by comparison, seemed to be rather too much lightness on the Grenache and Elpidios (the Pinotage was the red that I liked most; and I look forward to the release of the single-vineyard whites).
So I awaited with great interest (with just a little nervousness) the new release of the Sadie Family wines, being mostly 2016s. (They will be released at the end of July, after a few tastings in Cape Town and Johannesburg, of which I went to the first, on the Paardeberg, last Friday.)
Eben was straightforward about the problems of the vintage, though clearly relieved that things had turned out so much better than he’d initially expected (he’s hoping, with less confidence, that the same will be true of 2017). It’s the reds, again, that are more challenged, probably with reduced ageability. While, he said, he would like to adopt a similar regime each year and thus let each vintage reveal its character, he and winemaker Paul Jordaan (to whom he gave great credit as the “main vinifier”) had to make more changes to the vinification of the 2016s – including reducing the amount of stems in the fermentations. And Pofadder (with cinsaut perhaps the variety most affected by the heat and drought) was picked a week earlier – in fact, this was the wine that I found most different from usual.
I’m appending my largely un-fixed-up notes on the wines here, with a few wine details. As usual I don’t score – take it for granted that all the scores would be pretty high, but it seems as silly as ever to be adding or subtracting a point or two, especially given the youthfulness of these wines. I have, however, arranged them in approximate order of my appreciation and evaluation – starting at the top! But with the Signature wines first, as is only proper – Palladius would have headed my list, anyway.
Incidentally, Eben also showed us his rather splendid new Witblits at 55% alcohol – not content with re-inventing the Swartland, I think he’s now re-invented local eau de vie. I’ll write more about it separately, sometime.
Palladius 2015 [Chenin blanc, grenache blanc, clairette blanche , viognier, verdelho, roussanne, marsanne, semillon gris, semillon blanc, palomino, colombard – whew! 50 /50 cement eggs and local clay pots; 14.1% alc]. Deep color. Complex nose, as you’d expect, even a bit of toffee; spicy. Earthy note – but not deriving from the clay pots, says Eben, which are also pretty reductive. Really superb: full, rich, big but with sufficient acidity to carry it and ensure finesse and elegance. Intense. Lovely texture.
Columella 2015 [Syrah, mourvèdre, grenache, carignan, cinsaut; 8 vineyards; 14.1% alc] Initially quite modest on the nose, but great complexity coming through on the palate. Has some almost dark cherry fruit, and darker depth, good length emphasising the intensity. Needs time, also for harmony, though there’s undoubted immediate charm. Good acid; the tannin structure as marvellously subtle but compelling as ever (tannins are the chief glory of the Swartland, in my opinion). I found it opened in my glass, and would love to linger over it.
Skerpioen 2016 [Chenin, palomino; 13.5% alc] Thrilling nose. Complex, different. Acid gives good scorpion bite as it does in the best years. Long subtle flavours, almost chalky texture. Picked 12 January (only just made the vintage). Tight, fresh, very harmonious. White fruits perhaps. Mineral, saline. So fresh, without being in the least aggressive. With a bit of imagination, reminiscent of Manzanilla sherry….
‘T Voetpad 2016 [Semillon blanc & gris, palomino, chenin, muscat d’Alexandrie; 13.5% alc] Fascinating complex aromas. Has lightness but intensity of pointed flavour. Unshowy and unfruity (what haapens to that little bit of muscat?) but lots of flavour. Dry, slightly tannic grip. Lanolin notes from the semillon emerge. Fresh, lovely balance.
Mev Kirsten 2016 [Chenin; 13.5%; Stellenbosch]. Fresh, most typically chenin nose (very different from Skurfberg) – hay, some subtle peach and dried pear, spice. Marvellous subtle intensity, brilliantly poised acidity. Has drier profile than other chenins. Great finesse. Eben speaks of his feeling of privilege about working this vineyard; it’s a privilege to even sip this superb wine.
Skurfberg 2016 [Chenin; 3 vineyards; 14.5% alc; Olifants River]. These vineyards seriously affected by drought. Unusually high alcohol one consequence, but in balance. Quite rich, but elegant, lovely acid integrated. Sweet fruit, spicy notes. Volume and intensity. Gorgeousness. Perhaps not as long-lived as some vintages – but unless you’re thinking of a decade, probably don’t worry.
Soldaat 2016 [Grenache; Piekenierskloof; 13.5% alc] Apparently there was less water stress in Piekenierskloof. Eben says: “Maybe the richest we’ve bottled”. The ripeness shows in some raspberry, loganberry notes, but also an interesting an earthy note. Delicious, but more emphatically serious on palate. Very fresh, with subtle fine structure, succulent tannins. Persistent sweet fruit notes on a long dry finish.
Pofadder 2016 [Cinsaut; 13.5% alc] Bright, pleasing floral red fruit perfume. A touch lean and dry, less generous. Early picked – Ripeness sacrificed to acid. Really red fruit, clean character, a touch lighter-feeling and leaner than usual, and doesn’t suggest long-term ageability, though it’s still very youthful – “Hasn’t started its journey”, says Eben. Good balance, with a firm but not inappropriate level of tannic grip. Acidity fine but not high. But a subtle persistence despite lower fruit ripeness and intensity.
Treinspoor 2016 [Tinta barroca; 13% alc] Always the wine that I battle with, and always the wine that Eben insists (with suspicious intensity?!) is truly expressive of the Swartland. Lower tannic power than previously, but still substantial. Hints of sweet fruit but I miss generosity and find it dominated by a dry tannic finish. Structural power. I suppose I’m wrong in my (only comparative) underestimation.
Kokerboom 2016 [Red and white semillon; 14.5% alc; Olifants River. Always one of the most interesting wines in the collection, and usually a favourite of mine, but I found this vintage rather odd. Very ripe, big and bold. Apparently had a very long ferment, but clean enough. Citric, almost grapey depth. Richness, dense texture, shows a bit of alcoholic warmth on the finish. Strange wine, and not entirely harmonious.