Big stuff in the Swartland

Below is a photograph of Neal Martin taking a photograph of genial Adi Badenhorst. Within minutes he Twittered it around the world and was soon getting ribald comments, appararently, about Adi’s beard. Understandably.


This was last Sunday morning, and at 9.30am heavy fog had finally started burning away when we bumped down the road to the rustic cellar and manicured lawns of Badenhorst Family Wines on the skirts of the Perdeberg in the southern Swartland. Neal Martin (who had spent much of the week judging  at the Trophy Wine Show in Paarl), is the man at Robert Parker’s highly significant Wine Advocate who is now responsbile for South Africa. God’s representative on this patch of earth, you might say.

Neal was staying on after the TWS competition for something more than a week in order to taste widely and deeply in South African wine – visiting many wineries, and tasting samples from many more. He will shortly be producing a very substantial report on Cape wines for the Advocate. The judging at the TWS had already given him an interesting overview of the subject (especially in the categories he’d judged, of course – he mentioned how impressed he’d been by local chardonnays, for example).

And the tasting of old wines (reds more than 25 years, whites more than 15) that Michael Fridjhon had organised for the day before had given Neal, he said, an entirely new perspective on Cape wine. (I shall be reporting later on that tasting, which included a remarkable half-bottle of 1959 Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon, and a richly viscous, delicious KWV muscadel from 1930.)

As Swartland is the area in which I have a particular interest and even tend to “specialise”, as it were, I’d volunteered to take him around, and organise some tastings for him. Adi’s place was first on the agenda.

There’s not actually much to add, though I’ll put up a few more photos. The first is of Neal tasting (and writing his notes directly onto his computer – it saves him a lot of time later, he says) at Lammershoek, where he also sampled the El Bandito wines of Lammershoek winemaker Craig Hawkins, and the Intellego label of Jurgen Gouws, who’s a pretty regular assistant at the winery.

The second is of Neal at the Sadie Family winery with Bryan MacRobert, who is as close as anyone gets to being Eben Sadie’s regular assistant (Eben is at present in Europe, so Bryan stood in for him; he did it excellently, but anyone who knows how much and how fascinatingly Eben tends to talk will realise that this arrangement saved a good deal of time and meant we could keep to our schedule!)

Of course, I can’t report on how Neal found the Swartland wines – apart from him being in a sensitive position and not needing observers blogging or tweeting his casual remarks without permission, he’s a pretty laconic sort of man.

I myself wasn’t doing much in the way of tasting that day, being the driver and not wanting to risk spilling Bob Parker’s man onto the Swartland terroir. So I confined myself to a few wines I didn’t know, or hadn’t tasted recently. Here are a few to look out for. Bryan MacRobert has bottled his tiny quantity of Tobias red 2009 (shiraz-based with cinsaut), and it is fulfilling the great promise that samples showed at the Swartland Revolution street tasting last year. If you can find it (possibly at the Wine Kollektiv in Riebeek, once it’s labelled in a few months) it’s a great buy – I think Bryan wants to keep it under R100 a bottle.

Vastly pricier will be the even tinier volumes of two single-vineyard wines from one of the Swartland’s brightest stars: Mullineux Family Wines. These maiden vintages (yet to be released) show respectively the very different characters given to shiraz by schist and granite soils. Winelovers who know how excellent the Mullineux Syrah is (and the recently released 2009 is possibly even better than the 2008) will not be surprised at the quality of these – but, given the tiny quantities, they are going to be, I think, more than double the price of the Syrah. But that is a mere R192 – Mullineux Syrah is one of the great top-end wine bargains in the country right now. These single-vineyards versions are also bottled now, and awaiting labelling. Incidentally they are both below 13.5% alcohol, exemplifying the trend in the best of the Swartland these days to strive for greater freshness. Something brilliantly achieved in these wines.

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