Sadie on corks and bottling

corkscrew-wdcutTalking of Eben Sadie …. At a Riebeek-Kasteel supper on the night between the two open-days of new-release tastings of Sadie Family Wines, a small group of us got on to the subject of corks and, thus, bottling procedures. the subject brought up by a particular wine.

A lot of wines were sampled and drunk, of course, and (apart from the sheer joy of two German riesling spaetlesen – a 2004 from the Mosel and a 2006 from the Rheingau, each perfectly expressing those very different origins) the best little flight was offered, blind, by Eben.

Both were clearly oxidative whites, and much enjoyed, though the second one – perhaps oxidised rather than oxidative – was for enjoying a bit of, rather than glassfuls. The first was a brilliant traditional Rioja, Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Riserva 1998. The second was Sadie’s own Palladius 2003. Oxidised, yes, but it had the fruit and the stuffing to still offer interest and intrigue and pleasure – and not only to a notorious fan of oxidised wines like me. (I remember, many many years ago, at a tasting Angela Lloyd offered of older South African rieslings, being laughed at for particularly enjoying the evening’s most oxidised wine – a “Cape riesling”, what’s more!).

Presumably, the Columella was the victim in some way of a faulty cork closure allowing the ingress of oxygen – perhaps through a little crease made during the bottling process. There’s no way Sadie Family Wines will ever move to screwcaps, by the way, though there’s no downplaying of the inherent risk. Says Eben: “There’s no two places where you can so easily lose a wine as through cork and through bottling”.

He went on to suggest that too many South African producers have actually not sufficiently mastered the art/skill of bottling. As a counter-example, he mentioned his Swartland neighbours, the Mullineex. “Andrea Mullineux is a bottling Nazi!” Which, you understand, was a weird sort of compliment – “Nazi” in this instance meaning “fanatically rigorous”, I guess.

As an illustration of how seriously one can take bottling, Eben then surprised me (as he so often has): “Only two times have I thrown up from nerves to do with winemaking. The second time was when I had to do my first vintage in Spain and decide when to pick. The first time was bottling the first Columella [that would have been in 2002]. I vomited the whole morning from sheer nerves.”

Another quintessential Sadie comment I remember from that evening had nothing to do with corks or bottling lines. We were talking of the Mev Kirsten wine and the Stellenbosch vineyard it comes from – vines that Eben has pruned and fed and cossetted and loved and despaired over for many years now, and probably understands as well as he understands anything. “That vineyard has everything in it – everything from mass murderers to Mandelas!”

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