Eben Sadie has released the latest vintages of both his two signature wines – 2011, that is, and the tenth vintage of Palladius! – and the eight wines in his Old Vineyard Series – 2012. Various factors make this the most impressive release so far. And I’d venture to suggest that there is no finer range of wines in the country. Given the scope of them, and the quality, I’d have no hesitation now in naming this the Cape’s leading winery – though there are a few very close behind.
So why are these the best Sadie Family wines yet? Firstly, I suppose, Eben has been growing in uderstanding of the grapes and vines he works with. This particularly applies to the Old Vines Series, of which this is now the fourth vintage (one wine has been dropped – Eselshoek, the jerepigo, and a few were added in the second vintage).
It’s not so much any improvements in the vineyards – though the careful, understanding viticulture of both Eben and Rosa Kruger (whose contribution to these wines should not be forgotten). Picking times are perhaps more appropriate, through increased understanding of both wines and vines – hence the generally lower alcohols. But even more, Eben feels, it is learning to understand the fermentations better. The OV wines are now generally fermented in larger tanks, and this is having an effect on the dryness (all these are brilliantly dry – not something always found in West Coast white wines), as well as on the focus, the steely, rapier-like concentration.
Freshness is perhaps the key to all the wines coming out of this cellar.
The “steely, rapier-like” remark is one that I intend as a characterisation of all these, including the reds. To which I add that the concentration does not lead to over-powerful, dense wines. They are, indeed, mouthfilling, and persistent in their flavours, but there is, mostly, a truly remarkable delicacy which crucially qualifies this. Indeed a rapier rather than a bludgeon used against us, the so-willing victims!
Another reason relates to, simply, Eben’s growing maturity as a winemaker. He no longer wishes – or needs, as a new boy – to impress with that bludgeon. So now, even Columella has only a tiny new-oak component. It’s lighter and fresher the last few years than it was – though don’t underestimate how wonderful even his maiden 2000 still is to drink.
And more – these are the first wines made since Eben gave up his many annual Spanish visits to play a full role in making the wines of Terroir al Limit in Priorat. A little more focus on his part, then – but I can’t help guessing that, somehow, just having more time to think about his wines is having an effect on them. He is the most thoughtful of winemakers. I talked to him recently about surfing – he’s off this week to surf the mighty G-land break in Grajagan Bay in East Java – and he remarked on the enormous role played by mental preparedness and focus in top-level surfing: one reason why the best surfers in the world are (I gather) of an age at which tennis-players and footballers have long-since retired. Some similarity here, perhaps.
So, a few remarks on the individual wines (some much longer than others). I can’t bring myself to score them and can see no point in doing so.
Skerpioen 2012 Surely the world’s finest non-fortified wine made with a majority of palomino, the great sherry grape – 60% this year, with the remainder chenin. The most difficult to understand and appreciate of these wines, I’d venture. Perhaps you have to visit the remarkable chalky vineyard near the Atlantic to penetrate it! (See here for my account of the vineyard.) It is lean and steely, whiplash-lively, with a saline quality, and a depth of subtle flavour. At a mere 12.5%, it is, Eben thinks, probably at the lowest-viable level of alcoholic strength – any less, it would lose ageability as well as the ideal balance it now has. Vies with Palladius as my favourite in the whole line-up.
Skurfberg 2012 From three chenin blanc sites on the rough, low mountains between Clanwilliam and the Atlantic, each contributing something different. Still reductive in bottle; needs time. More texture, richness and power than Skerpioen – so a very different balance. Harmonious. Stone fruit, white flowers, stones, lovely lemon-tinged finish.
‘T Voetpad 2012 Field blend from one of the Cape’s oldest and most fascinating vineyards (see here) An almond-essence note, as well as the straw of chenin. Composed and compact, with a fine acid bite and beautifully dry finish. Very together, lightly powerful, intense – again retaining an element of delicacy.
Kokerboom 2012 Quite a difficult, intellectual sort of wine this year, it seemed to me – less generous than last vintage. Lemony, mouthfilling, with a stony, mineral elegance – some sweet fruit on a bone-dry base. Fills mouth with dry flavour, and the lengthy finish points up the herbal, green lime elements. From red and standard semillon on the Skurfberg (see here).
Mev Kirsten 2012 From a mostly very old Stellenbosch chenin vineyard; tiny yield and the smallest bottling here, so the most expensive. Normally this is my top wine in the Series, but I was frankly confused by it this year. Very complex, as it always is, the oxidative element beautifully controlled, and all in balanced, with full fruit and some richness. But for me some disconcerting flavours, including a polony-type meatiness! I look forward to trying this wine again.
Pofadder 2012 From an oldish cinsaut block on the Riebeekberg. Delicate, perfumed fruitiness on nose. More volume than previous, and a touch less light-hearted, more rigorous – you no longer need to search so hard for the subtle profundity that is undoubtedly here. Very red, bright fruit. Restrained intensity.
Soldaat 2012 Earthy, dark fruit on this Piekenierskloof grenache. Explodes with power, and fine subtle intensity. Acid, tannin, lovely sweet fruit all in balance, with a cutting freshness. More obviously in need of time in the bottled than is Pofadder.
Treinspoor 2012 This tinta barocca is, again, the wine that delights me least. I just don’t get it, though I think some people do – and people I spoke to who’d tasted it on the Friday as well as with me on the Saturday said it was showing better then. Some almost jammy, forward fruit on the nose, with hints of almond essence. A wild element to it, somehow. Fuller, fruitier than others and incomparably weightier tannin that I find sits uneasily with the ripe sweet fruit lasts. Lengthy finish. Difficult.
The signature wines
Palladius 2011 This tenth Palladius is the first with 24 months maturation in various formats before release. I reckon it’s probably the best ever – and as I suggested in a tweet, I don’t think there’s a better white wine made in the Cape. Some thrilling oxidative notes with the incipiently complex fruit. Stunning. So elegant, refined, full of flavour, floral fruit earth aromas, flavours. Intense, mineral, complex, with waves of flavours. Huge intensity but utterly not overwhelming. Flavour lasts and lasts – literally for minutes, I think.
Columella 2011 In drawing parallels with wines of the Rhone, some of the Columellas have almost been more Chateauneuf-like in the rich power (the syrah helped in this direction by the customary 18% mourvedre). This is perhaps the most Northern-Rhone like yet (but of the more classic northern Rhones, not some of the horrid grandly modern, overripe ones!) There is, for a start, a real perfume, but not overdone. Very flowing, liquid, limpid, and restrained. No lack of ripeness, however, though definitely fresher than the Columellas of a few years back (I can’t help feeling Eben has learned something from his own Pofadder cinsaut). Fine, serious tannins – tannins like these are the real joy of Swartland syrah, I think. Still very tight, coiled and waiting to spring – in a good few years. Very little new oak – just 10% of the barriques used for the first year of maturation; after that the wine is moved to much larger casks.