A warm balmy evening in London with a fish braai in prospect called for an appropriate white wine match. With my sea bass marinating away and my prawn skewers primed for the BBQ, a saline, mineral driven white was called for.
This beauty from Eben Sadie is a field blend of interplanted Chenin Blanc and Palomino vines. These unirrigated old bush vines were planted between the years 1958 to 1967 in extremely chalky soils in one of the coolest locations in the Swartland.
Of all Eben Sadie’s Old Vine Series wines, the Skerpioen white is perhaps the most intriguing of the lot. Often austere in youth, this wine is so mineral driven and restrained that it often confounds the critics. As Christian Eedes from South Africa’s Wine Magazine comments…. “a perplexing wine…” with a minerality and austerity that is often “mesmerising”.
Sadie Family Old Vines Series Skerpioen 2015, Swartland, 14 Abv.
Pale straw yellow, this expressive 2015 has a spicy pithy nose of lime peel, lemon grass, dried herbs, liquid minerals and wet chalk. Very grown up and old-worldy. Layer upon layer of granite, crushed gravel and briney sea breeze salinity notes resonate. But there is a white peach, grassy, aromatic, savoury buttery note riding in tandem with the intense liquid minerality. The nose follows to the palate in a very precise, pin point manner. There is plenty of glycerol depth, pithy, dusty phenolic aromatics, and a rasping dry lemon, apple purée and a mineral austerity finish. From start to finish, the palate is electric and fresh with racy acids and remains thoroughly linear and focused. This wine’s greatness is firmly embedded in the philosophy of ‘less is more’.
Today I met up with Swartland young gun Ryan Mostert and Samantha Suddons from the Silvervis – Terracura winery. Shaped in many ways by his days working as the assistant winemaker at Reyneke, Ryan still very much has an eye on minimalist, non-intervention winemaking where purity and cleanliness in the wines are never compromised.
Ryan thrives on pushing boundaries and few wines on the South African, indeed the global market, push the wine making norms like that of the Smiley NV Chenin Blanc. Whether the wine came about by accident or not, it’s third release marks a change where the wines purity, clarity and stylistic confidence come to the fore.
Slightly smokey straw yellow, touch opaque. The aromatics are fresh, citric and vibrant, showing saline, sea breeze and oyster shell notes which currently dominate the lemon lime white citrus fruits. Production is now up to 7,500 bottles of this, the 3rd non-vintage release. There’s a fascinating lime pith and red cherry stone fruit exotic note that develops. The palate entry is taught and linear with dusty briney minerality, alka seltzer and granitic wet stone terroir notes. The finish is textured and zippy and continues to unfurl with more and more complexity until it eventually ends with a tangerine pith, dried herbs, and a wet slate punch. What impressive complexity, palate texture and of course value for money. Funky Swartland kit at its very best!
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The Chenin Blanc for this wine is sourced from vineyards in the Siebrietskloof and Joubertskloof in the Paardeberg. So basically all on granitic soils. The 2017 blend is made up of 50% of 2017, 35% of 2016, 10% of 2015, with the balance from 2014. The 4 components consist of a barrel fermented portion, a “son wyn” (Sun wine) maderised portion (from 2014), a flor component from demijohns, and a skin contact portion that forms 50% of the final blend.
This truly is one of South Africa’s most profound wines. If you’re a wine merchant, your clients would love to indulge themselves in this wine. For sommeliers… well, this has to be a dream come true wine, with such salinity, fresh vibrant complexity and food friendly options. Either way, it’s a must try wine.
Craig Hawkins’ interpretation of Chenin Blanc can divide opinion. Well, I love his wines. He always seems to somehow capture extra nerve, wound spring tension and vibrant freshness. There’s much more to it than merely explaining it as a result of earlier picking having tasted a lot of early picked versions that are hard, tart, one dimensional and lacking in texture and flavour complexity. No such problems for Craig’s wines.
I’ve never made a white wine myself, only red, but having followed Craig’s evolution as a winemaker, you can really see the subtle tricks he’s learnt along the way while making some “funky” whites with up to 2 years skin contact. As he always told me… “I wasn’t looking for any particular result with all the experimentation with skin contact, I just wanted to see how far I could push things … and learn something in the process.”
Well, Craig has certainly reined things in a little over the past few years, a clear sign that he has matured into a high quality, thoughtful, considerate winemaker. But importantly, he has never compromised his flair or his wines characterful natural purity and textural style. With his 2015 El Bandito Cortez, Craig has hit his zenith with Chenin Blanc.
Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5 Abv.
This Chenin Blanc has a beautifully bright pale golden colour with aromas of baked crab apples, white bread drizzled with honey, incense, and tinned white peaches in syrup. Superbly expressive and complex. The palate is cool, taught and intense with Craig’s hallmark low pH feel and vibrant tension, but with perhaps a few extra layers thanks to the sublime 2015 vintage character. Plenty of racy freshness, white citrus, pithy river pebble minerality, waxy tangerine peel, fresh fennel and beautiful briney, salty sea breeze zest. This wine typifies low intervention winemaking at its very best. Decant before serving for best results. Drink from 2017 to 2030+.
I had a wonderful opportunity last week to drink a few glasses of this beautiful old Chenin Blanc from Domaine Huet at the fabulous Remedy Wine Bar in London. It’s old, it’s Chenin Blanc… What else could you ask for? Seriously!
Rich, caramelized yellow peaches, sweet honey combe, ripe and intense. Palate is expansive with soft sweet yellow fruits, no edges, and a profound peach confit finish. The length and complexity are beguiling, intriguing. The bubble has dissipated but the complexity is impressive. Just love the coffee bean and crisp caramel brittle intensity. A great vintage, superb depth, beautifully aged wine.
Last week I visited Eben Sadie’s new winery next to Lammershoek. What an amazingly impressive spot on the Paardeberg. Despite the water shortages and attempted sand mining, the new cellar space (combined with a beautiful homestead on the hill) should all contribute to yet more increases in focus and wine quality.
Sitting in London 2 days later, with spring time weather drawing me into the garden to dust off my BBQ, I felt I had to open one of Eben’s finest, and one of my favourites… the Iconic Skurfberg Old Vine Series.
Made from unirrigated parcels of old bush vines planted between 1940 and 1955 on decomposed sandstone in the Oliphants River Region, these knarled old vines struggle to survive with only the sparse local rainfall to rely on. But it is precisely this struggle that makes these old vines produce sumptuous grapes that perhaps some bird may eat and then propagate elsewhere… or so the natural selection idea goes.
Tasting Note: Sadie Family Old Vines Skurfberg Chenin Blanc 2013, 13.5 Abv.
Made from pure Chenin Blanc, this wine reaches levels of complexity and intensity normally only white blends from SA can hope to achieve. The nose is dusty and slatey, leaving the fruit nuances to fight through the minerality. Plenty of dry citrus peel, nectarine skins, crunchy white peaches and sweet pear blossom. The palate is taught yet textural, saline, citric and bright. The palate is laden with dusty white citrus, honey suckle, with finely balanced breadth and depth. Tantalising cassis leaf, yellow crab apple and crunchy white peaches dominate a long, vibrant, fresh finish. The 2013 is slightly more overt and fleshy than the taught 2012 I drank with Eben at the Adi Badenhorst Oesaf last week, but still boasts amazing concentration and classism that should allow this wine to age gracefully for 20+ years. An epic expression of Chenin!
There is probably never going to a better time to visit David Sadie at his leased winery on the Paardebosch Farm in the Paardeberg where he produces his David & Nadia range of Swartland Wine of Origin wines. After all, it’s not everyday one of your wines scores 98/100 points twice in close succession, in this case, his Hoe Steen Single Vineyard Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2015 grown on decomposed red soils with granite.
After smashing the scoring meters at Decanter Magazine’s blind Chenin Blanc tasting, this same wine cracked another individual 98 points and a “White Wine of the Year” title from journalist Tim Atkin MW in his 2016 South Africa Report. Despite only one barrel being produced in 2015, it highlighted what is possible with this fabulous variety in the right hands.
David’s leased cellar is snug but seems to deliver the goods. In 2017 around 86 tons were crushed, with many of these grapes coming from vineyards being managed in a more organic viticulturally orientated style. The famous Skalie Kop vineyard is only one hectare and the Hoe Steen two hectares. Expectations are of course greater than ever, but giant of a man David Sadie is up to the challenge, ably assisted by Andre Bruyns, another accomplished wine maker.
Aristagos White Blend 2014, 13.5 Abv.
Chenin Blanc / Roussanne / Clairette Blanc / Semillon. Complex spicy dusty slatey mineral nose, with green peppercorns, incense, yellow fruits, green tea, green apples and waxy peaches. Full and beautifully round, the palate is fleshy and harmoniously creamy textured with real breadth and pithy yellow stone fruit complexity, finishing with hints of stem ginger, aniseed and fennel leaf. Drinking beautifully at the moment.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Aristagos White Blend 2015, 13.5 Abv.
Chenin Blanc / Roussanne / Clairette Blanc / Semillon (skin contact). Dense waxy nose that’s a touch broody and tight to begin. Develops spicy notes of apple purée, incense, dried herbs, lemon grass spice and savoury baked apples. The palate tantalises with a steely determination, more tension and focus than the 2014, and massive dry extract concentration and fruit length. Yellow peaches, pineapple pastille and aromatic yellow citrus fruits leave their mark. A seductive mineral laden white that will benefit from further ageing.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Aristagos White Blend 2016, 13 Abv.
Chenin Blanc +- 50% / Roussanne / Clairette Blanc / Semillon 10-12%. Another dry vintage that saw very low yields and earlier picking to preserve acidity resulting in lower alcohols in general. This wine is already very aromatically expressive showing waxy incense, bruised red apples, yellow peaches, and pineapple pastille opulence. The 2016 incorporates the fleshy, harmonious breadth of the 2014 with the tension, intensity and linearity of the 2015, finishing with beautifully cool, stoney yellow fruits and a dry mineral expression. Immaculate balance. A great success for the vintage. Seek this wine out!
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Other wines tasted…
Sadie Pinotage 2016, Siebritskloof, 12.8 Abv. From two single vineyards. Dark Broody nose, leafy, sappy black plum and black berry fruits. Partial large oak aged portion. Fine sleek polished texture, cool and elegant. Impressive focus and tension but also a beautifully precise finish with sappy sweet tannins, crunchy berry fruit concentration and a saline, briney twist.
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Elpidios 2015 Red Blend
Carignan / Syrah / Cinsaut / Grenache / 10% Pinotage (24+ year old bush vines on granite). Very spicy, perfumed savoury black berry fruited nose. There is a real mineral dusty granitic Swartland authenticity here. Lifted and fragrant, the palate is packed with black berry, black plum, and spicy peppery black olive tapenade complexity. Again, lovely balance and harmony with impressive textural breadth and depth but also a fairly tight, linear finish. This wine, out of all David’s reds, always benefits from several years ageing before starting to show it’s true potential.
So yesterday, after a very hectic weekend of vineyard exploration and tasting in the Swartland, I headed back to Stellenbosch stopping enroute at David Sadie’s leased cellar at the Paardebosch farm in the Paardeberg area of the Swartland where decomposed granitic soils rule the roost.
I have to say this was a double appointment as I also came to taste David’s assistant, Andre Bruyns’ second vintage release of his City On A Hill 2016 from 36 year old Chenin Blanc vines. Sourced from two old vine vineyards planted 1981, the 2016 incorporates 8% of Viognier in this 92% Chenin Blanc blend, producing 2,600 bottles.
(David Sadie’s new 2016 releases will be reviewed separately.)
Tasting Note: City On A Hill 2016 Chenin Blanc, Swartland, 12.5 Abv.
This is an alluring wine with complex dried herbs, dried mint leaf, garrigue and baking spices. So much oregano and thyme beautifully melded with dry yellow stone fruits and white citrus. I just love the nuances of pithy tart yellow peaches and the rich but linear taught structure that defines this and so many other 2016 wines. The palate seems to move into a 6th gear, where the impressive 2015 only had 5. Vibrant crunchy yellow citrus fruits, peach stone, and peppery, dusty slatey granitic minerality. This wine has energy and verve, massive intensity, pithy yellow pineapple and white peach concentration and a real dusty granitic finish that is direct, nervy, tightly wound and very focused. Well done Andre, not easy to make a better wine than you did in 2015, but I believe you succeeded in doing so.