Drunk, Wine Reviews

Eben Sadie’s Historic 2012 and 2011 Releases

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As I have taken a break from writing and thinking about wine – my mind has been in Namibia, writing scripts for an audio guide set in that arid country – I’ve realised I was beginning to take it, and as a consequence myself, far too seriously.

The role of taking a subject very seriously is important, and there are enough of those people around, despite the fact no one in this country cares to pay them much for their opinions. Taking yourself too seriously is a guaranteed road to humiliation, short-sightedness and drowning in a pool reflecting your own face.

There were signs I was on this road that I didn’t notice. Scoring wines. I started arguing for their importance and usefulness on this blog. Who did I think I was? Robert fucking Parker?

Silly of me.

There is more to write about than wine. And soon – I can just see it poking out in the misty future – a new site will emerge here where I will write generally, for my own amusement. Wine will of course remain, but this niche has got uncomfortable, so I am going to blow that popsicle stand.

That being said, I would like to make a self important pronouncement anyway.

Eben Sadie’s new releases mark a turning point in South African fine wine. 

Continue reading “Eben Sadie’s Historic 2012 and 2011 Releases”

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In Vino Veritas: Die Ouwingerdreeks

In Vino Veritas. This hackneyed phrase was coined by my favourite of all the Elders, Pliny, and despite its overuse I could think of no better way to describe the Sadie Family Wines’ Ouwingerdreeks (Old Vine Series).

StyledBoxwebThe Ouwingerdreeks are a set of six wines produced from fruit grown in six of South Africa’s oldest vineyards. Some were probably planted before records of plantings started being kept in 1900, so the ages range from 45year old Cinsaut to 100+ year old Hanepoot vines. Winemaker Eben Sadie and Viticulturalist Rosa Kruger along with the farmers – the unspoken heroes of this story – on whose land the vines grow have banded together to produce not just vinous oddities or collector’s items, but wines of substance, importance and truth.

So I use Pliny the Elder’s phrase here not in the sense that when one gets pissed the truth comes out, but rather, that in these wines there lies truth.

This idea is not mine but Sadie’s, and it can only be understood once the importance of old vines is grasped.

In Europe, Sadie was exposed to very old vines. He said that they produced fruit that was already great. He wasn’t using ‘great’ as in, ‘that was a great lunch’. No, he was using it in the same way you’d say Einstein was a great thinker, Mandela a great statesman, Pliny the Elder a great writer of one liners, etc.

You see, as Sadie explained, vines can be compared to people. When young they can be a little all over the place, giving in to moments of excess, all vigour without control. As we perform in the inexorable play of time everything begins to slow down, mellow out, and we can move from hell-raiser to sage. Similarly, vines whose roots have reached the extent of their growth stop, according to Sadie, overdoing everything. They reach the Goldilocks’ Mean, where everything is just right. Voetpad-oldvine

It is incredible that these vineyards still exist, ungrafted and untainted by herbicides and chemicals. But how does one approach the task of making wine from these venerable vines? Sadie says it is about removing one’s self from the act as much as possible – you need to put your ambition aside and “let the vineyard project itself”.

The goal of these wines is to express the truth of the vineyards, and in this endeavour Sadie truly lives up to a label given to him by many: a poet. In Vino Veritas.

Sadie said one has to “settle with the truth of how it is made. We are working outside the realm of points, competitions and aroma wheels” and must just accept what the wine is because “the wine is truthful.”

This is a bold statement which cynics may see as an excuse for imperfect wines. But to be cynical about this project is like slapping your grandmother.

The wine making process here is a picture of simplicity. Juice from the grapes – crushed by feet and pressed in a small hand operated basket-press – is poured into a single old, clean barrel where it ferments by way of natural yeasts. 18-24 months later the wine is bottled. That’s it. Pretty much as they did it a hundred years ago. Sadie described the method as “historical, with today’s understanding. “

To taste these wines was a privilege. There is very little of it around: only 250 cases of the six will be available. For them to be poured so generously at the tasting and lunch was amazing. Thank you very much Sadie Family.

Here are the six wines we tasted.

image description The Skurfberg 2009 gets its name from the mountains on which three parcels of old bushvine Chenin grow. According to Sadie, each of the three parcels produces specific characteristics. The grapes from Basie Van Lill’s farm give freshness and brisk acidity to the wine, the parcel on Henk Laing’s land gives deep fruit concentration, and Jozua Visser’s provide minerality.

I found deep honeyed notes on the nose with rich peach and pear boiled sweets and some hints of a minerally seashore.  There was a marked intensity on the palate with luscious fruit undercut by a racy mineral core. A waxy finish rounds it out with refreshing acidity. The 14% alcohol was not overtly noticeable, and it paired well with the pickled seafood we had for lunch. It made me, a lover of Chenin, warm and fuzzy. Yet another expression of this remarkable grape.  image description

The Kokerboom 2009 is made from a vineyard of mixed red and white Semillon planted in the 1930s. The blend is about 70:30 white to red Semillon. I found some stinky sweaty aromas on the nose at first that faded to mingle with pineapple, and some green leafy notes. The acidity on the palate is bracing and cuts through the caressing creamy mid-palate. I would like to come back to this wine in a couple of years.

image description My favourite wine (and label) was the ‘T Voetpad 2009. It shares its name with Dirk Brand’s wheat and rooibos tea farm where the vines are located. The vineyard consists of Hanepoot planted around 1900, red and white Semillon from the 1920s, Palomino (normally associated with sherry) from 1978 and Chenin Blanc from 1991. Again, all of these vines are ungrafted and have seen no herbicides or chemicals. The wine is a field blend (except for the Hanepoot) and the grapes were picked, pressed and fermented together.

This wine had so much character that it was alive. On the nose the Chenin bursts through with honey, wheat, and according to my neighbour at the tasting “furry peach skin”. The wine was bright and rich. The abundant tropical flavours were pretty much bottled summer. Waxy and fresh with stony undertones, and a finish I can only describe as cheeky. I absolutely loved this wine. It was a swinging, dancing, smiling wine (with dimples) skipping through a field in a summer dress.

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I remember when I first started going to tastings and learning about wine and hearing about this Chenin Blanc made from really old bush vines. It sold for around R800. I was determined to taste it. Since then I have been lucky enough to taste all four vintages of Mev. Kirstens – it seems those late night sacrifices to Bacchus have paid off. The 2009 seems the most refined of the four, although this one is still as toight as a toiger. The vines were planted in the 1920s on decomposed granite in the Jonkershoek Valley, and regarded as the oldest chenin planting in the country. To my delight the owner of the vines, Mev. Kirstens, was in attendance, and the deserved applause she was given showed a side of our wine industry that I hope more people will experience.

The nose showed orange blossoms, pine needles, and just turned butter. The palate had searing (in a good way) acidity, zippy and bouncy with some litchi and pears. The wine seems to have been refined over the years, and has gone from very oxidative to fresh with some oxidative notes, to its current state of sheer deliciousness, which I believe will increase for years to come.

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The one red of the set is the Pofadder 2009 a 100% Cinsaut from 45year old vines on the Riebeek Mountain in the Swartland. After harvest the grapes were sorted to avoid over and under ripe fruit, after which the whole bunches were put in an old wooden open-top fermenter. Daily foot-powered punch downs released the juice for fermentation. After a month’s skin contact the grapes were pressed in a small basket-press straight into an old wooden cask. After about a year the wine was bottled.

The wine was full of fruit, with a perfumed nose of cherries, mulberries and violets. It was bright, joyous and very juicy. There was a rustic quality to it that I liked, maybe not as complex as the whites – Eben mentioned at one point that the Cape is a land for white wines not red – but satisfying and provided much interest.

image description Finally there was the Eselhoek 2009 a sweet hanepoot made from the grapes in the ‘T Voetpad vineyard. It seems the vineyard is susceptible to becoming a buffet for birds, and who could blame them. “Some 100yr old Hanepoot grapes, don’t mind if I do.” *Swoop* *pluck* onomnomnom.

To avoid this avian dining the grapes were picked very early. As the sugar levels still needed to be increased, the grapes were hung under shade nets for three weeks. Then the shrivelled sweet grapes were pressed, resulting in a 90% reduction in original volume. This all ended up producing a wine with 285 grams of residual sugar per litre, 11.5% alcohol, and a crapload deliciousness.

This is the unctuous taste of South Africa. Notes of almonds, and apricots and naartjies. The palate was rich and I thought of koeksisters on the stoep with black tea. Dusty roads. Hot dry summer nights. Sweet and fresh.

I was satisfied after the tasting, but there was still the lunch put on for us by my favourite restaurant, Bar Bar Black Sheep. I’m not going to go into detail, but the skaapnek en waterblommetjiebredie was as honest and tasty as anything I’ve eaten in awhile.

Again I must acknowledge the privilege granted to me to taste these wines, and to again stress the importance of this project. At the end of the tasting Eben said that we have many old vines in this country, yet about 80% of the fruit ends up in big commercial blends. A sad situation. But thankfully there are farmers willing to keep these incredibly low yielding vineyards, and people like Rosa Kruger and Eben Sadie to make wines from them.

A note on the labels: The labels were produced by South African Artist William Kentridge. Kentridge was introduced to Sadie by wine writer Tim James, and these labels were produced after a visit to all the vineyards. An interesting fact about the pieces is that they were produced on pages of old ledgers on which sales of “intoxicating liquor” were recorded years ago. I think they are labels fitting for what are living documents of South African history.

Drunk, General, Opinion, Rants, and Stories

The Great South African Tasting Note

Alas, the last few weeks have been too quiet on this blog. Quiet and eerie, @’s (the digital tumbleweed) have been blowing through the pages with nary a new word in sight.

Let me explain.

It started when a hubbub ensued over another wine competition. One of Wine Magazine’s challenges had been completed and everyone was tittering about Obikwa winning Best Value Shiraz. A decision that drew as much interest from me as a toddler draws meaning from Finnegan’s Wake. I tried to put my mind off it and turn to the slowly growing pile of sample bottles in my kitchen.

how-to-stop-depression But even this grew tiring. Mediocrity abounds in the South African winelands – not to say there isn’t greatness, just that it lives in a forest of boring bottles. My heart goes out to Platter reviewers.

Vexed, and lacking all desire to blog about wine – despite the pleas from those whose lunches I have attended and have remained silent on – I paced around my apartment wishing for solace in Champagne that I neither had nor could afford.

You see, it is not only the wine that had me down but also the industry’s desire for new voices. Only having started this blog in earnest at the beginning of the year it troubled me to see my inbox starting to become littered by press releases and invitations from PR companies. Don’t they know I’m a novice? Surely they might be in risk of casting their pearls before swine? Have they not asked themselves that I might quaff their sample bottles and write a raging, alcohol-fuelled rant against their precious brands?

It seems not. Rather the industry so lacking in voices – especially those under 30 – wants to foster them and is willing do so by all means of handouts and lunches. Which is great – cooking for one’s a bitch.

It reached a point though – one that threw me deeper into my confused and frustrated melancholy from which no words emerged – when someone at a dinner table referred to me as a journalist. I shushed him quickly looking around to see if anyone had heard; I do have my reputation to look after. If I’m known as a journalist then taking free stuff throws up ethical dilemmas I’d rather pass over in favour of another glass.

Is everyone with a blog now a journalist? I dropped my journalism degree to finish an Honours Degree in English Lit instead, something far better suited to my temperament, I thought. Yet still people want to label me as one. Shocking. Quite shocking.

The next morning, more downcast than ever, I was invited to another tasting. This one, however, promised to lift my spirits. It was a tasting of Eben Sadie and Dirk Niepoort’s wines. Wines I knew to be of interest and delight.

The Wine Cellar was packed. Mr. Sadie has much pulling power, much to the chagrin of other wine makers and writers alike. The wines presented sparked my delight in wine once more. Among them was the Redoma Reserva Branco 2007; its rich nose had a touch of brandy about it. A palate dense and lithe all at once; like a rotund ballerina in silk and pearls swooping across the dance floor. I wondered at its weight and texture, voluptuous but skinny, the weight and acidity played out in a lengthy score of minerality.

lady in stream Also Sadie’s Palladius 2008: another wine of texture and substance. It cajoled me, flirted with me. I thought of pineapples and stone fruit, I thought of possible milkshakes, I considered wine again. A sensual wine, of that there is no doubt; it is slightly viscous but is lifted by refreshing acidity and a taught undertone of minerals. A sexy stream rushing over a pebble bed. In a flight of fancy and anthropomorphising I took the Palladius back to the Mount Nelson, ripped off her clothes and shared a smoke and a bottle of Krug after a lengthy and satisfying ravishing.

The good people at Wine Cellar (the place for wine tastings in the city if you ask me, but remember I’m no journalist) poured for us a glass of Niepoort and Sadie’s collaborative bottle: Cape Charme 2008. This is rich, finely tuned and very expressive wine that I would rather debate with than ravish. Light in colour but not intensity: remember my good friends, you cannot taste colour. It had a floral nose with some meat hiding in the rose bush. There was some sweet raspberry fruit with a beefy shirazzy element on the palate. Textured, long, and very satisfying.

The Columella also delighted. The Redoma Tinto 2007 had the most gravelly, chalky finish that I’ve tasted which, amongst the sour cherry and tobacco, got me all hot under the collar.

Let us not forget the odd ball of odd balls in South African wine. Mr. Sadie’s Mrs. Kirstens 2008. The oxidative Chenin that sells for eight times the price of the vineyard’s age, which’s apparently older than my octogenarian granny. Would I trade it for all the Obikwa in Distell’s cavernous belly? You decide.

It is difficult wine to describe, but what I loved as much as the wine was Eben’s quip that “it smells of a time that is before yesterday.”

The Batuta 2007 filled me with desire for long, smoky dinners with lusty women. The 2007 Vintage Port from Niepoort stamped again my desire for vinous escapades with a thick crimson wax seal on the envelope of my existence.

I drove away dizzy with ideas and passion. Composing in my head the blog post for this wonderful evening. “It can’t be the same!” I shouted at man at the traffic lights. I laughed hysterically before driving on. I had it. It would be written in the second person present tense. I would draw readers in. I would be them. They would be me. They would taste the wines I had. I would write the Great South African Tasting Note.

Arriving home at the industrial apartment I pulled out the laptop and began. Like Jack Kerouac I typed furiously and with speed deep into the night. I called in sick at work and carried on. Not eating or sleeping I carried on drinking. I ran out of wine but the words I felt were still there. I left the apartment in search of more; Coriolanus sounded in my head “Have we no wine here!”

From here on it becomes blurred. I couldn’t find wine at that hour and headed for the docks . I remember playing cards with a Taiwanese sailor, and arguing with his captain about the reality of Dan Brown’s novels. Then, if what is tattooed on my inner thigh is to be believed, I had a torrid affair with a beautiful navigator whose name my English keyboard cannot pronounce.

I awoke in an opium den just outside Kabul. Apparently I started aOpiumSFDen commotion, shouting about a velvet fist I had lost, and that I was sure I had left it in an iron glove. I was subdued by small draughts of arrack and sent on my way.

It took me a little while getting home, so you can understand the lack of posts recently.

I arrived back with a hangover that stretched three continents. I sat down at the laptop to see what I had written. Some of it was OK, some of it resembled: “kj sad slepeginsd dtyiere s fp0ps er s wine irnfc unbelieve ahsy aht diad pqw deport as frpe fjdfn a jfnqqwe Fruit!!!!”

So much for the new Jack Kerouac, more like Joyce on meth.

But what I did learn was that drinking wine is much more important that writing about it, more important than competitions. Also cemented upon my consciousness was that one should strive to find interesting wines that provide freshness and personality, wines that fill you with ‘Wahoo’ over pretty much anything else and damn the price. Finally, that you should celebrate opening wines rather than waiting for celebrations to open them.

It’s good to be back.