Eben Sadie shows his wines and describes his philosophy (with video)

Eben Sadie

[Eben Sadie, in a suit, in the glam surroundings of the Lanesborough Hotel in London. Fortunately even these can’t keep him down. He was his usual thoughtful, opinionated self. He really cares, and he understands wine deeply. But he’s also fun.]

It was great to catch up with Eben Sadie, Swartland pioneer and one of South Africa’s most highly regarded wine growers, on his recent visit to London for a vertical of his Columella and Palladius wines. His first vintage was 2001, and we started close to the beginning with the 2001.

Eben has lots of interesting things to say. He’s candid, articulate and very thoughtful. He talked of his transitions, moving away from ripeness, oak and extraction, towards ‘honest’ wines that resonate place. But not moving too far: he points out that if you move to picking too early, you can end up with a wine of style just as much as you do picking later. It’s about understanding the site.

In the film above, Eben talks of how he’s changed, what he’s learned, and how he now wants to create the quintessential African wine – not a copy. He describes the grape variety trials he’s involved with, looking to find varieties that can take the Swartland heat, and also the notion of ‘psychological ripeness.’

It’s interesting to see the evolution of a producer. Eben became famous for wines that he now says he is proud of, but which are made in a style that he has moved away from. One of the most interesting

And these are my notes on the wines:

Columella 2001 Swartland, South Africa
14.8% alcohol. This was a dry year, before the current droughts we are experiencing now. 270 mm rain, with low yields, 15 hl/ha. Syrah and Mourvèdre. 70% new wood. More extracted style, where Eben says he tried to build things and make them better. Ripe, dense and structured with hints of spice and coffee, and some subtle cedary, earthy savouriness. There’s a hint of iodine, too. It’s ripe and quite alluring and it has developed nicely, but as Eben says, while he’s proud of this wine and it has aged gracefully, it could be from anywhere. 91/100

Columella 2005 Swartland, South Africa
14.8% alcohol. In 2005 great wines seemed to be made almost everywhere. The Swartland was no exception. By 2005 Eben says he realized that he overoaked the 2001, so he took a step back, to 40% new oak. Dense, quite structured raspberry fruit with good weight. A bit fleshy with nice fruit purity and some mellow spicy maturity. Lovely fruit weight and nice structure. Ageing really well, with a fine-grained tannic structure, and a bit of fruit sweetness. 93/100

Columella 2013 Swartland, South Africa
13.6% alcohol. Taut and focused with lovely fresh red fruit characters as well as some warm spicy notes. This has some freshness and good structure. Juicy and a bit grippy with lovely structure. There’s a slight rusticity here, but also lovely focused fruit: raspberries, red cherries, even some cranberry. Good acidity. This has lots of potential for development, with layers of flavour. 94/100

Columella 2015 Swartland, South Africa
13.9% alcohol. Very pure and fine. Tightwound with dense, compact, fresh red cherry and raspberry fruit with a hint of blackcurrant sleekness. Has lovely structure. Concentrated and very fresh, this primary wine has massive potential for development. Lovely structure. This is serious stuff. 95/100

Palladius was the first white Mediterranean blend in the Cape. Now 55% of South African production is whites. This is because of the history of the Cape and politics. When South Africa was sanctioned, all of the old red vine vineyards were pulled out, because the emphasis was on distillation, and so it has a lot of really old white vineyards, unlike other new world countries. The first Palladius was 2002, bottled with 9 g sugar and some refermented!

Palladius 2004 Swartland, South Africa
14.8% alcohol. A really good vintage. Deep colour. Nutty, ripe and appley, with spicy pear fruit. Rounded and expressive. Generous and broad with oxidative, ripe fruit. This is actually delicious in this oxidative style, and it has lovely detail and breadth. I really like this: it has a real elegance to it. 93/100

Palladius 2007 Swartland, South Africa
This was an amazing white wine year. Fresh, toasty and a bit spicy with some baked apple character, as well as some nuttiness. Rich, but also quite fresh, in a nice place. Bold and nutty but also with fresh pear and apple, and some spicy details. 93/100

In 2009 he added more grape varieties, and started picking earlier. Everything is now whole-bunch pressed. No juice settling, and no barrels any more: all concrete eggs and clay amphorae. Eben has worked quite a bit with clay. 1185 is the temperature you need to fire the clay at for it to be perfect for wine, and he’s had assistance from someone who has built jets for the kiln so now the temperature gets to almost 1300 C. The Georgian qvevri, fired at lower temperatures, are oxidative, but these South African amphorae are quite reductive.

Palladius 2013 Swartland, South Africa
13.6% alcohol. Fresh, complex nose with lovely balance. Sweet citrus and pear fruit with fine spiciness. Linear palate with some citrus and white peach, showing a core of sweet fruit, but also freshness and focus. Intense and unfurled with potential for development. Quite fine. 94/100

Palladius 2015 Swartland, South Africa
13.8% alcohol. Very fine and expressive with amazing freshness and concentration. Nervous, linear, citrussy palate with great acidity, and also some fine mineral notes. There’s a lovely pure citrussy thread to this wine. It has a fine stoniness. So lovely. Give this time. 96/100

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