Eben Sadie Calls for Freshness & Acidity - 21/05/14

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"I miss my dog" Eben Sadie tells me, "I can’t wait to be back home". And no wonder. The photos flicking up on the screen of Eben’s Swartland vineyards in South Africa, some of which date back to 1887, are stunning to say the least. 

I find myself chatting to Eben at a tasting hosted by Berry Brothers & Rudd at their offices in HK, the final event of a 3-week round the world travel extravaganza which Eben is now looking forward to seeing the back of. “I won’t be back in Hong Kong for 5 years,” he says. I hope he’s joking but have a feeling he might be serious.

Travelling is clearly not his thing. He much prefers to be in his vineyards, some of which were so ancient and abandoned when he took them over that it took him 3 years of individually pruning each vine to get them back to a state where they were able to produce fruit again. That’s a LOT of work and a LOT of TLC! 

A staunch  believer that great wines are made in the vineyard, Eben is now as non-interventional as he can be with his wines. Over the years his attitudes have changed. His aim now is for freshness and acidity where as before it was for ripeness, extraction and plenty of new oak. He believes other South African winemakers are in agreement. It’s goodbye to the 100-point blockbusters, perhaps, but a big thankful hello to much more balanced, elegant, terroir-driven wines.

Sadie is a great believer in blends and disagrees with the South African obsession of planting solely French varieties. He prefers Mediterranean grapes, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, believing they are better suited to the Swartland region where he has established his winery. He struggles constantly with the South African wine authorities which prevent him from planting the varieties he wishes to grow. 

Despite these obstacles, however, Sadie has built up an enviable reputation for producing wines of staggering elegance and purity, wines which quite simply cannot not be made anywhere else in the world. And the best part?…They are unbelievably good value. Get stocking up…I certainly will be! 

The wines were tasted in the order below according to Eben’s request that his red wines should be tasted before the whites. The winery produces just 4,000 cases a year. 

2012 Pofadder  

Named after the puff adder snake which can be found in the vineyards, this wine is 100% Cinsault. Scented, pure red fruits on the nose, particularly cherries, with a touch of spice. A lovely crunchiness on the palate, vibrant and fresh with a nice chalky edge.  17.5 (HK$220)

2012 Soldaat 

Soldaat, meaning solider, is made from 100% Grenache from 48-year-old vines on decomposed granite soils at 2,200 ft of elevation. Very elegant deep red plum and red berries aromas. Raspberries, strawberries, cherries, a touch of spice and herbal-mineral note on the palate. Loverly balance. 17 (HK$240) 

2012 Treinspoor

Treinspoor, meaning railway line as one runs through the vineyard, is taut and fine, made from Tinta Barocca. Elegant, floral notes on the nose with hints of plum and spice. Good structure on the palate, medium to full bodied with plum fruit and a touch of blackberry. Ripe yet fresh with slightly chalky tannins and a mineral laden finish. 17.5  (HK$190) 

2010 Columella 

One of Eben’s best known wines, Columella is multi-layered and complex. Deep blackberry and savoury, meaty notes on the nose, followed by spice, violets and blueberries. Full bodied with ripe chunky tannins. Very long and well balanced. A wine which will age for a good 20 years. 18 (HK$480)

2012 Skerpioen 

Skerpioen, meaning scorpion, is a Chenin Blanc and Palomino blend from 66-year-old vines planted on clay and chalky soils in the northwest corner of Swartland. Fresh lemon on the nose with a hint of almond. Crisp and fresh on the palate with medium body, good acidity and a nice finish. 16.5 (HK$190)

2012 Skurfberg 

Skurfberg, meaning rigid mountain, is Chenin Blanc sourced from 88-year-old vines planted on Table Mountain sandstone. Lovely elegant lemon fruit on the nose with layers of savoury complexity and a hint of floral character. Medium bodied with nice acidity and freshness, lots of complexity and a long finish. 18 (HK$190)

2012 T Voetpad 

This wine comes from a 3.5 acre parcel that is a field blend of Semillon, Semillon Gris, Palomino, Chenin Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandria planted in a stretch from 1887 to 1928. The T Voetpad, which means footpath, has wonderful fresh lemon aromas with hints of honeysuckle and pineapple. Very high acidity, zingy, fresh, precise. Complex, layered with a long lasting finish. Only 150 cases made. 17.5 (HK$240)

2012 Mrv Kirsten 

Named after the vineyard’s owner, Mrs Kirsten, this wine comes, according to Sadie, from South Africa’s oldest Chenin Blanc vineyard, planted in 1905. Just 80 cases were made. Golden in colour with melon, honey and tropical fruit touches, savoury, quince and lime notes. Bone-dry, taut and nervy with tons of complexity, full body and a zingy freshness to finish. 18 (HK$740)

2010 Palladius

Incredible minerality on the nose with fresh lemon, lime and tropical fruit, apricot and peach touches. Wonderfully complex and concentrated on the palate with firm acidity and a very long finish. A wine with 15 years ahead of it. 18.5 (HK$370)

All wines are available to buy in Hong Kong from Berry Brother’s and Rudd

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