This is the time of year where many of South Africa's top winemakers launch their new vintages. They typically do so in front of trade and writers, and what follows is a week of unanimous praise. It's the usual 95+ point scores, “striking purity throughout” and “best vintage yet in spite of some challenging conditions”. Then it's on to the next one.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. The praise is justified, the descriptions appropriate, but it does feel a little same same but different.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of tasting most of the new Sadie wines along with some of the new Sadie wines and a smattering of other, mostly Sadie, wines. For the sake of clarity, we’re talking about The Sadie Family, David and Nadia Sadie as well as Butch and Suzaan Sadie (let's call them the “Alheit’s” from now to avoid confusion).
Many of the wines you’re about to hear about might be considered, dare I say, “similar”, because varietal, old vines, excellence and the philosophies of those involved. But given the vagaries and nuances of fine wine, some of us thought it might be a good idea to taste them together, without being shepherded by the winemakers, and give you some thoughts that don’t end in a number approaching 100. We’re breaking all the rules today.
So I offer this, not as criticism or judgment, but rather as a unique perspective that comes from tasting such fantastic wines, together.
We started with the 2018 T’Voetpad. And mark my words; keep an eye on Eben Sadie. This young upstart has got a great future ahead of him. Big and weighty in mouth feel, but fizzing and dancing with beautiful acidity and length for days. It’s outrageously good. And the most thrilling wine we tasted.
Next up was his new Mev. Kirsten, the David and Nadia single vineyard Chenin’s, that big-ass De Morgenzon Chenin that was somehow Platter’s White Wine of the Year, a 2016 Radio Lazarus and the 2017 Columella. What follows is a shamelessly fictitious, but conceptually accurate account of some of the conversations that were had, as a tasting turned into a drinking turned into a very memorable occasion.
The names of those involved have been changed in order to protect their identities.
Just kidding, that would be ridiculous.
Sam: I still can’t get over that T’Voetpad
Dom: What an incredible Chenin!
Dave: No Dom, it’s a field blend
Dom: Like I said, Mevrou and T’Voetpad are like night and day. But the David and Nadia wines are like Groundhog Day. Groundhog Christmas Day. Groundhog My Birthday. Groundhog…
James: I feel the same. Apparently they’re from different soils, but I’m struggling to tell them apart. Just so good, all of them! Precise, focused, fresh, intense, someone punch me in the face.
Dom: ... Braai Day. Groundhog Boxing Day. Groundhog New Years Day before the Newlands Test...
Sam: That T’Voetpad though. Holy £$%&
Dom: Bill Murray was excellent in Groundhog Day. Complex and misunderstood role, but he nailed it
Dave: Mevrou Kirsten for me. She’s still my favourite
Dom: Your wife, or the wine?
James: Either way Dave, this isn’t about “favourites”. Also, you always said that wine was too rich for you. You’re so inconsistent.
Dave: I love lamp
Sam: I love T’Voetpad
Dom: (Giving the DeMorgenzon Divas a taste) Oh wow, I think I brought a gun to a knife fight
Dave: It's a good wine, but let’s come back to it later. Like, in 2031
Sam: While we’re all in agreement, can you pass the T’Voetpad?
Dave: I can, but I won’t. Instead I will open this here 2016 Radio Lazarus
Dom: Oh, some more apples with our oranges?
Sam: More is more
Dave: It’s called “Benchmarking”
Sam: Oh wow this Lazarus!
James: Oh wow this Lazarus!
Dom: Oh wow this Lazarus!
Dave: Oh wow this Lazarus!
James: I think it’s time for the Columella
5 minutes later
Dom: Did we finish any of the wines?
Dave: No, we’ve tasted responsibly
[Attempts to try the Columella. Bottle is empty]
Sam: Can someone pass the T'Voetpad?
A few days later, Butch Sadie presented the new Alheit single vineyard wines at a tutored tasting. No doubt, Butch is an outstanding winemaker, but he’s an even better storyteller. He could wax lyrical about the pure ethanol in your glass, and you’ll find yourself asking for a refill. The same can be said for the aforementioned teams. When they talk, you hang on every word.
And I think that, somehow, this is the point. Context is everything. The conversations around the table that lunch were more about the stories surrounding the wines than their intrinsics. And what makes all of the producers in question so popular is that they've taken care of both. Great wines made by relatable people with passion and vision.
So the conclusion?
They're all incredible. 95+ points. Striking purity throughout. Their best vintages yet in spite of difficult conditions.
So if your American cousin asks for a quintessential Swartland Chenin, confidently point them in the direction of either Skaliekop, Hoë Steen or Platbos.
If a wine geek friend wants to understand the differences between the Swartland and Stellenbosch, give them a Magnetic North, a Fire by Night, Butch’s phone number and tell them to keep the rest of the day open.
If you want South Africa’s next rising star, pick anything from Eben Sadie (you can take that to the bank).
And if you want a great 21st birthday gift for your 1-year old daughter, then pick any of the above. But you can trust the DeMorgenzon will be coming into it's own by then.
Postscript: We also tasted the new Sons of Sugarland. It's rubbish.