South Africa’s Swartland used to be the region responsible for producing unremarkable ‘Cape blends’ and always in the shadow of Stellenbosch. That is until a bunch of visionary winemakers decided to make this ‘hot as hell’ region into one of the ‘coolest’ viticultural places on the planet. It was fitting that, on the hottest day ever recorded in Britain, Harry Crowther met up with David and Nadia Sadie to taste through their 2018 single vineyard range of Chenins and a seven year vertical of red blend Elzpidios. Crowther picks out three of each colour that he thinks deserves a place on your list.
“Syrah is the most important grape variety for the Swartland,” says David Sadie, introducing the Elipidios
The Swartland is a pretty cool region really isn’t it?
It was once better known for respectable, yet fairly boozy and unremarkable ‘Cape Blends’ at the bulk end of the spectrum that, more often than not, lurked in the shadow of the more prolific Stellenbosch.
It’s hot as hell – a scorched earth – and one of South Africa’s most exciting viticultural areas thanks to a bunch of visionary rebels looking to put the region back on the map.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few South African winemakers over the years, and one thing that they all seem to have in common is this inherent passion for trying new things, pushing the boundaries and experimenting with terroir. The Swartland facilitates this to a tee.
Terroir is a word that is thrown around fairly loosely in the wine game, just about as much as ‘natural fermentation’ or ‘minimal intervention’ are. Whilst I have the deepest respect for a sense of place and the notion of terroir, I also believe in the human element when it comes to winemaking, the manipulation, I like the fact that some wines have to be ‘worked’…. I digress.
Anyway, the other day I tasted three terroir-driven Chenin Blancs from the Swartland that resonated with me. These are the wines of David & Nadia Sadie and they are a class act. But, before we go any further, David and Nadia tick the maverick box. Swartland’s meteoric rise in popularity is very much down to a handful of rebellious winemakers who love to challenge perceptions in search of wine with true personality and the ole’ faithful sense of place.
I rocked up on what was the UK’s hottest day on record to Justerini and Brooks’ HQ, sweltering in my shorts and tee (the AC was gratefully received) and joined a roundtable tasting with David and co, eager to take a deeper dive into his range.
Single Vineyard Range
Three wines from the top drawer, a horizontal tasting of Chenin Blanc from the 2018 vintage. All of these babies are whole bunch pressed to tank without the addition of sulphur and racked off the gross lees after around 24 hours. Slow fermentation in one-year-old oak.
Skaliekop, Chenin Blanc, David & Nadia, Swartland, 2018
Up first, a Chenin from brown shale soils. Oodles of freshness on the nose, with a faint whiff of vanilla. The palate delivers a lovely weight. It’s full bodied, but with poise, a little bit like Tyson Fury. A heavyweight, yes, but light on its feet, lively and screaming with personality!
Höe-Steen, Chenin Blanc, David & Nadia, Swartland, 2018
If the Skaliekop is a heavyweight, this is a super heavyweight from iron rich clay soils. Being clay, I was expecting a bruiser and this didn’t disappoint. The vineyard was planted in 1968 so these old vines deliver added power and concentration in heaps. A cool aspect from the vineyard brings a slight under-ripe green tone up top. Hoe-Steen is a richer and rounder wine than the Skaliekop; it’s muscular, yet precise and direct on the palate. It wraps you up in a cosy, fat Chenin Blanc duvet. Delicious.
Plat’Bos, Chenin Blanc, David & Nadia, Swartland, 2018
Wine three of this flight is from granite soils. Granite is great for holding onto acidity, so I was expecting a little more zing than the previous two wines, nailed it.
There is a little more in the way of baking spice and patisserie nuances on the nose here. In the mouth there is a piercing focus and pinpoint acidity with a beautiful vein of spicy heat on the finish. Light heavyweight, if you like.
Three wines, three soils, three weight classes, one region. Epic.
And then onto the reds…
“Syrah is the most important grape variety for the Swartland… the next range of wines I feel tell our story the best.” David addressed the table as I was strapping in for a vertical of the Elipidios. This wine is a Rhône-inspired red from David & Nadia. As we tasted our way from 2011 to 2017 it was interesting to learn that vintages 11’ to 14’ were Syrah dominant, 15’ and 16’ Carignan dominant and 2017 a Grenache base. Feels like a tip of the hat to a more experimental mindset I love to pin to the Swartland.
My favourite three below:
Elipidios, David & Nadia, Swartland, 2013
The nose is sexy and seductive with a warm climate baked earth scent bringing up the rear. Medium to light bodied. Beautifully structured, freshness and grip all rolled into one. A dusting of Pinotage in this blend helps to deliver a savoury, black olive finish. Sign me up for a case.
Elipidios, David & Nadia, Swartland, 2016
This one got me too! Guys… no Brett here, it’s just meaty, a touch of old leather and the faintest sprinkle of bacon fat. Flawless framework and a mid-palate opulence that just lingers… and lingers.
Elipidios, David & Nadia, Swartland, 2017
The 2017 displays more minerality than the other reds on show, perhaps the Grenache base? Flinty and smoky with a big, bold set of tannins that need a bit of time to come into their own but when they do, this wine will be a tour de force (it pretty much is already to be honest).
David and Nadia’s wines are imported by Justerini and Brooks.