It’s not every day you find a 12-year-old wine laying in your local liquor store. It’s really not every day that 12-year-old wine in an American wine store is from South Africa. So when we recently came upon a 2004 Sadie Family Columella at one of our favorite wine stores, we jumped at the opportunity to snatch one up (albeit with some hesitation). We have been wanting to branch out from our usual American, French, and Italian selections, and this wine seemed like the perfect opportunity.
The Sadie Family has been producing wines in the Swartland district of the Coastal Region of South Africa since 1999, and its winemaker, Eben Sadie, is sort of a legend in the industry. In fact, he has been called “one of the greatest and most original winemakers in the southern hemisphere,” and a “national asset” for the South African wine industry. With these sort of accolades, you might expect that he’d come from one of the great winemaking families of South Africa. Nope, prior to becoming a winemaker, Eben was a surfer.
After visiting and working in the wine regions of Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and Oregon, Eden Sadie decided to return to his home country of South Africa to start making wines. He went to work at another South African label as their winemaker for only a year or so, and then departed to start independent production of his own label, Sadie Family. Sadie Family produced its first vintage of Columella in 2000, and it was a very small production, just under 417 cases. Now, Sadie Family’s wines are some of the most highly rated wines coming out of South Africa.
The 2004 Columella is a blend of the Southern Rhone varietals of Syrah and Mourvèdre, grapes perfectly suited for growing in the Swartland district. The Columella’s grapes are sourced from eight distinct vineyard sites with five different soil types, including granitic, red slate, alluvial, heavy clay, and limestone. Sadie Family is careful to prevent these grapes from shriveling too much, which would lower fructose levels in the grapes and result in jammier, sweeter wines (as is often the problem with coastal wines).
There are no artificial or machined wines here; all the work to make the wine is performed by hand. Natural yeasts ferment the juice, which spends seven to eight weeks on the skins. The Sadie Family is so old school that the workers actually have to stomp down the grapes with their bare feet. After fermentation, the wine then spends 24 months maturing in French oak barrels.
Our Tasting Notes: Deep ruby red in color with slight copper hue and some rim variation. The nose is powerful with slight brett/oxidation and notes of cooked blueberry, sweet Bing cherry, cranberry, fig, prune, plum, black currant, anise, seaweed/soy sauce, mushroom, lilac, cigar, green peppercorn, and slight compost. The palate is off-dry and full bodied, with notes of cooked blueberry, red currant, balsamic strawberry, prune, plum, seaweed, mushroom, leather, tobacco, dried sage, flowers, forest floor, and granite. The wine has medium+ complexity and finish. Tannins are also medium+ and should help this wine age gracefully for another 5+ years.
For a wine label only in production for four years, this wine is truly spectacular. Somehow, despite rather limited experience, Eben Sadie knew exactly what he doing and created the perfect blend in his Columella wine. Though the wine is pricey at around $80, Sadie Family’s dedication to classic winemaking techniques and attention to detail actually make the wine a fantastic value. And if you’re dying to step away from your usual wines like we were, there couldn’t be a better way to start exploring South Africa’s offerings.