Eben Sadie has touched the core of my being many times. Usually with his pure Cinsault Pofadder, but recently with two astounding whites over lunch with Keith Prothero. With dinner tonight, The Editor and I are trying Sadie Columella 2007 – a mature vintage of what is generally considered to be his best red. I hope it penetrates me as deeply as his other bottles have.
Columella is a blend of old vine Syrah and Mourvèdre in the proportions of four-to-one. This sounds like a blend of Southern Rhône style. That is not what I am expecting. Sadie’s wines are never quite ‘in the style of’, they are something… Other…
A facet of that otherness seems to be extreme quality, so I am not waiting for The Editor to finish cooking dinner; I am going to check the Sadie Columella is not corked right now!
OK, there is something we have to get out of the way now, because some wine perverts have a fetish about this sort of thing and, once I have explained it, they may send their no longer required-bottles to ME!
Sadie Columella 2007 is really heroically alcoholic. It says 14.5% on the bottle and – whilst the South Africans are legally required to be more honest with these facts than, say, the French – I would be confident about saying it were half a degree above that. If your blinkered view of alcoholic wines prevents you from enjoying things that otherwise throb with quality, stop reading, post me your bottles and leave the rest of us to have a fabulous time.
Yes, it is alcoholic, there is a definite warm sweetness to the nose. But saying that off the bat ignores the elephant in the room. This is a nose that speaks of sophisticated quality with a confident and commanding voice.
The Sadie Columella 2007, despite its high alcohol level, is incredibly suave and refined. It has a perfect balance of dark, ripe fruit (blackberries, cherries and elderberries), notes of liquorice and cocoa bean, a panoply of herbs, strong pepper, rich spice, beguiling earthiness, and the merest hint of deftly-dosed oak.
Not only is the balance and harmony spot on, all those aromas are exceedingly attractive and consequently Sadie Columella 2007 has the most hedonistic, pleasure-permeated nose you could wish for.
As I said at the beginning, this may seem like a Southern Rhône-blend, and there are scintillations of that aroma set here, the Mourvèdre adds a few glisks of Bandol to it as well. Yet Sadie Columella 2007 is something other than those.
For a start Sadie Columella 2007 is squeaky-clean, not a hint of Brett here at all. That herbal character is not of Southern France either, it is less pungent, more subdued whilst remaining fresh and lively. The pepper and spice are more sveltely framed. Then there is that the sum of the intricately woven, harmonious aromas so confidently exude an aura of quality that this simply smells better than all but a small handful of Bandols and Southern Rhônes could possibly be.
Have I made it clear? This is nose is at the zenith of all (boozy ,) harmonious, sophisticated, lubricious wines of this general style.
A taste and… Wow… Confidence shows again on the palate. A taut, precise, commanding structure of fine tannin and perfect acidity levels charms and bewitches. If structure alone determined a wine’s potential for longevity, then you would feel perfectly safe in saying the Sadie Columella 2007 would last for another 10-15 years without a problem.
It is not just structure that determines longevity, and the other components guarantee that this will continue on with a long life.
There is an abundance of dark fruit: blackberries, cherries, plums. This fruit is ripe and softly mature, but not the slightest bit soupy or saggy. It is bursting with energy and life.
The pepper character is very strong, stronger that you will find in anything in the Rhône. This is coupled with a rich spiciness and a fresh, complex herbal character.
Finally there is one incredibly important thing to mention about Sadie Columella 2007; namely, it is incredibly delicious. Its attractive fruit, pepper and spice, coupled with that pert, lively structure make this an absolute joy to drink. This is a really fine wine in a technical, wine pervert-sense, but it is also really fine in a yummy, enjoyable and scrummy-tastic sense. It is just lovely, man.
As we are finishing the bottle, with great effort to get the last, non-sediment-y drops out, The Editor asks, “Remind me, just what is the point of Southern Rhône wines again?”. With a reasonably full glass of Sadie Columella 2007 in front of me, I am not sure I can answer that…
I would like to thank Alex Lake for his nigh-peerless generosity in giving me this wonder in wine form.