David Sadie comes to London to preview David & Nadia’s upcoming releases… and more.

David Sadie comes to London to preview David & Nadia’s upcoming releases… and more.

Friday 9th August 2019
by Mark Dearing

David Sadie, of the eponymous David & Nadia, was in London last week to present the upcoming 2018s to a group of enthusiasts in the dining room at St James’s Street. The question on everyone’s lips: would they actually live up to the benchmark 2017s?

It's well known by now that 2018 was no easy ride, for the trio of 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages will likely be remembered primarily as those harvested under the cloud of severe drought. And although South Africans had endured two years of it already by then, it wasn't really until 2018 that the rest of the world finally took note of its severity, as the international media covered the countdown toward “Day Zero” – when the water would be cut off entirely. 

Summer 2017-2018 was therefore punctuated by water restrictions that became stricter as “Day Zero” loomed closer. Mercifully, it didn’t come to that and decent rain finally arrived in June 2018, albeit after the harvest had finished. Throughout the growing season, water responsibility was paramount. It was the small incremental changes in everyday behaviour that, extrapolated out, might prove to make a huge difference. Big picture thinking that cast a light on the smallest of details, and the need to make continued, measured adjustments, therefore, became important motifs of the drought. And as we discovered in this characteristically tangential and fascinating afternoon with David, these recurring ideals are applicable not just to the water crisis but also to a philosophy that David & Nadia, as young viticulturists and winemakers, have embodied on their journey so far.

The emphatic takeaway message from David & Nadia’s new releases is that this dynamic duo has found a groove, and they are finally producing wines entirely as they’d like to. I have no doubt that they will achieve the global recognition that they deserve, sooner rather than later. In purely qualitative terms, their wines sit comfortably in the very highest echelons of South Africa, each one properly conveying the highs and lows of life in the Swartland; with its wonderful old vineyards, complex and varied terroirs, steady warmth and beautiful richness of fruit, but also the extremity of low yields and the relentless agricultural work that is needed in order to plant new and protect old vineyards. It is “a collective and collaborative team effort” says David. “We want to improve awareness around the Swartland and therefore also the Cape. We are lucky to be able to work with many vineyards across the Swartland and that contributes greatly to our perspective, respect and experience. We are now releasing on average the eighth vintage of these wines (ninth for the Aristargos and seventh for the Elpidios) from vineyards solely in the Swartland. We believe its vineyards and its people speak for themselves. Sustainable farming remains our core focus, and minimal intervention in the cellar. The wines showcase our philosophy, our vision and our love for the Swartland, our home region.” 

Clairette blanche vines planted in the early 1980’s creating a beautiful contrast with the wheat fields towards the Kasteelberg Mountain. Photo courtesy of David & Nadia Pty.

So, what of the 2018s? Well, Aristargos 2018 is again a wine of huge interest and character, driven by the old vine Chenin Blanc that makes up about 55% of the blend, which provides a backbone of minerality and persistence, accompanied by Clairette, Semillon, Roussanne, Viognier and a touch of Marsanne that brings with it a sheen of white silk and velvet. “Six varieties, fourteen vineyards, twenty pickings, a huge variety of soils, one vision, one appellation, one wine.” It is flavoursome and floral but not overbearing, with a quiet thrum of acidity that will enable it to develop soundly over the coming years. An Aristargos 2012, tasted alongside it, only accentuated the quality of the more recent 2017 and 2018 vintages. A nicely drinking, if not necessarily profound wine, the 2012 saw 10% of Chardonnay included in the blend and battonage in barrel, which has evolved into a richer, more sun-kissed style of wine over time. The strength of present-day Aristargos, therefore, is its modern sense of restraint and clarity. This it manages to achieve without sacrificing any of the floral allure, openness, and seductive fruit that makes it such a winner.

It is in the Chenin Blancs though that David & Nadia’s new releases will create the biggest buzz. Firstly, the Chenin Blanc 2018 in the core range, which is blended from old dry-farmed bush vines planted variously on granite in the Paardeberg, shale/schist in the east, clay in the north and iron in the western part of the Swartland, again presents itself as the archetypal smooth and soulful Swartland Chenin with a certain richness and golden fruit.

The 2018 single vineyards are three of the finest whites being produced in South Africa today. There are only a handful of wines that even rival them, and as a country South Africa needs wines such as these to demonstrate their ability to produce world-beating whites. Joining Skaliekop, with its poor shale soils and typically flinty, lemon-balm and mineral personality, and the famous Hoe-Steen; a deep, ancient vineyard planted on red iron and clay soil west of Malmesbury, is a brand-new wine called Plat’Bos. It hails from the Paardebosch Farm, where the cellar is based, and here the soil is entirely decomposed granite. The vineyard continues to provide fruit for both the Aristargos and the David & Nadia Chenin, but in 2018 the distinctive personality it showed from barrel was too good to ignore. Tense, electrifying acidity and a saline, almost austere quality speaks to the granitic soils, held together with understated clear white fruit, some red spices, and a powdery sensation on the finish. These three Chenins will soon be on everybody’s radar and they are every bit the “Grand Crus” they are styled as.

The three single vineyard Chenin Blanc 2018s

On the red wine front, the straight Grenache has been David & Nadia’s calling card for a number of years and the 2018, cut in a slighter deeper mould than in previous vintages, doesn't disappoint. 

Furthermore, their evident talent and love for Grenache has finally found its way in to the Elpidios 2017, a red blend which is always released a year later as it needs more time in bottle. In David’s words, “it took almost 10 years for this dream to come true, one that was shaped by the reality of farming in the Swartland, its droughts, and our love for a specific red variety, while acknowledging the historic legwork already done in our country since the 1950s.” In his opinion, “it is the wine that tells our story best. Our journey started in 2011 with Syrah as the main grape. In 2015 and 2016 we moved to Carignan, before finally the 2017 has Grenache at its heart.” Access to old vine Grenache is near-impossible in the Swartland and David has therefore planted heavily over the last few years, while also working to safeguard his quality sources. Finally this work is coming to fruition and the change in the make-up of Elpidios now threads the range together with both reds focused on Grenache and the two whites on Chenin. 

In the journeying spirit, David led a vertical of Elpidios from its inception to present day, a fascinating exercise that spoke clearly to that philosophy of continued, measured adjustments and big-picture thinking.

Firstly, over the years, David has reduced the amount of time the various components spend in barrel in order to mollify some of the slightly drier notes that are present in the background of the 2011 and 2012 Elpidios today. David explained, “all four of the first vintages spent twenty months in oak and six months in bottle before release. We didn’t have access to old Grenache and the variety would dry out in barrel, so we back blended up to 15% of the newer vintage.” 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 were based on Syrah, a decision dictated by access to fruit and the mode of the time. Of those four vintages, the 2014 was the most open and fluid on the day; intense yet salty with beautiful blue and red fruit. 2015 saw the time in oak reduce to eighteen months and Carignan become the lead variety. More savoury and sapid than the 2014 and 2013 but much fresher on the palate and finer too, a lifted quality of fruit but with a firmer quality of tannins. 2016 saw time in barrel drop further to twelve months, again with Carignan as the lead. Juicier and more open with a fragrant, herbal quality and some spicy warmth on the finish. Ultimately though, the 2017 is the complete package; a seamless melt of fruit, flowers and herbs, more ethereal, with graceful, sweet tannins. It is clearly the finest Elpidios to date. Potentially, a total game changer.

All new releases will be offered to the trade and private customers in September 2019.

Mark Dearing

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