Columella was a Spanish agronomist who lived in the third century and wrote about grape growing. Columella is also South Africa’s finest wine which was demonstrated in November 2016 when…

Columella was a Spanish agronomist who lived in the third century and wrote about grape growing. Columella is also South Africa’s finest wine which was demonstrated in November 2016 when Eben Sadie guided us through a vertical tasting of all the vintages that the Sadie Family has produced to date.

It is easy to become immersed in Eben’s honest and warming demeanour. He can talk for hours about his experiences in the vineyard, stories about the world’s greatest wines and about ideas that challenge the status quo. The Sadie Family has never relied on marketing to succeed; each of Eben’s visions is substantiated by real wine.

Eben’s honesty is reflected in his philosophy of not any having second wine. ‘Don’t leave a barrel out because it’s not trending,’ states Eben who is yet to tweet from his @SadieFamilyWine account. He admits his mistakes and highlights his successes but remains humble and thankful of his journey.

Any changes he makes are slow and calculated. The first decade of Columella is 14-15% alcohol with sweeter fruit and slightly more new oak. Interestingly, these vintages received higher Wine Spectator ratings. The wines from the second decade fit into a more classical spectrum and receive greater merit from Neal Martin of the Wine Advocate. The consumer needs to be aware of this stylistic shift between decades.

There is strong vintage variation which imprints a definite character onto each wine. Rain during winter seems to play a dominant role in the style of the wine. Heat waves during harvest also add to the density of the tannin and, of course, to the level of alcohol. Cooler, more challenging vintages offer more elegance and lighter tannins.

Columella is a unique and under-valued proposition in the world of fine wine. It is one of the few South African wines that gains complexity with ageing. In fact, Columella requires maturing to show its true colours. The consistency of fine quality and balance across 15 vintages is unparalleled in South Africa. International wines of this ilk fetch many times the Columella release price.

Having just planted 24 new varieties on the Sadie Family farm, Eben is a long-term visionary. The first decade and a half is good start however, his winemaking journey has defined South Africa’s modern era of fine wines.

We offer a limited collection case containing a bottle of each Columella from the 2001 vintage to the 2012. View the Columella 12 Year Vertical pack here.

– Roland Peens

See the full list of wines and Roland’s tasting notes below.

Sadie Family Columella 2000
Drink now to 2025
95/100
Eben described 2000 as a textbook vintage with a moderate summer and good winter rains. This first vintage of Columella was 18 barrels which used-up the entire savings and assets of the Sadie family. Syrah and Mouvedre were the only two varieties for the first decade of Columella. 100% destemmed and 7 weeks on the skins. The 2000 is 85% Syrah but seems closer to Southern Rhone than North. ‘I am not in the pepper game,’ quips Eben. Unlike many new-wave Syrahs which tend to be sleek and show obvious white or black pepper notes. It is 13.8% alcohol and was aged in 35% New oak.

The nose is quite savoury, although still offers a sense of purity, poise and confidence at 16 years of age. Deeps layers of cured meat, floral notes, generous black fruits and a slightly garrigue edge adds a freshness and fine complexity. The palate is silky, finishing with a long, blood orange nuanced finish. Elegant and mature, it will keep for another decade but unlikely improve.

This is rarest wine of the line-up and any bottles on the market will reflect that. Rarer yet is the 2000 Palladius, an experiment of the same wine matured in 100% new oak. It will be reportedly tasted at the Palladius vertical next year.

Sadie Family Columella 2001
Drink now to 2022
93/100
2001 was affected by an extremely dry winter of only 280mm, leading to the smallest vintage of Columella at just 3900 bottles. Eben admits suckering the bush-vines too much and the wine shows extra spice and ripeness. Quite reductive at first, the nose is rather earthy, opening to a powerful expression of black fruits. This had 70% new oak maturation and you might even pick up the spice and oak texture. A brightness of fruit balances some seriously dense tannin. At its peak.

Sadie Family Columella 2002
Drink now to 2027
93/100
A tough vintage in the Cape with rare rains during harvest which Eben describes as a ‘beautiful harvest’ saying that ‘the terroir trumped the conditions’. New, young vineyards were added to this vintage although I am not sure one can detect the ‘young fruit’. The 2000 has one of the deepest and most enthralling bouquets; perfume and red fruits dance with sautéed mushroom and meat-drippings. The palate is soft, silky and medium bodied, it is perhaps the leanest Columella until the 2014. Amazingly the 14.8% alcohol is completely in-check. The terrific balance and freshness not only offers huge drinkability, but could provide further cellaring potential.

Wine Spectator score: 92/100

Sadie Family Columella 2003
Drink now to 2030
94/100
A contrast to 2002 this was one of the hottest vintages, although still shows a brightness of colour and even a purple edge. 6 days during harvest were measured above 45 degrees! ‘I thought I wouldn’t bottle it,’ says Eben, explaining that it wasa rough year’. Admitting that the fruit, once harvested, looked ‘perfect’ however, with the conditions producing the highest alcohol ever at 15.3%. It is the most rustic of Columellas offering notes of wild fruits, liquorice and game meat. The tannins are thick and structured lined with densely sweet and rich fruit (for a Columella). The palate is extremely long and generous. Eben describes these as ‘the most stable tannins’ which was confirmed by analysis at Peter Sisseck (of Domino de Pingus) wine lab in Spain.

Wine Spectator score: 93/100

Sadie Family Columella 2004
Drink now to 2028
93/100
A vintage similar to 2000 with no heatwaves, where ‘everything went to plan’, producing a ‘representative wine of the Swartland’. A wonderfully pure, balanced and elegant vintage that has a high level of drinkability and class. It is quite compact in nature, medium bodied with fine tannins. Layers of herbs, roasted beef and rich, ripe fruits adding to its delicious yet classy style.

Wine Spectator score: 92/100

Sadie Family Columella 2005
Drink now to 2032
95/100
Another bright vintage with purple edges and lovely freshness. Eben gauged this as his ‘first really successful Columella’ and it truly offers an extra level of magic. The 2005 was 80% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre. ‘Now I’ve learned to back off. You can’t preach terroir in the vineyards and not carry through in the cellar,‘ Eben told Wine Spectator on release. The wine is on the riper fruit spectrum with suave, elegantly opulent styling. The palate is deep, rich and spicy encased in finely tuned, dry tannins. Sweetly fruited with a long and engaging mineral finish.

This was the first South African wine to receive 95 points from a US publication:
‘2005 Columella offers a stunning array of blue and black fruit–blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry and currant–that is pure, driven and refined, with licorice, sweet spice, vanilla, mineral and sanguine notes flittering throughout. Despite its concentration, it’s remarkably elegant, with superb length and a seamless finish.’ – James Molesworth (2007)

Sadie Family Columella 2006
Drink 2018 to 2035
96/100
A vintage of extremes with above average rainfall coupled with heat waves. Eben calls the vintage ‘Fire and Ice’. The blackest of Columellas shows incredible youth and purity. The nose is hauntingly beautiful where floral notes wrestling black fruits and a touch of dark chocolate. The huge tannins are slowly knitting into the densely-fruited mid-palate, guided by freshness and a sense of minerality. This is an incredibly powerful, youthful wine that will likely improve with age and last for another two decades. It will be interesting to see how the 2006 develops alongside the riper 2005.

Wine Spectator score: 94/100

Sadie Family Columella 2007
Drink 2020 – 2033
94/100
According to Eben, this vintage was just as warm as 2003 but he believes that he was better prepared to handle the heat. Total production 9000 bottles. It is quite a youthful wine, coiled and classic while still modern and polished. The notes offers some toasty oak, a touch of liquorice, wild herbs and juicy red fruits. The 2007 is a bigger Columella while maintaining a fine structure and goof balance. It hasn’t quite reached its optimum drinking window.

Wine Spectator score: 95/100

Sadie Family Columella 2008
Drink now to 2030
96/100
A vintage close to 2004 in its conditions, Eben believes it was better executed. The nose offers deeply complex nuances of bright flowers, red fruits, meatiness and chocolate. It is powerfully delicate, with taught tannins and an integrated mineral streak. Moreish, complex and elegant, the tannins show cotton-wool softness. The most delicious and drinkable Columella in the line-up. The 2008 leans more toward the old world and shows how well Eben can produce exceptional wines from moderate vintages. It may not age as well as other vintages, but offers brilliant refinement and beautiful depth.

Wine Spectator score: 95/100
Wine Advocate score: 92/100

Sadie Family Columella 2009
Drink 2022 – 2038
96/100
Another vintage of rain and heat, like 2006, but with the benefit of earlier picking and more conservative winemaking. Pure-fruited, poised and plush, there is a wonderful balance of savoury depth, perfume and rich fruit. Showing more delicacy than the 2006, the tannins are more refined and taught, giving a platform for long aging. Tremendous complexity of wet earth and grilled mushrooms appears against a backdrop of dramatic fruit. The finish is towering and unbelievably long. Surely one of the finest. This is perhaps the first signal to the new era of Columella. Eben quit his Spanish operation, Terroir Al Limit, in the same year and undertook a regime change. Earlier picking, less new oak, the addition of other grape varieties and more linear, drier tannins follow in the second decade of Columella.

Wine Spectator score: 94/100
Wine Advocate score: 93/100

Sadie Family Columella 2010
Drink 2024 – 2036
94/100
The style changes in the 2010 which was picked 2 weeks earlier and there is addition of stems in fermentation. The conditions where similar to 2004 and 2008, offering more elegance, more red fruits and lighter texture. Columella’s signature spice and classic balance of course continues with new oak down to 25%. There are more ‘edgy’ tannins combined with more freshness to the expression. It actually leans towards Burgundy; mineral, refined and beautiful, expect further complexity and depth with age. Not ready.

Wine Spectator score: 93/100
Wine Advocate score: 93/100

Sadie Family Columella 2011
Drink 2025 – 2038
95/100
Ebens says he had the ‘light-bulb moment’ during this vintage. ‘You are not going to win the 100m with a tummy tuck,’ says Eben on the 2011, referring to the new, leaner expression of Columella. I think he means that one can’t just pick early and expect the wine to age. This translates into more work in the vineyards and a better understanding of your terroir. I think. Further continuing the regime change, the tannins are drier and fruits more on the red spectrum. Layered, savoury and neat, it opens to exotic, structured and savoury tannins. Grenache and Cinsaut enter the blend for the first time, perhaps adding a juiciness to the graphite-like structure. Everything seems to be finely tuned here, this was one of the surprise great vintages of the day.

Wine Spectator score: 94/100
Wine Advocate score: 95/100

Sadie Family Columella 2012
Drink 2026 to 2040
96/100
The more recent Columellas hold back on the nose, offering a more linear and elegant expression of the Swartland. Subtlety and finesse overpower the richness, the wines need more time to show their true beauty. The 2012 shows a kaleidoscope of delicate flavours with fine perfume and spice leading the way to a layered, elegant palate. Medium bodied and yet intense, the sweet reds fruits are knit upon finely etched, compact tannins. Somewhat monolithic now, it would be a tragedy to drink young.

Wine Spectator score: 94/100
Wine Advocate score: 96/10

Sadie Family Columella 2013
Drink 2025 to 2040
94/100
A vintage similar to 2009 where heat waves required special attention in harvest. White pepper enters the frame for the first time, coinciding with the first vintage of Paul Jordaan, Eben’s assistant. Grenache and Cinsaut also move up to 20%, with 20% Mourvedre and at 60%, the least Syrah ever in the blend. With the lowest alcohol at 13.6%, strawberry notes and a mineral tension seems to be more apparent than any of the preceding vintages. The wine is swift (noted Eben) and elegant in a backward, brooding style. Softer than 2012, there is still tremendous underlying structure that seems to be more reminiscent of the 2011.

Wine Spectator score: 93/100
Wine Advocate score: 96/100

Sadie Family Columella 2014
Drink 2026 – 2042
93/100
The most reserved and backward Columella ever produced, I find it difficult to understand and tough to enjoy at this stage. It was not an easy vintage in the Swartland and there were generally higher high pHs and lighter tannins. While we seem glimpses of future of this in the 2010, how this ‘new-style’ Columella will unfold compared to the early riper vintages will be intriguing to follow. With coaxing, an earthy spice, red-berry richness opens up and clings to a finely knit, long saline finish.

 

Leave a Reply