I haven’t been able to quite make up my mind about Adi Badenhorst’s 2014 wine called Brak-Kuil Barbarossa – but I’ve had a marvellous time dithering over a few glassfuls of it. Is it merely a good wine, or is it very good or even excellent? Undoubtedly it is unusual, rather fascinating, and a great pleasure.
Those who’ve never heard of this variety, barbarossa (Italian for “red beard”) are in a large company and those who know much about it are, well, pretty much non-existent, though research is apparently underway. Robinson, Harding and Vouillamoz’s authoritative Wine Grapes guide speaks of it as the “confusing name for several, possibly unrelated, varieties”, which do seem to unite in being Italian.
Anyway, Adi got hold of some grapes identified as barbarossa (now listed as an official variety for certified South African wine) growing on old vines in chalky soil up Swartland West Coast – not very different conditions and location from Eben Sadie’s Skerpioen, in fact. He made a tiny quantity of the 2014, which has not yet been released.
The wine is quite light in colour – though somewhat deeper and more ruby than the Badenhorst Ramnasgras Cinsault 2014 (which comes from the oldest cinsaut vines on the Paardeberg home-farm). It’s also not a million miles distant in character from that wine, with some engaging perfume, though less than the Ramnasgras, and some red-fruit notes. In fact, the farmer had assumed the vines to be cinsaut, until they were analysed at the Nietvoorbij research station and identified as barbarossa – apparently there are some barbarossa vines in the clonal garden there. I reckon I’d have guessed it as a cinsaut if I’d had it blind, though it’s a touch darker-charactered and richer, the tannins warmer and more velvety in their grip; the whole a little less vibrant perhaps (though delightfully fresh, with a good acidity), but with more depth and character. Some of the differences in the Badenhorst pair associated with the barbarossa having about a percentage point more alcohol.
As I write this, I’m continually turning to the two glasses alongside me to sip again. What’s to doubt about the Brak-Kuil,to make me dither, seeing I like it so much? Not much, really – perhaps the same things that make me have some doubts about all but a very few cinsauts: a question of real depth (whatever that means), a touch of not-quite-jammy, rustic facileness in youth, and some uncertainty about where it’s going to go…. But undoubtedly a lovely and satisfying wine, at least as much so as the Ramnasgras (which was recently rated five stars in the 2016 Platter’s Guide – the Brak-Kuil getting half a star less).
An adequate answer to my dithering and questioning might well be given by the brilliant Badenhorst Red Blend 2013 (rather more widely available than the others, and a great buy at something approaching R300). Based on shiraz (68%), it includes grenache, cinsaut and a little tinta barocca. Here there’s the sense of the completeness, structural grandeur (though of a modest, unimposing sort!), and great potential development that one wants in ascribing excellence to a wine, I think.
The team at AA Badenhorst Family wines (including Jasper Wickens, who has shown in his own-label wines just what a fine, sensitive winemaker he is too) are on a roll. Certainly the red wines, which tended to lag a little behind the whites, in my opinion, have never been better; these are splendid and amongst the Swartland’s most characterful and fine.