Tim James: More on A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines

November 2, 2015
by Tim James
in Opinion & Analysis
with 3 Comments

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.


A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines Ramnsagras 2014

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.

  • Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.

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  1. Tim JamesMarch 25, 2016 at 10:14 amReply

    Thanks, Jerry. In fact, when I spoke to Adi fairly soon after writing this article, he made it clear that he knew about the identification of his “barbarossa” with danugue. Adi says that “It was actually identified by someone way before Perold. Abraham Perold simply confirmed this.” So most likely that this delicious wine is, as you say, from danugue, which was apparently a table grape very popular in English gardens – which is perhaps where the original cuttings in the Cape came from.

    • David ClarkeMarch 28, 2016 at 2:13 pmReply

      Wow, super interesting Jerry. Thanks.

      Tim, one is forced to wonder how it received certification as Barbarossa with SAWIS in the first place? Neither Grenache Gris nor Semillon Gris have got that distinction yet for example. Odd.

      Is it a costly process to get certified? Or is it just administratively cumbersome and marathonic?

  2. Dr Jerry RodriguesMarch 23, 2016 at 11:22 pmReply

    Hi, my name is Dr Jerry Rodrigues and I would like to offer some comments on the identification of the Barbarossa grapevine.

    I agree with your description of the Brakkuil Barbarossa as “…having bright and dark fruit all at once…”, but unfortunately, the Barbarossa that you are describing is NOT the Northern Italian Barbarossa – which, as the name itself proposes, is a ‘blush red’ grape. As you have correctly mentioned, the name, Barbarossa, in the Italian language means ‘red beard’. That colour is a typical characteristic of those northern Italian cultivars.

    The Barbarossa grapevine that grew in the Cape area (especially around Constantia), was identified by Prof. Abraham Perold way back in 1927 (in his ‘Treatise on Viticulture’) as being none other that the French cultivar called Danugue (aka Gros Guillaume). In the Cape, Perold preferred to call the cultivar ‘Cape Barbarossa’ rather that just ‘Barbarossa’ as he realized quite early on that this variety had been incorrectly given the latter name.

    In 1994 in Plumstead, a suburb close to the historical Groot Constantia vineyards in the Western Cape, I created a new red grape variety which I’ve called ‘Cabernet labrusco’. This new variety was derived from a crossing between Cabernet sauvignon N. CS5/R46 (Vitis vinifera L.) (seed parent) x Danugue noir (Vitis vinifera L.) (pollen parent). This new ruby-red wine varietal was registered in 2013 with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

    The DNA of my Cabernet labrusco offspring was analysed for Simple Sequence Repeats (SSRs) by a forensic laboratory in Worcester and also by a Viticultural Institute in Turin, Italy. The results of the DNA analysis proved, without a doubt, that one parent of my Cabernet labrusco offspring was Cabernet sauvignon and the other parent was Cape Barbarossa (aka Danugue).

    So, to summarize, I would say that, the Brakkuil Barbarossa is most likely what we now know as Danugue noir, and it was definitely NOT a Northern Italian cultivar NOR a Portuguese cultivar, but was grown in France at the beginning of the 19th century, and may even have been originally imported into France from from Spain.

    If anyone is interested in my Cabernet labrusco story, please search for ‘Cabernet labrusco’ or go to my blogsite:




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