Earlier this year, I rated the Malabar 2012, the Rhône-style red blend from Charles Back’s Swarland operation Spice Route, 90 on the 100-point quality scale (see here). Once the score was published, Back expressed his disappointment saying “After all the time and effort we’ve invested in this project, I thought we’d be further ahead”. Out of this sprung the idea of a benchmarking exercise whereby the Malabar would be included in a line-up of its peers and tasted blind as a benchmarking exercise. To keep things interesting, Back included a few single-variety wines from Rhône varieties under both the Spice Route and Fairview labels.
The tasting took place at the Spice Route visitor’s centre in Paarl and the panel consisted of me, sommelier-at-large Higgo Jacobs, well-known commentators Tim James and Angela Lloyd and François Rautenbach of Singita.
The line-up of wines in pouring order was as follows: 1. Mount Abora The Abyssinian 2014, 2. Fairview Pegleg Carignan 2014, 3. David Elpidios 2014, 4. JC Wickens Swerwer 2015, 5. Spice Route Terra de Bron Mourvèdre 2012, 6. AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red 2014, 7. Spice Route Grenache 2014, 8. Fairview Caldera 2015, 9. Sadie Family Wines Columella 2014, 10. Lammershoek Terravinum Reserve Red 2015, 11. Kloovenburg Eight Feet 2013, 12. Spice Route Malabar 2012, 13. Radford Dale Black Rock 2014 and 14. Hughes Family Wines Nativo 2010.
The overall top five wines after discussion and before reveal ranked as follows:
1. AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red 2014
2. Lammershoek Terravinum Reserve Red 2015
3. JC Wickens Swerwer 2015
4. Fairview Caldera 2015
5.= David Elpidios 2014
5.= Mount Abora The Abyssinian 2014
Here’s how my top five turned out:
1. JC Wickens Swerwer 2015 – 96
2. AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red 2014 – 95
3.= David Elpidios 2014 – 93
3.= Lammershoek Terravinum Reserve Red 2015 – 93
5. Radford Dale Black Rock 2014 – 92
Are these South Africa’s most exciting red wines? The panel generally felt that the overall quality level was high, especially given that they remain relatively few practitioners of the style.
There was something of a stylistic divide between “hipster” wines where the grapes had been picked earlier, these often showing the perfume and grippiness associated with whole-bunch fermentation and a more traditional style featuring full-ripe fruit and oak-derived character, Malabar 2012 falling in the latter category.