Greg Sherwood MW: Battle of the Syrahs – Sadie vs. Guigal tasting

By , 6 March 2024



In true wine trade form, the past couple of weeks have seen all the large importers in the UK roll out impressive fine wine displays for their annual portfolio tastings, mostly held across the London capital as well as further afield in northern satellite cities such as Birmingham and Manchester. Whether it’s the exorbitant cost of international travel these days or simply because many of these show piece tastings fall amidst the chaos of harvest time in the Cape, many South African winemakers and winery owners have been notable in their absence this year. It is perhaps understandable that many prefer to travel to northern climes in the European Autumn of September and October when the market often seems to have an extra spring in its step after a well-deserved summer break.

With the broader fine wine market continuing to drift somewhat aimlessly, is has been very reassuring to see how many traditionally focused, classical fine wine buyers have been actively attending new vintage launches for some of South Africa’s top wineries, the more notable of late being Boekenhoutskloof’s recent 2021 release tasting (with Marc Kent in attendance), Vilafonté’s new Series C and M 2021 release tastings, as well as many other exciting events highlighting new vintages from the likes of Richard Kershaw, Samantha O’Keefe of Lismore, Draaiboek Wines and Naudé Wines. If you are looking for fine wine excitement outside of a slightly lethargic Bordeaux and an overheating Burgundy marketplace, South Africa is definitely where you need to be hunting.

I will admit that my obsession with South Africa’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons and Cape Bordeaux Blends only intensifies as the latest 2021 releases from producers like Le Riche, Winshaw Vineyards, Thelema, Taaibosch and Kanonkop draw nearer, until that is, my less biased colleagues remind me of all the sublime new Syrah wines that continue to arrive on UK shores to seduce fine wine collectors and drinkers. These wines are categorically some of South Africa’s most iconic fine wines that, like their white Chenin Blanc counterparts, seem to have few real rivals in Europe outside of the Loire and the Northern Rhône.

Only just this week, the illustrious Telegraph newspaper wine writer Victoria Moore penned a notable piece in the Weekend Telegraph Magazine titled “South African Syrah is the Next Super-Wine”. She then proceeded to gush over the tantalising offerings from the likes of Chris and Andrea Mullineux, Reenen Borman with his Boschkloof Epilogue, Peter-Allan Finlayson and his superb Gabriëlskloof wines, and of course Eben Sadie, who recently produced a new pure Swartland Syrah 2022 vintage red exclusively for his UK importer Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Indeed, it was perhaps talk of this new Sadie Family 100% pure Syrah for BBR that started the discussion between me and a few wine trade collector friends and seeded the initial idea of hosting a Columella versus Côte Rôtie taste-off challenge. While Eben’s Columella once started off as primarily Syrah focused, with the maiden 2000 vintage consisting of 100% Syrah, it soon started to evolve into a Rhône blend featuring as much as 15% of Mourvedre in the second vintage 2001 release. By the time we move forward to the two candidates for our mega Syrah taste-off, the Columella 2006 already featured 80% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre, and the 2009 Columella a more intricate 75% Syrah, 23% Mourvedre and 2% Grenache.

Needless to say, my two good tasting pals who joined me in the taste-off are both consummate Columella collectors as well as being passionate Guigal La Turque Côte Brune Syrah obsessives. So the Northern Rhône Côte Rôtie opposition pairing choice to challenge the Columella brace left little to the imagination. Plain and simple, La La’s versus the Sadie wunderkind! Wines were tasted sighted, not decanted, and drunk over several hours with a great deal of discussion and reflection. The scores and notes below are my own but are certainly representative of all three tasters’ general impressions of the wines.

Flight 1:

E Guigal Côte Rôtie La Turque 2006, 13.5% Abv.

Seductive, attractively floral yet savoury with full blown aromatics of smoky grilled meats, sweet lavender, sappy vanilla pod, Christmas herbs, soy and sweet oak spice. The palate is dense, plush but tight knit, very focused with a medium bodied fruit weight with hints of coffee bean, bramble berries, and a wild herby garrigue length. A fabulous wine that is super sleek, spicy, polished and eminently youthful. 

(Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Sadie Family Wines Columella 2006, WO Swartland, 14.5% Abv.

The aromatics are dusty and mineral with pronounced notes of crushed granite, macerated spiced plums, Szechuan pepper, bonfire smoke, sweet grilled herbs, and a sweet quince top note. Full, plush, and super creamy on the entry with density, opulence and a superb amplitude. The aromatics are earthy, meaty, and dense with hints of dried blood before a cool, slightly wild, creamy bramble fruited palate packed full of savoury spices, pomegranate, wild herbs and sweet black berries. A very friendly, comforting wine to sip and savour.

(Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Notes from the Sadie Family website:

2006 – This vintage was quite calm and collected as a measure. We did not experience any of the normal drought or extreme heat conditions. Everything passed by in the most normal of Swartland conditions. It is a very classic vintage for the region. We started to pick and most vineyards ripen in perfect calculated order and the harvest just came in very controlled. For us the 2006 vintage resulted in a wine of great classic expression of the region. The fruit spectrum is darker than the normal with more of the riper black fruit definition on the wine. The unique parameter of this vintage, is the better defined silky tannins and possibly an even denser inner core. Aromatically it shows a bit more in the darker spectrum than the 2005 which had a more purple edge to it of spicey herbal flavours, which in the 2006 is rather more a black berry cassis aspect and dark olive of nature, the structural density of this vintage follows through in the long finish of the wine.

Flight 2:

E Guigal Cote Rotie La Turque 2009, 13% Abv.

A riper, deeper, more seductive earthy expression revealing aromatics of stewed black fruits, molasses, baked earth, sweet root veg, beef stock, and smoky tilled earth nuances. An altogether riper vintage that displays notes of stewed fruits, sweet mulberries, salty liquorice and a creamy milk chocolate nuance on the long, seductive finish. Very plush and harmonious, luxurious, and incredibly pleasurable to drink but will undoubtedly improve with further ageing.

(Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) (100/100 Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate)

Sadie Family Wines Columella 2009, WO Swartland, 14.5% Abv.

A seductive Columella that reveals opulent aromatic notes of sweet meats, grilled herbs, green Thai peppercorns, iodine, wet fur, and black bramble berry fruits. Rich, dense and broad on the palate, there is a luxurious elegance but also a fine-tuned focus and balance, packed full of savoury black berry fruits. This wine suggests a big game indeed and when it comes to the showdown, it’s compellingly confident, plush, exotic and impressively long. A truly delicious expression delivered with grace and elegance.

(Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Notes from the Sadie Family website:

The 2009 vintage in the Swartland was of truly great stature; we actually had a little downpour of rain halfway through the vintage which helped a lot in terms of stress relief for the late ripening vineyards. This meant perfect levels of ripeness across the early and late varietals. The 2009 Columella shows very spicy and immense fresh red fruit flavours on the aromatics with some very delicate violet notes. On the palate the wine’s tannins are extremely well defined in terms of the same characteristics that one finds on the nose carrying through as well as a great all-round freshness and lingering aftertaste. The marginal cooler season also preserved more acidity and freshness, and this vintage should age extremely well over the next 20 years +. Enjoy! Average yield for vintage is 13 – 22 hl/Ha.

All in all, a truly fascinating tasting that would have made any Rhône ranger a little week at the knees, but also, a big thank you to my generous hosts for pulling the corks on these delicious bottles in the name of vinous experimentation and exploration. Of the three La La La’s from Guigal, La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque, it is of course the La Turque from the Côte Brune that always seems to possess an extra dimension of depth, complexity and power, making it my perennial favourite of the three sites. As for the Columella vintages, they were both very, very impressive, leaving me somewhat surprised by how well they both stood up to the iconic Guigal giants of the fine wine world. South Africa’s finest wines offer so much to be proud of and this was yet another reason to celebrate the exceptional quality coming out of the Cape winelands.

  • Greg Sherwood was born in Pretoria, South Africa, and as the son of a career diplomat, spent his first 21 years traveling the globe with his parents. With a Business Management and Marketing degree from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Sherwood began his working career as a commodity trader. In 2000, he decided to make more of a long-held interest in wine taking a position at Handford Wines in South Kensington, London, working his way up to the position of Senior Wine Buyer. Earlier this year, he moved across to South African specialist merchant Museum Wines to become the Fine Wine Director. He qualified as a Master of Wine in 2007


2 comment(s)

Please read our Comments Policy here.

    Tim James | 11 March 2024

    Hi Greg – In fact, the 2000 Columella included 15% mourvèdre. That’s how I’d always written about it, including in the Platter Guide where it probably got its first great reward. So I was surprised to see your analysis of it being 100% syrah – and discovered to my great surprise that that’s indeed what it says on the Sadie website. So I checked with Eben today and he went back to the official Wine and Spirit Board records. His memory had played a trick on him. The 100% syrah wine was, in fact, the little-known once-off Palladius 2000 (the name was transferred to the white blend in its maiden 2001 vintage). Columella 2000 was definitely a blend. I remember him telling me when he delivered the Platter samples that he wanted to avoid the wine ever being considered a varietal syrah. He says he will correct the “release note” on the Sadie website.

    WRT to your Guigal comparison you might be amused by a little story I told in my first article on the Swartland for World of Fine Wine (in 2006 when the international wine world had scarcely heard of the region, let alone Eben Sadie). I wrote as follows:
    “Reference to the Rhône valley is common among the ambitious Perdeberg winegrowers, but Eben Sadie is not entirely flattered at the suggestion that he might be the Guigal of the Swartland – a half-joke relating both to the suavely modern finesse of his wines and the role he is playing in reminding the world of the area’s inherent quality. ‘Couldn’t I rather be Chave?’ he asks, a touch plaintively, and a touch ungratefully. (In a hundred years or so, perhaps; with less new oak….)”

    But I’m glad we’ve got the definitive blend of that maiden 2000 (I still have a bottle of it – will be hard to ever open!).

      Greg Sherwood | 12 March 2024

      To be fair, I was also a tad surprised to see that the maiden Columella was 100% Syrah seeing as I had bought and sold plenty of it in the early naughties in London, and Eben also always introduced and praised the wine for not being pure Syrah! But then, who am I to argue with the official website! ;-P

      I took my last bottle of Columella 2000 a few years ago to Lords cricket ground and drank it while watching the Proteas beat England! A suitable ending…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like our content?

Show your support.