I have spent so much time having fun at Vondeling in the Voor-Paardeberg that the absolute quality of its wines passed me by. Raucous bouts of judging potjiekos competitions, ball-clacking boules tournaments and even one memorable game of cricket have not been conducive to actually concentrating on the Vondeling offerings, besides seeing how quickly they went down the hatch. Last week, however, I was corralled into a tasting-room to sample 11 vintages of their Babiana white blend without any reason or alternative activity to set the attention span a wandering.
The name Babiana refers to some plant-flower-thingey growing in the beautiful region where Vondeling is situated, and the word falls on the ear with an exotic appeal. A particularly thigh-straining move in belly-dancing circles or a banana-eating Italian porn-star are but two associations that spring to mind. Blow me, Babiana.
The tasting was conducted by Vondeling wine maker Matthew Copeland, a real cool guy and a gifted craftsman if one looks at the wines he is making these days. And he is obviously relishing the opportunity of being able to present 11 vintages of one wine from a single property.
The Babianas on show spanned the consecutive vintages from 2005 to 2015. In that time the wine has undergone various guises in terms of components. Always at least 50% Chenin Blanc, 2005 saw 29% Viognier complementing 71% Chenin, while the 2006 also featured Chardonnay, Muscat de Frontignan and Sauvignon Blanc.
From 2007, Chenin has been joined by Chardonnay, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, percentages depending on vintage profiles of the specific varieties, but always Chenin-led.
Two things jumped out of the glasses: first, the astounding condition of the wines. All 11 were fresh, accurate and purely coloured without a single pour showing any sign of fatigue, varicose vein or mothball. And when it comes to well-made white wines clearly expressing a sense of place and origin – as these all do – it really is a privilege to taste them in a state of graceful ageing.
Secondly, being the lead dancer, the fingerprint of Voor-Paardeberg Chenin Blanc causes each and every vintage to have a traceable fingerprint stamping itself on your taste-buds. Besides the 2013 and 2015 vintages, the bevy of Babianas showed linearity without by any means being one-dimensional or boringly uniform.
All the wines are tuning-fork clear and precise with a lean, sabre-like structure ending in subdued fruit, fynbos and salt flavours. Some vintages, like the 2007 and 2010, are savagely powerful, real evocative white wines with loud, rocky mineral edges that make you feel like a philandering Iraqi wife being publicly stoned in the town square.
Other Babianas, such as the 2006 and wonderful 2011, lift the spirit with floral notes and that tangy core one finds deep inside the flesh of just-ripe stone-fruit.
This is earth, sky and open land talking through the wines. The grapes harnessed by a wine team that knows what it and its land is doing, using new and old oak with skill and guile, assembling each year’s components with foresight and a prophetic vision. And all wild-ferments, to boot.
Two wines did stand out. One a pure, unadulterated genius going by the name of Babiana 2013. This is a blend of 60% Chenin Blanc, 10% Chardonnay, 15% Grenache Blanc and 15% Viognier, and the fresh, sprightly and life-affirming purity of this wine was like sucking in a breath of sea-spray after it had splashed against the firm body of a well-perfumed Gwen Stefani.
Sure, a Babiana in heart and soul, but the Gods did something to those grapes on the day before they were picked. Magnificence is so much greater when experienced alongside other objects of equal splendour.
Then the 2015. It was the one wine carrying flavours apparently unique to this vintage only. A hit of buchu and a waft of herb had found its way among the floral edges and white pear of the other wines, creating a bit of ballsy individuality in the line-up.
Extraordinary wines, among South Africa’s great whites and long past the “hope” stage.
- Emile Joubert
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