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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2013.


Adi Sitting between the Paardeberg and Paarl Mountains, Adi Badenhorst's home and tiny winery sits at the end of long, rough, four-wheel-drive munching dirt road, where heavy rains had washed away large sections making our approach even more interesting. Here, one of Swartland's biggest names farms 30 hectares on a farm he bought in 2007, complete with a very old winery last used in the 30s.

Adi greets me in tee shirt and working chinos. He explains that he had bought fruit from this vineyard over a decade ago when he was winemaker at Rustenberg. A lot of new planting is evident. varieties including the unusual choices of Pontac and Alicante Bouschet, as well as Cinsault and "the usual Swartland varieties." He has been pulling out Cabernet Sauvignon and working hard to condition the soil with manure, as well as "pruning properly," to increase bud fertility in the slightly unloved vineyards he inherited. He has also been busy sowing cover crops - fava beans and lupins - that add nutrients to the soil, all of which is helping get yields up to around five tons per hectare from the three tons when he took over.

Standing looking over the wonderfully peaceful farm, he explains it is a basically a hot bowl, all farmed without irrigation on granite and clay, which is good at holding water. Adi sees his mission, his goal, as allowing his vineyards to find a natural balance. At the time of my visit he was busy clearing a forest of gum trees, which he will plant with six or more varieties, possibly as a mixed 'field blend' like the old vineyards of the Douro Valley where varieties that would normally mature at different times, somehow harmonise over time to ripen together. "I don't want to decide when to pick," he says, "I want the vineyard to tell me."

In the winery, lined with big old concrete open-topped tanks in which Adi does some foot treading with around 90% whole bunches, he explains a little about the style he is aiming for - and what he believes the region can do best. "Swartland is not all about freshness," he says. "It's about texture and wines that stand back a bit - they're not in your face." He warms to the theme: "These are wines with very little make-up. There's nothing to hide, and they're probably not the best made examples." To explain that last point, her waves a hand in the direction of the fermentation tanks. "Cash flow hasn't allowed me to buy fancy de-stemmers and equipment, so we just make what a 60-year-old vineyard wants us to make - we don't want to mess around with it in any way." It's an interesting philosophy, but clearly one that has been formed through long experience - having been born into a wine producing family, he has also worked in Château Angelus in Bordeaux, Alain Graillot in the Northern Rhône and Wither Hills in New Zealand.

Amongst the unusual things the vineyard has given, is a barrel of the Portuguese variety Fernão Pires (since pulled out), made as a straw wine and sitting high in the old winery, left to see what happens to it. "It might maderise," says Adi, "which could be nice." This year he will bottle one cask of Muscat and release it under the Secateurs label, probably with around 10g/l of residual sugar, "which is where the ferment stopped," he says. He has also sourced some ancient Palomino, from the same old vineyards planted in sand dunes on the west coast where Eben Sadie buys some fruit, but which Adi will make as a Sherry style.

the wines

Badenhorst wines are imported by Swig and James Nicolson. See all stockists on wine-searcher. Pictured below: the winery.


A.A. Badenhorst, Secateurs White 2012, South Africa
Badenhorst's Chenin Blanc is known locally as the 'soft and gentle' wine, not because of its style, but because that is a phonetic translation of "secateurs". Lovely cream and oatmeal, Graves style richness and yet juicy freshness. Delicious palate, creamy in texture, with racy citrus lime freshness and loads of crunchy yellow apple cut to the acidity. Just delicious and so sippable. 90/100.

A.A. Badenhorst, Family Blend White 2010, South Africa
Fermented in Foudre, then transferred to concrete tanks where it spends 20 months on its lees. Adi tells me there are 10 to 12 different white grapes in the blend, but based around Chenin, Grenache Gris, and "lots of bits and pieces including Chardonnay, Palomino and Semillon." This has much more of a funky, wild yeast nose than the Secateurs with straw and gently earthy notes over oatmeal and the base of very sweet, nicely nutty and ripe apple and even peach. Lovely texture, rich and rolling, with that core of intense, concentrated sweetness all folding into dry, fruit skins and white acidity, a lovely pithy and zesty finish stops any hint of flabbiness. 93/100.

A.A. Badenhorst, Funky White, South Africa
Swig will have 600 half bottles of this in June - 60% of the entire production. With only 12.5% ABV, this comes from a Solera system and was "tough to get approved by the wine certification board," according to Adi. It is made mainly from Chenin Blanc with some Chardonnay and eight other varieties. It has a fairly deep, golden colour and a delightfully sherried nose, showing a Jura-like, oxidised nuttiness. Lovely combination of those funky, nutty, marzipan notes and a deeper yellow apple character. Beautiful Fino-like freshness and texture, that lovely nutty and leafy character and a delicious lanolin quality, dry apple cores and beautifully balanced and dry in the finish. 93/100.

A.A. Badenhorst, Secateurs Rosé 2013, South Africa
A couple of hundred six packs will be coming to UK importer Swig in June. Cinsault, Shiraz and Grenache, again with "a few other bits and pieces." Adi says this is bottled really early (indeed by time of my visit, just a couple of months after harvest) and is for drinking now. It is fermented without cooling at 28 - 30C and has been left with just a touch - 5g/l - of residual sugar, which is where is stopped fermenting. Lovely nose, with cranberry, redcurrant and a hint of strawberry and cream coming through. A lovely herby tone on the palate too, with real tang and freshness, the rose hip and dryish cranberry character is quite savoury too. 87-88/100.

A.A. Badenhorst, Secateurs Red 2011, South Africa
The blend is around 80% Shiraz and Cinsault with some rosé wine blended back in. Lovely, full, creamy chocolate berry nose that has a little briary, sappy quality, a touch of roasted fruit, but not about over-ripeness, just that character. The palate has deliciously juicy texture with buoyant fruit quality and that stemmy, slightly sappy character again to give lip-smacking freshness. The tannins do add some grip, some roughening texture that is really pleasing, with a crisp, nicely tart note of cherry skin acidity in the finish. 91/100.

A.A. Badenhorst, Family Blend Red 2010, South Africa
Mainly Shiraz and Grenache, although this cuvée used to have a bit of Mourvèdre, "but "Mourvèdre and I are not friends," according to Adi. There's a little Cinsault and the Portuguese Tinta Barocca too. The juice is left on skins for six months, whole bunches, and finished in big old foudres. Lovely bloody, dried blood and dark red fruit perfume, with a touch of briar and undergrowth adding more complex notes. The palate has a plum and cherry skin tartness and grippiness, with that lovely squirt of fresh juiciness playing against those bigger tannins framing the fruit, a lovely core of cherry acidity, it all comes together in a beautifully savoury, long and moreish finish with the dry, fruit tannins coating the mouth. 92/100.

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