In South African Wine
on 16 May 14

Having worked at a wine retailer I know what a leap of faith it is to put an expensive wine from a lesser-known region on the shelf. Retailers know almost every bottle will be a hand-sell, and only for that special customer who is willing to take the risk. It takes a shop owner with confidence in their customers' trust and in their own palate––in their ability to recognize a great wine when they see it.

Palladius 2010 with cheese

All this is to say that when I go to my favorite wine shop and ask what's new in South African wine and the owner hands me this bottle, it's worth taking on extra freelance work this month to support her choice to carry it.

That said, if you're going to carry one South African wine, you could make a great case for this wine as the ambassador. It's one of the largest jewels (along with Columella, the highest-rated South African red wine) in the crown of Swartland king Eben Sadie, one of the individuals responsible for the Swartland Revolution and one of the most acclaimed winemakers in the country. For Palladius, a chenin-driven white blend containing grenache blanc, clairette blanc, viognier, chardonnay, roussanne, semillon, and palomino, of which he makes only twenty-two unfined and unfiltered barrels, berries are hand-sorted, basket-pressed (some of the chenin and viognier are fermented on skins), and aged for 18 months in clay amphoras, old French oak vats, and concrete eggs on lees.

The wine pours a weighty gold color, with perfumed, summery florals (maybe pansies?) on the nose. The palate, at first, creates the sensation of squeezing a lemon over beeswax.

The richness is relentless, the acidity unremitting, with a husky, earthy-straw note on the finish creating a chalky, almost crunchy bite on the midpalate. Potter's hazelnut-graham crackers and Mr. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery made a killer pairing.

I had chilled the wine only slightly and it reaches its peak at about room temperature. The acidity is searing against the mineral character and lush fruit, like clover honey dripping from the edges of an arrowhead. The finish is commanding, seductive, lasting a good several minutes.

I found Jacqueline Taieb's "7 Heures Du Matin" to be a most excellent music pairing.

Julia Burke reviews South African wine and writes about social justice, the South African wine industry, and her own adventures in winemaking.