Eben Sadie’s Columella 2005 – or Columella MMV – to carry the Roman conceit through to the vintage, is Uncorked’s Wine of the Year for 2007. A Paris Hilton wine, famous for being famous (95/100 rating in Wine Spectator, the highest SA rating yet) and infamous for being left off the tasting for Platter’s five star stunners for 2008 – in good company with Kevin Arnold’s Waterford The Jem, which even had the vintage omitted (it’s a 2004) from its unfortunate tasting note by the error-prone taster.
The Speccie’s description: “offers a stunning array of blue and black fruit–blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry and currant–that is pure, driven and refined, with licorice, sweet spice, vanilla, mineral and sanguine notes flittering throughout. Despite its concentration, it’s remarkably elegant, with superb length and a seamless finish.” Platter’s, more gnomic: “darkly ripe fruit, perfumed nutmeg spice and supple, savoury tannins beautifully integrated into textured sensation.”
Columella was a first century Roman agricultural writer (and not a third century Spanish agronomist, as the Speccie reported) famous for a designer white wine. Called Turriculae, fermented with seawater and fenugreek, it was straw-coloured and had a sharp, nutty flavor reminiscent of modern Sherry, according to Tom Standage in his amusing History of the World in Six Glasses (Atlantic, 2007).
Hervé Durand has recreated this wine and a couple of other favourites from the ancient world using fruit from their Roman vineyard at Mas des Tourelles in the south of France, plus a few additives: honey, herbs, saffron, mushroom ashes and defrutum – a reduced spicy wine used by the Romans as a cooking ingredient. Of course Sadie draws his vinous inspiration from the other side of the Pyrenees, in Priorat, Spain.
Columella is a chicken come home to roost on so many levels in the rickety tower of SA wine: a lekker snotklap to the anti-red brigades in SA and international wine writing and the ridiculously partial competitions that rated Syrah a weak card in 2007 (Columella is 80% Syrah, 20% Mourvèdre).
But the clincher is the winemaker: charismatic Sadie is an inspiration to the generation of young winemakers starting to emerge from the undergrowth. His success at a young age, integrity intact, is a powerful beacon to the next generation of winemakers.