- Tasting Notes & Technical Details
Charles Back was a pioneer in the Swartland when he started Spice Route in 1998 after tasting an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc and immediately buying the land on which it was grown. “Without [Charles]…the Swartland would still be regarded as a rural backwater” wrote Tim Atkin, who awarded the winery ‘Cru Bourgeois’ status in his South Africa Classification in 2019. Today, the region is the source of many of South Africa’s outstanding wines, yet Spice Route remains one of the best and most credible producers in the region, due largely to the fact that they own their own vineyards. Spice Route’s 100 hectares of vineyards are situated in Malmesbury and Darling. The former, all bush trained on Malmesbury shale and red clay subsoils (the clay allows the vineyards to be dry grown), give the Grenache and Mourvèdre the intensity of fruit that makes this region so exciting.
Winemaker Charl du Plessis has been with Charles since 2002 and knows the region intimately. The winemaking is ‘hands-off’, as Charles is keen to capture the flavours and structure of the outstanding fruit he has grown. In fact, despite the desert-like conditions of the region, the vines are not even irrigated. The signature wine is the ‘Chakalaka’, a blend of six different grape varieties. The name is derived from a spicy South African relish which is similarly a fusion of different flavours. A blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan, Petite Sirah and Tannat, it has great intensity, a Rhône-style depth and supple tannins.
Their ‘The Amos Block’ Sauvignon Blanc, planted in 1965, is the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in South Africa. These are the original vines that inspired the Spice Route project. The wine is only released when there is enough fruit produced from these old vines. Outstanding examples of single-varietal wines, the Grenache is juicy and savoury with smooth tannins, while the Mourvèdre is darker in flavour with greater density and chunkier tannins. The superbly complex barrel-fermented Chenin Blanc comes from a vineyard that was planted in 1978.
This unique bush-vine vineyard of Sauvignon Blanc was planted in 1965. It is the oldest existing block of the variety in South Africa and a certified heritage vineyard. Farmed without irrigation, these old vines are extremely low yielding - only three tonnes per hectare - and produce intensely concentrated fruit. After three years in conversion, the vineyard is now officially certified organic.
Following three years of drought, the 2021 vintage can be seen as a ‘cooler’ vintage. 91mm of rain fell between September to November 2020. This began to replenish the soil's water reserves and had a positive impact on the quality of the vintage, though yields remained low. A lack of heat spikes throughout January and February was also beneficial and ensured a later than average harvest for even ripening of concentrated berries.
The single vineyard was hand harvested and the bunches were gently destemmed. The fruit was pressed and the juice cold-settled for 48 hours before being fermented in stainless-steel tanks to retain the variety's crisp and vibrant aromatics.
This wine is highly aromatic with notes of fig, gooseberries and nettles alongside a touch of minerality. It has a wonderful textural quality, making it more generous on the palate than you might expect, tempered by zesty acidity.