Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 3.5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
Villiera was the last tasting of my day out to the North of Stellenbosch having tasted at Morgenhof, Quoin Rock, Laibach and Slaley. Just off the R304 and close to the N1, it was an ideal last port of call on my way back to Cape Town. The entrance was easy to find and led to the small car park via an attractive avenue of trees with vineyards on either side. It had been a dank day and it showed even more so against the tan and dark brown Cellar and Tasting Buildings in the soon to fade winter light.
I made my way into the Tasting Room – or rather the ‘Wine Sanctuary’ – as it is now called following extensive renovation by architect Rick Stander and interior designer Liesel Rossouw. The modern feel with its bright LED lighting and artworks provided quite a contrast to the outside that was offset by the olive green uniforms of the serving staffs. Lee was my attentive host who advised the tasting options which, besides MCC/Nougat and pre-bookable MCC/Chocolate Pairings (R120 and R130, respectively), were a choice between a Reserve Wine Tasting (6 top wines for R110) and the Standard Tasting (any 6 wines from the Villiera White/Red Ranges, MCC Range and Domaine Greer Range for R40. I opted for the Standard Tasting which, at current, increasing tasting fee amounts, was a bargain.
I decided against tasting any of the MCC Range as I had tasted many sparkling wines before at the annual PicknPay Stellenbosch Festival and at the Stellenbosch Street Soirée. I began with 4 Villiera whites which I sampled in pairs for comparison. First up were 2 Sauvignons Blanc, one unwooded and one wooded. The regular wine, made from Elgin grapes, was made in classic New Zealand style with pungent and intense green herbaceous, bell pepper, lemon and lime notes with a good intensity. The bright acidity was almost too bracing slightly to offset the balance and to mask the fruit intensity. This was a classic green style Sauvignon Blanc and priced at the right level (R79).
The Bush Vine Blanc Fumé slightly confused by its name since Blanc Fumé is a term associated with a Sauvignon Blanc and Bush Vine mostly refers to Chenin Blanc. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes come from a single dry land block on the farm and were part fermented in concrete eggs before the juice was racked to 50% new/old French barrels for the remaining fermentation but without malolactic fermentation to preserve freshness. The result was a deeper coloured straw wine with warmer, sweeter lemon, lime and slight vanilla aromas on the nose. The acidity on the palate was far better integrated for a fuller and more balanced wine.
My second flight, so to speak, were 2 Chenins Blanc. The regular wine (35% fermented in oak with 2 months ‘sur lie’ before bottling) was the weaker – and cheaper – of the 2 wines. Made in lemon citrus style, there was some ripeness and bright acidity on the palate but little of the expected Chenin richness or fruitiness. The Traditional Barrel Fermented wine was far better with defined aromas of lemon, pineapple, pear and white honey aromas on the nose of good intensity. Made from one block of bush vines and 2 trellised blocks, the grapes were part whole bunch pressed (35%) with the remainder de-stemmed. Malolactic fermentation was limited to 40% of the juice to give freshness and the wine fermented for 7 months in new/2nd fill French barrels. This made for a more complex wine with honeyed fruits on the palate that became more prominent at the finish, albeit the acidity was a little too forwards and fresh for my preference.
Villiera has been family owned since being started by cousins Jeff and Simon Grier in 1983, with 4 family generations being involved in the poultry and then wine business since the 1920s. It remains one of the largest private wineries in South Africa with 180 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage on the 400 hectare property, grown in equal amount (50% white. 50% red). Villiera specialises in MCC (45% production) that was developed in the mid-1980s via a 10-year partnership with Jean-Louis Denois, a Champagne specialist. Woolworths and Marks & Spencer, locally and in the UK, are major clients. White and red wines take minor positions (30% and 25%, respectively).
Villiera has a keen environmental awareness and eco-friendly ethos that pervades the viticulture and the winemaking: the winery was the first switch to solar power in 2010 and has one of the largest privately owned solar panel installations in South Africa; rainwater is harvested; natural pest control, water conservation, indigenous tree planting and the use of 35 owl boxes are standard practice in the vineyards; game drives are available to guests in an electric game viewer; and the farm is home to the Pebbles Project charity that educates and enriches the lives of disadvantaged families and children from the Wineland farming communities. These initiatives all feature as ‘back label’ stories on the Villiera wines: Natural Energy; the Duck and the Snail; the Villiera Family; Wisdom; Unlocking Nature; Carbon Footprint; Leave an Impression; Doing Things Slowly; and Sustainable Farming.
The red wines were next and I selected a comparison tasting of 2 Merlot. The Villiera Merlot was ruby red in colour and just full-bodied. Red berry and currant fruits showed limited complexity on the nose together with some mixed spices. The wine was not well balanced on the palate. Fruit flavours fell away to be dominated by flavours of cedar, with tight, astringent tannins and a bright acidity. I much preferred the flagship Munro Merlot – Munro is the second name of all the men in the Grier family – that was made from selected old vines and aged for longer in newer French barrels (18 months in 50% French oak compared with 10 months in 75% old barrels). The resultant wine was fuller bodied with much more intense red and dark cherry, currant and plum aromas with liquorice. The tannins were nonetheless bold and taut but better balanced by the richer fruit flavours.
Villiera invested in a 22 hectare vineyard in the Roussillon region in Southern France in 2006. The vineyards grow Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Chardonnay and Maccabeu (more commonly used to make White Rioja and Cava in Spain). Selected wines from the Domain Grier Collection are available for tasting and purchase, both in the tasting Room and online. The wines sport elegant white, grey or black labels with a simple and stylish silver pattern in which the fleur-de-lis meets Africa.
The Alba is a white Grenache blend and mostly (80%) the least known Grenache Gris. This is a pink skinned mutation of Grenache Noir, important in Roussillon, and more perfumed that Grenache Blanc. Grenache Blanc, which makes up the remaining 20% of the Alba, is a mutation of Grenache Noir. The vines are grown as field blends and the grapes co-fermented. The juice is barrel fermented with malolactic fermentation before undergoing 8 month maturation in oak. The wine showed a good intensity of fresh citrus, honey and peach/apricot stone fruit aromas on the nose. Fresh, bright and integrated acidity well balanced layered fruity flavours together with subtle citrus, almond and herb flavours. The fruitiness surprised for an Old World wine and for the Mediterranean climate. I liked it.
I tasted the Odyssea from Domaine Grier too. I felt this to be a South-East France equivalent of a Rhône blend but, instead of being Grenache-led with Syrah and Mourvèdre, the blend was mostly Syrah (50%) with Carignan and Grenache (30% and 20%, respectively). This made for an interesting wine and was my favourite wine of the tasting. The nose was bright and forwards, slightly atypical for an Old World wine, with aromas of red cherry, red plum, cranberry and definite pepper spice. The palate showed a much more Old World character with garrigue herbal and savoury flavours to complement more bitter fruits and right tannins, aided by limited ageing in old oak.
My last wine was a single variety Grenache (Noir) that also showed a good fruity intensity on the nose. The red cherry and red plum aromas with their smoky and pepper spice complexity, together with the pale ruby and medium-bodied appearance, could easily have made me mistake the wine for a Pinot Noir in a blind tasting. Grenache can be thought of a beefed-up Pinot Noir with a fuller body, more tannins and higher alcohol but with lower acidity. Oaky tannins came to the fore on the palate, held up by the fruit flavours, and good acidity for a clean palate.
Villiera made a good final tasting of the day. I had just enough time to taste the wines I wanted although the Cellar door was locked so I could not do the self-guided walkthrough on this occasion. The tasting experience was adequate and I would have liked to have heard more of the green and social credentials as that is a story worth hearing at a tasting. Further, the quality of the wines varied which always make an overall rating difficult, especially since I chose not to taste any of the MCC. I much preferred the wines priced over R140 which included the interesting and unexpected Domain Grier collection and so, on balance, I have rated a slim 4/5 for the wines. The investment in Roussillon shows the pioneering nature of Villiera and the Grier family which makes me interested to follow future developments and vintages. The future certainly seems green.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Sauvignon Blanc – R79
2017 Sauvignon Blanc Fumé – R150
2018 Chenin Blanc – R65
2018 Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc – R143
2016 Domaine Grier Alba (80% Grenache Gris, 20% Grenache Blanc) – R199*
2016 Merlot – R86
2017 Monro Merlot – R199
2015 Domaine Grier Odyssea (50% Syrah, 30% Carignan, 20% Grenache) – R141 FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Domaine Grier Grenache – R136*
Thursday 25 April 2019
Waterford is another of those big name wine estates amid the other 800 or more in the Western Cape (and a growing number beyond too) that I have wanted to visit for some time. I have tasted at over 200 wineries since I started the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society over 2 years ago so there are several more to visit and review. Like many, I had sampled the Waterford wines before at festivals and other events but there is no substitute in my mind for tasting a wine at the place at which it is made, ideally looking out over the vineyards whilst doing so. The occasion was a mid-week break in the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley, South of Stellenbosch during which I planned to taste also at Kleinood Winery (Tamboerskloof wines), Keermont Vineyards and De Trafford Wines.
The stone walled entrance (opposite Kleinood) showed presence and status, leading to an impressive tree lined avenue that gave dappled shade from the bright late-afternoon autumn to winter sunshine. Growing ever closer and through the Clementine orchards, framed above by the stony Helderberg Mountains, were the cellar buildings with their red corrugated tile roofs and stately, central arched tower. I parked close by and tried to decide the architecture in my own mind. It was part Italian, part Spanish perhaps – much as I might expect a Californian winery – but certainly not Cape Dutch. The website refers to the ‘Mediterranean courtyard’ so I guess I was half right twice.
Impressive the arrival at Waterford certainly was. It was all the more so as I ventured into the large circular courtyard inside, complete with central gushing trademark Waterford fountain. Expansive, upholstered, and no doubt expensive sitting rooms flanked either side of the entrance with their large open fireplaces, terracotta floor tiles, designer décor and extravagant flower decorations. Further couches and low tables filled the verandah outside in case inclement weather prevented tasting whilst sat on the low circular wall around the fountain.
Waterford clearly meant to make a statement and a statement it did. I chose to sit at one of the many small tables at the edge of the courtyard so I could taste and write with ease. The Waterford Tasting Experience lists 7 options. I would have expected no fewer from the grand setting. Two of these require pre-booking (the 3 hour Estate Wine Drive and Porcupine Trail Walk, at R1,150 and R450, respectively) and are part of the ‘Waterford Way’ which is ‘to be prosperous’. There were 2 wine and chocolate pairings – or rather, ‘Experiences’ – for 3 or 6 wines, costing R95 and R125. There was also a single tasting of the Jem (R115) which is Waterford’s flagship wine – named after owner Jeremy Ord, also as in Waterf-ord – which is a blend from a selection of the 11 estate cultivars grown on the estate and first released in 2007; 8 for the 2014 vintage at an ethereal cost of R1,650 a bottle. Being neither ‘prosperous’ nor fortunate enough to have held the contract for Waterford’s marketing material, I opted to skip the Library Collection Tasting (R250 for a selection of unique and limited blends) for the basic or rather ‘Portfolio Tasting’.
While I waited for Thomas to bring the first of the 6 wines, I was reminded of Vrede en Lust whose lifestyle, entry level wines are part of their Premium Range. The wines came in set ord-er (pun intended) beginning with the Rose-Mary that is named after Jeremy’s late mother. This was a Rosé – more correctly from the website ‘a very sophisticated approach towards a blanc de noir’ – that was pale salmon pink in colour. Made from Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo and Grenache grapes, picked early to be bone dry (1.1 grams per litre residual sugar) and low alcohol (10.8%), the wine showed typical sweet strawberry and raspberry aromas with a hint of white spice and medium intensity. The palate did not show much sophistication for me, with a weak follow though, little weight and low complexity (a different ord-er of magnitude to the outstanding Tamboerskloof wine I had earlier tasted at Kleinood opposite).
Next was the first of 2 white wines. In contrast to the Rosé, the Elgin sourced Sauvignon Blanc was almost too big on the nose with intense forward aromas of guava, litchi and pineapple that gave way to grassy, citrus, green pepper notes that belied the pale straw colour. I did not expect this degree of tropical fruit salad flavour for a cool climate wine but perhaps the 2018 drought and summer heat contributed or even yeast selection. The palate was dry, clean and fresh as expected of the variety but with very little flavour. The contrast with the aromas was as marked as the shadows around me as light and dark danced at the end of the afternoon.
I rated the Chardonnay, served in correct ‘balloon’ glass, the same. The grapes come from a single block (5.8 hectares) of vines that were planted in 1988, making them some of the oldest Chardonnay in the Cape. Barrel-fermented for 9 months in 24% new oak, the wine showed a pale gold colour. This was classic medium-oaked South African Chardonnay: sweet citrus, vanilla and pecan nut aromas of decent intensity, a smooth mouthfeel, and medium complexity. I would have rated it higher except that the acidity was not fully integrated to leave a bitter aftertaste.
The Waterford Estate has been owned by a partnership between two families since 1998, before which it was part of the adjoining Stellenrust farm. Jeremy and Leigh Ord purchased the property whilst Kevin and Heather Arnold have developed the wines to make it the estate it is today. Half of the 120 hectares are under vine with a wide selection of French, Italian and Spanish cultivars being grown, with the remaining 60 hectares set aside for conservation. Red wines form the majority (70%). The winery was designed by Alex Walker using stone from the vineyards and local quarries as well as timber from the estate.
My favourite wine of the tasting was the Estate Grenache Noir that could by its pale ruby appearance easily have been mistaken for a Pinot Noir. Look out for more Grenache in South Africa, better known for Priorat (as Garnacha in Spain) or as the major component of Château Neuf-du-Pape and many Rhône blends, due to its drought-resistance. The grape makes for a muscular and spicier Pinot Noir with more body, tannin and alcohol and lower acidity. Thomas described the wine as ‘a red wine like a white wine; a white wine like a red wine’ and I could see how it could appeal to traditional white wine drinkers who do not enjoy red wine. The nose showed a bright intensity of smokey, gamey cherry and currant fruity aromas with a hint of maraschino. The wine was bolder on the palate than I expected and certainly more so than a Pinot Noir.
The Kevin Arnold Shiraz was next which I had tasted at the Charcuterie & Shiraz Festival in Franschhoek last year. Subtitled Katherine Leigh, youngest daughter of the Ord family, the wine showed a better intensity of aroma than flavour. The nose showed good complexity of fruit, floral and savoury notes – sweet plum and dark fruits, violets, leather and meats – that lessened on the palate for a lighter styled wine. Tannins nonetheless were structured and green olive in flavour.
Cabernet Sauvignon was the final wine of the tasting as the shadows lengthened in the courtyard. It is Waterford’s leading varietal (30% of plantings) and made with 6% added Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot for colour, perfume and structure. The medium-bodied wine was made in lighter style than many Stellenbosch Cabernets. It showed good fresh red and dark fruit aromas of cassis, blackberry, black cherry, pencil shavings and green herbs. The tannins were closed and forwards on the palate, with classic drying mouthfeel, for a bright finish as befitting its youthful age.
Waterford promised so much. The impressive approach, mountain backdrop and setting, the grand design, opulent Tasting Room and the wide circular courtyard spoke of the Waterford ‘prosperity’. The wow factor is definitely there and a lure for the many American and other foreign tourists beside me. It is undoubtedly the kind of wine estate that is made for the coffee table winery books and vice versa. That is all well and dandy for me and part of the rich and diverse South African wine landscape and heritage. The proof for me as a wine journalist, student and connoisseur lies in the wines. Waterford ticked all the right boxes. There was a broad selection of the best known white and red wines to show off the best of the Stellenbosch terroir. There was a Rosé too and a wine from Elgin (the Sauvignon Blanc). There was the interest cultivar too with the Grenache rather than a Pinot Noir. Wine quality was however variable, with the red wines higher rated than the white wines. The service level was variable too, even for late afternoon when there were relatively few customers, and I had to wait too long between some wine servings. Wine prices were well above average which did not surprise. The Waterford name itself brings premium pricing (as did the tasting fee) that many a tourist will not even notice.
I enjoyed Waterford and was pleased to have visited and tasted the wines, which was my motivation to go. The wow was more from the buildings than the wines. I was reminded on leaving of my experience at the similarly named Waterkloof (I often get the 2 estates muddled up for that reason) that also underwhelmed as expectation fell below experience. Overall, Waterford was more ord-inary than extra-ord-inary.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2018 Waterford Elgin Sauvignon Blanc – R132
2016 Waterford Estate Chardonnay – R272
2018 Waterford Rose-Mary Blanc de Noir – R116
2016 Waterford Estate Grenache Noir – R295 FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Kevin Arnold Shiraz – R295
2016 Waterford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – R356
Friday 29 April 2019
I was perhaps pushing my luck to taste at 5.00 pm on a Friday even though Anysbos produces 2 wines only. It had been a long day of visits to the Bot Rivier vineyards but I thought I would try my luck one more time. Besides, I had passed the Anysbos entrance on my way to Leeurivier Wyn and so could not have been closer. Johan Heyns was kind enough to oblige – after milking! – and so I arrived with the shadows lengthening under dappled blue skies. It was a beautiful late winter afternoon with the gentle rolling Overberg countryside looking at its best. Anysbos was easy to find on the good quality, gravel Swartrivier Road that runs South-West of Gabriëlskloof where I had tasted earlier in the day.
The road through the simple entrance led thought Pinot Noir and other vines, past a dam, up the slope on the other side that was flanked by olive trees of between 4 and 10 years old. I parked beside the family home to be met by Johan and several large dogs. The setting was blissfully rural and made me think, again, about living in the Southern Suburbs, Cape Town. Johan told me how he too had left ‘the big smoke’ and the movie industry in Johannesburg some 10 years ago. The life transformation must have been immense but, as he kindly gave me a bakkie tour of the 320 hectare property, he seemed very content in the countryside.
Johan and wife Sue bought the 320 hectare wheatland farm in 2007. They have achieved a remarkable amount in little over 10 years. The old stone cottage has been converted into a cosy family home. Dams have been built and some 20,000 olive trees planted that are starting to come into their initial fruiting years (I learned that olives need more water than vines). Impatient for the olives to bear fruit, Johan established a small Toggenburg stud and goat herd and began making goat’s cheese that is sold locally and online. I can vouch for the aptly named ‘Caprino’, a pecorino-styled cheese made from the goat’s milk. I saw cheddar, feta and halloumi in the impressive cheesery housed, together with an olive press, in converted former farm outbuildings.
Grenache Noir vines were the first to be planted in 2012, in very rocky soils as dryland bush vines. Shiraz and Cinsault were next planted with new, mostly Rhône, cultivars being added each year. These include the little grown Grenache Blanc, Marsanne and Roussanne together with Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. I sensed that not all olive and vine plantings were quite where they were best suited and that Johan enjoyed, or perhaps suffered, the trial and error approach. Nonetheless, many of the young vines looked healthy as they start to establish themselves. The 2019 vintage will be the first to be made at Anysbos. Hitherto, the wines have been made by the young, talented Marelise Niemann of Momento Wines at the Gabriëlskloof cellar.
I was eager to taste the 2 wines and I was not disappointed. The white wine, called Disdit or ‘done and dusted’, was a Chenin Blanc-led blend with Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. The uncommon blend was pale straw in colour with excellent intensity and complexity of lemon, peach fruity and honey aromas. I liked the elegant vibrant character and clean mouthfeel.
I preferred, but only just, the pale ruby light bodied Grenache Noir. It had attractive notes of fruity but not over-ripe cherry, raspberry and cranberry on the nose with just a hint of black tea and dried herbs. The palate was smooth with slight spiciness and silky, refined tannins. As I finished sampling the 2 wines, Sue explained that the name Anysbos comes from an aniseed-scented, pink flowering herb that commonly grows in the Overberg and on the farm. Agathosma cerefolium is also known as Coast Anise Buchu though a member of the Rutaceae plant family and so not a true Buchu.
Johan and Sue were generous and charming hosts and, even so, I did not wish to overstay my warm welcome. It was late anyway and time to return to Cape Town. I left with a large chunk of Caprino and a bottle of the Grenache Noir that seemed like a perfect and fortuitous pairing. Anysbos may currently be little known but keep your eyes open in the rating, lists of high scoring wines and wards over the next few years. I shall be very surprised if Anysbos does not feature prominently.
Wines tasted (bought*):
2017 Disdit (61% Chenin Blanc, 21% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc) – R250
2016 Grenache Noir – R250*FAVOURITE WINE
SPICE ROUTE WINERY
Friday 4 May 2018
It was the shortest of drives from Fairview Wines to the Spice Route Winery, between sister wineries owned by Charles Black. Unusually for a Cape vineyard, there was no elegant, sweeping, white-washed gated entrance but merely an entry warning/disclaimer notice in the vineyard beside the road rising to the winery on the hillside. The vines didn’t even belong to the Spice Route either, more on that later.
The original spice routes wouldn’t have had signs either as they were the network of sea routes than linked the East with the West. Also known as the Maritime Silk Roads, the sailors brought precious spices such as cinnamon and cassia from Japan, through the islands of Indonesia, around India to the Middle East and across the Mediterranean to Europe. Ivory, silk, metals, precious gemstones and porcelains were traded too. The names are reflected in some of the wines too: Saffron and Malabar.
It was back in the late 1990s that Charles Back stumbled on a tank of Sauvignon Blanc in a Swartland cooperative. The quality was such that he did not believe it was from the Swartland, a region then not known for its fine wines and certainly not (as a warm area) for Sauvignon Blanc. The experience led him to Amoskuil, a derelict tobacco farm and home to South Africa’s oldest block of Sauvignon Blanc, bush vines that were planted in 1965. He bought the farm and, with the help of winemaker Eben Sadie, set up the cellar and planted new vines.
Today, barely a quarter of the land is under vine (90 hectares out of 400 hectares). The grapes are not irrigated and grown as dryland bush vines on the Koffieklip, Oakleaf, Malmesbury Shale and Duplex soils. The rolling hills are just 4 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean with a climate characterised by cold wet winters, when most of the rainfall occurs, and hot, dry summers when water is scarcer. The vineyards I drove through on my arrival at the Spice Route belong instead to Fairview as Charles Back did not want the 2 wine farms to compete. Ten cultivars are grown, including many lesser known ones such as Roussanne, Viognier, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Tannat and Sousão.
The Tasting Room is but one of many attractions at the busy winery. Its elevated position offers glorious views South-West to the Simonsberg Mountains. The Tasting Room is open fronted with comfortable seating, tables on the lawn outside, and decorations that include tiled maps of the Spice Routes and ancient Table Bay. A nice touch was the spittoons that were made from magnum wine bottles cut in half. I remembered the winery from a visit many years ago and before I formed the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society.
Natasha was my tasting host who guided me through the tasting options or ‘journeys’. I chose the basic Swartland Wine Journey (R50 for 5 wines). I could have chosen the Wine & Charcuterie Journey (R85 for 4 wines and cured meats with fresh fruit) or tasted the flagship Malabar red blend (R40). I chose to taste the flagship Amos Block Sauvignon Blanc first. The shiny wine was green in colour and character with notes of fresh lime, grapefruit, bitter lemon and green melon. The freshness showed in a youthful acidity that was almost too bright for my taste.
In contrast, the Chenin Blanc was more rounded and better balanced. Grapes from 2 pickings are fermented in stainless steel and oak before being blended together to make for another lively wine. It showed aromatic, forward notes of warmer, honeyed lemon, greengage, gooseberry, guava, kiwi and litchi. I liked how the aromas followed through to the palate that was smooth and creamy in texture and with a decent finish.
The Grenache Rosé was a pricey R142 per bottle, unusually high for the style. The colour intrigued too, being neither pink nor true salmon but towards copper to onion skin. The ‘serious rosé’, as Natasha described it, showed a good intensity of strawberry, white cherry and raspberry flavours. This gave a red wine taste that complemented the clean dry and refreshing palate. The wine was good but so are many in the R50 to R100 bracket. The rosé would have had to be exceptional to warrant the R142 price tag.
The Grenache wine was the lightest red of the tasting and my favourite. Grenache can be thought of as a bolder Pinot Noir with higher fruit, body, tannin and alcohol though less acidity. This wine showed a moderate intensity of red cherry, cranberry and white pepper spiciness, with good balance and intensity on the palate and a decent finish.
I chose next the Mourvèdre, a cultivar with greater body, tannin and acidity than Grenache but less fruitiness. It was fuller in medium ruby colour and full of warm fruity red fruits – red plum, cherry, mulberry and raspberry – that showed good intensity. Soft spiciness on the nose gave way to a savoury palate complete with fine, well balanced tannins that will improve with ageing.
I ended with the Chakalaka, a Shiraz-led red blend of 6 cultivars, and one of the most popular Spice Route wines. I learned that chakalaka is Zulu for ‘togetherness’ – hence the name for the blend – which surprisingly I did not know beforehand. The full bodied wine showed the ruby to purple colour of Shiraz. Blends often give added complexity on the nose or they may confuse. This wine was the latter with obvious red to dark fruit aromas that were not easy to distinguish further. The wine was lighter in mouthfeel than I expected, showing its youth on the palate with tannins that need time to round off their rough edges.
I explored the other Spice Route attractions before leaving: the shop, the charcuterie, the restaurant, the distillery, the ice cream shop and café, as well as the artisan chocolaterie. I sampled a plate of 5 delicious meats (R35) from the Richard Bosman charcuterie: French white sauçisson; truffle salami with garlic and black pepper; pork fillet, cured and lightly smoked with paprika; Spanish chorizo, made with chilli, paprika, red wine and fennel seed; and Diablo, spicy with chilli, paprika and pepper.
Lastly, I bought a selection of artisan chocolate bars for my partner from the chocolate shop that is home to one of the few ‘bean to bar’ micro chocolatiers in the world. I could not resist an ice cream tasting too (R60) for a pre-selection of banoffee, salted caramel crunch, raspberry crumble, chocolate brownie and cookies and cream.
The Spice Route offers many other attractions – a deli, craft brewery, glass blowing studio and art gallery too – which means that it would be easy to spend an entire day at the winery. The range of artisan producers fits in well with Charles Back’s vision of providing an ‘overall experience’ for ‘local and international tourists’ and visitors. The wines were decently made and it was a surprise, given the location just outside Paarl, to find that the grapes come from the Swartland. The hand of Charles Back in making a strong brand, at neighbouring Fairview too, clearly shows and the two wine farms complement each other. Visit the Spice Route and Fairview together and you will be guaranteed a fun day out as well as some interesting and varied wines.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Amos Block Sauvignon Blanc – R111
2016 Chenin Blanc – R117
2017 Saffron Grenache Rosé – R142
2016 Grenache – R122* FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Mourvèdre – R122
2014 Chakalaka (41% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, 17% Carignan, 10% Grenache, 10% Durif, 7% Tannat) – R177