Category Archives: 2005

Meeting the Vintners: Kleine Zalze, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Entering the estate in the evening

Entering the estate in the evening

It is hard not to notice the size of Kleine Zalze’s business endeavors as you enter the compound through a security gate: To your left, you find rows of apartments, there is a lodge, and in the distance is a golf course operated by Kleine Zalze, but at the heart of these operations, geographically and by importance, is its winery.

Kleine Zalze was founded in 1685 and was purchased by the current owners Kobus and Mariette Basson in 1996. Its production is 720,000 bottles per year. The winery has between 50 and 60 hectares under vine, but it also buys grapes from 23 suppliers that have long-term contracts with Kleine Zalze. This stems from the simple fact that some grapes are simply not suited for Kleine Zalze’s holdings (like Sauvignon blanc), but are seen as essential by the owners for their portfolio. These contract growers are spread out over the Cape, with some over 400 km away from Stellenbosch. The logistics of this seemed to be quite intense, with regular inspections at the vineyards and then bringing the grapes in cooling vans to Stellenbosch so that they don’t start fermenting after picking. I know that this practice is common in many wine regions, but I think it was the first time I got to talk with a winemaker about the logistics.

With assistant winemaker Dirk van Zyl

With assistant winemaker Dirk van Zyl

Dirk van Zyl is an assistant winemaker and vineyard manager at Kleine Zalze. His family owns a small winery, so it was natural for him to go into the wine business. At Kleine Zalze, he is in charge of integrating vineyard management and winemaking. This means that a big part of his job is driving to the contract growers and inspecting their vineyards, adjusting methods and doing what is necessary there. In the cellar, he is involved in all areas of winemaking. Dirk very clearly loves his job, and he loves working at Kleine Zalze. When I asked him about future plans, he told me he wants to stay with Kleine Zalze as long as he can to learn more about different vineyard sites and cellaring methods. Eventually, he plans to return to the family farm but not for now.

Kleine Zalze produces three lines of wines (a practice that seems common in the Stellenbosch region): the Cellar Selection, which is meant for early drinking with usually low use of oak and more fruity in taste; the Vineyard Selection as the middle tier of quality, in which all white wines are barreled; and the Family Reserve, which is their highest tier.

Our line up for the night

Our line up for the night

I will focus these reviews on the high end wines for the sake of readability, but I want to point out the two whites we tasted of the Cellar Selection, a 2014 Sauvignon blanc and a 2014 Chenin blanc, which were both great easy drinking wines. The Sauvignon blanc was fruity with great acidity, and the Chenin blanc struck me with its fruit mix of guava, gooseberry and peach.

The 2012 Sauvignon blanc Family Reserve spent 12 months on the lees in stainless steel and is meant to be more in an Old World style. The color was slightly golden, and the nose was intriguing: full aromas of tropical fruit (and some banana?) and honey, with some acidity noticeable in the nose already. Most of all there was something that reminded of an older Riesling. I couldn’t nail it down to what it was, but definitely intriguing. Its mouthfeel was nicely velvety, much heavier than the Cellar Selection. Aroma-wise, I got gooseberry and green pepper, but all in all it was rather restrained, which wasn’t a bad thing. It was nice mixture of soft and muscular, with good acidity and a nice finish to it.

The 2012 Chenin blanc Family Reserve was the maiden vintage for this line’s Chenin blanc. The grapes come from three sites in Stellenbosch, which all have different soil types (granite, decomposed shell, and sand and clay mix). Vinification begins in stainless steel and then the wine spends one year on the lees in first and second fill barrels. The color was golden, and the nose quite expressive and complex. There was tons of tropical fruit (probably pineapple most prominently). On the palate, you could taste a bunch of minerality, acidity was again spot on, and the wine was creamy and balanced with an elegant finish. Everything was well made in this wine, but somehow it didn’t touch me the way it probably should have. It probably needs more time to age.

And two of the whites we tried...

And two of the whites we tried…

The 2010 Shiraz Family Reserve was made from grapes from one block which contains three different soil types which produce different kinds of grapes: some with thicker skins, others with thinner skin and therefore less tannin potential. The batches are fermented separately, some in open cement containers, and then are blended afterwards. The color was a dark ruby red, and the nose was intense and concentrated, with chocolate and coffee aromas. Nina and I both loved how well integrated the wine tasted: it was grippy with great tannins that held it all together, with dark fruit aromas and a long finish. The balance of it all was great. When I just checked Nina’s notes, I saw a smiling face beside this wine. Mine has a bunch of plusses. A total winner.

The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve we tried comes from one block in Stellenbosch and is aged in first fill barrels for 26 months. The nose of the wine was complex and very intense, almost aggressively so. I picked up boiled green peppers, bitter chocolate and what I would describe as tomato stalks (have you ever smelled them?). Nina’s notes read pencil shavings and spice with lots of red fruit. On the palate, despite its age, the 2008 was still very firm and closed, with restrained fruit, and still a bunch of green aromas. It was very hard to assess at this stage because it didn’t really want to come out of its shell. When I voiced some frustration about this, and that I would love to try it again in three years, Dirk got up and told us to wait. He came back with a bottle of 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve that had been opened a few days before! While the nose was pretty much gone, just a whiff of prunes left, the flavor worked on this one: great tannins and what I would describe as port wine like flavors (fortified, prunes, sweet cherry). It was succulent and full, enticing and alluring. All of that topped by a long finish. This was an impressive wine, and it did give an idea of where the 2008 might be headed…if that’s the case, there’s some good times ahead for it…and what a great way to finish the tasting.

If you visit the estate, make sure you book lunch or dinner at Terroir, the restaurant on the estate. The food is exquisite and very well prepared. A must for me in Stellenbosch.

2005 Kleine Zalze Cabernet Sauvignon Family Reserve

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Two Fall Reds: 2010 Bartenura Rosso di Montalcino and 2005 Coume del Mas Collioure Quadratur

Just some tasting notes today. Work continues to be crazy, but I had these two quite different wines lately and wanted to share my impressions…with fall approaching, we’re all looking for soothing reds, right?

The first was the 2010 Bartenura Rosso di Montalcino DOC. Rosso di Montalcino, the little brother of Tuscany’s famed Brunello di Montalcino, can be an affordable and good choice if you are longing for some Italian earthiness in a younger wine. Made from 100% Sangiovese (like Brunello) and grown in the same area, the main difference is that a Rosso only needs to spend six months in oak (compared to two years for Brunello) and one year of total ageing before release.

Bartenura is a big, Italian-wide producer mostly known for its Moscato in a blue bottle (which I was not aware of when I picked up the bottle…) and its current website does not list the Rosso di Montalcino. We bought the bottle at Costco where it retailed for $12, which is definitely on the lower end for a Rosso di Montalcino.

In the glass, the wine showed a lighter red color. The nose was full of pecan pie, slightly burnt cookies, blackberry, cherry and unidentifiable vegetables. That left quite the impression! On the palate, the wine was weirdly bubbly (which was not noticeable when looking at the glass), with initially strong acidity. There were some earthy and cherry pie aromas, but in the middle it showed surprising bitter aromas. The finish was so, so. I don’t know. Something seemed off balance with the wine. The acidity was too strong for me. There were moments that were better, but overall I don’t think I will buy this again…

2005 Coume dell Mas Quadratur

2005 Coume dell Mas Collioure Quadratur

The second wine we had was a 2005 Coume del Mas Collioure Quadratur from Languedoc-Roussillon in France. I bought this wine during a blow out sale on Last Bottle Wines mostly because of its logo. I loved that! The price was right ($12). According to the wine guide Gault Millaut it retailed for 24 euros (over $30) when they reviewed it.

The winery is the opposite of Bartenura, owning a mere 8 hectares planted with red vines, 11 hectares in total. I was looking forward to trying this aged mix of 50% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 20% Carignan.

In the glass, I found a very dark red wine, with hints of rust on the sides. The nose was perfumy with raspberry and blackberry aromas. Nina noticed butter and cookie aromas as well. On the palate, I got jammy berry aromas to begin with which soon gave way to tobacco and wood, with vanilla interspersed. The wine had decent acidity and the tannins seemed nicely integrated. The finish was a bit short and thinnish for me. I think this wine might be on its way out. It is still good, especially the beginning and mid-palate with its earthiness and rounded aromas. But the finish just wasn’t up to par. If you have a bottle, you might want to start drinking it soon…

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Sempre Vive: A Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical 2002 – 2006

The line

The line

I need to start with an apology: Somehow the camera took almost completely worthless photos, and we forgot to take pictures of the wines in glass…so, the photo component of this blog sucks. Sorry about that.

Over a week ago, we had the last of our wine tastings with friends before the summer break. It was a special thing, because two of our friends are leaving the city for good, so this was also the last tasting in that combination. It has really been a great experience tasting with these people whose opinions on wine I have come to appreciate a lot, and who have made these meetings so much fun. There was just always a good vibe around the table.

In order to celebrate this occasion, I had decided we should do a vertical tasting of Napa Cabernet Sauvignons. When I came across this opportunity on Wines Till Sold Out, I could not resist it for various reasons: I like verticals (see my last wine related post), they offer a glimpse into the handwriting of a winemaker, maybe even terroir, but also into how a particular wine from a particular area ages. Take into account that weather differences can play their role, too, and you have your hands full. I picked this vertical, a 2002 to 2006 of Cabernet Sauvignon not because I am very fond of that grape (I am not) or the area (I have mixed feelings), but because I know that at least three of our tasting group really like bolder red wines. And one of them is among those leaving us. The final push was the offer: WTSO offered five consecutive years, from the same winemaker and the same plot of land. And that for 99 bucks. I figured it was worth a try. An initial quick Internet search did not show many results for people that had tried these, so we were left to our own devices.

The wines came with an info package about winemaker and plot and vintages, which I thought was a neat idea. Let me fill you in, briefly. The wines are named Sempre Vive and are made by Romeo Cellars. The grapes stem from a vineyard in Calistoga, south of a reservoir between two forests. This is said to create hot days and cool nights (with temperature drops of up to 40 degrees between day and night). The oldest vines in that block were planted in 1971, the majority are 37 years old. Apparently, the clone of Cabernet Sauvignon that was planted back then was unknown, so after DNA testing it received the owners’ son’s name…

The winemaker of these wines is Alison Doran, whose father owned Simi Winery. She spent the majority of her working life at Firestone Vineyard from 1976 until 2000. Today, she works for several clients in Napa and Sonoma, including Romeo.

When considering how to conduct the vertical, I weighed the options (young to old or vice versa or even adjusting for taste and not look at the vintage) and had tremendous feedback and help from many you, see here. I decided to go with Anatoli and Jeff’s advice and try the wines first and then arrange the order. It made the most sense to me. I was also pretty shocked when Anatoli remarked that these wines were way too young still…hey, we are talking 2002!! That’s 11 years!! WOW.

So, I opened the bottles and tasted them after 90 minutes. I then determined the sequence, although, quite frankly, I felt a bit overwhelmed with making that decision. I went with 2004 – 2003 – 2006 – 2005 – 2002. The wines remained open for re- and cross-tasting after we were done with the sequence and then most of us ranked the wines and I will give you our ranking in the end.

First up, as explained, was the 2004 Romeo Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Old Vine “Sempre Vive”. The info sheet stated that 2004 was a short, tough year with late rains in spring, frost and a cool summer with heat spells in September. The grapes were harvested on September 23, 2004, spent 18 months in 50% new French oak. The wine was released on June 1, 2008. It has 15.1% ABV.

In the glass this wine was medium dark red. The nose showed marzipan (sweet almond paste), some alcoholic notes, caramel, then some cherries and berries. Someone noticed ripe strawberries. On the palate, this wine was medium-bodied, very very spicy and had a jammy warmth to it. There was definitely some heat from the alcohol and its tannins weren’t exactly shy. I still felt it was quite balanced. I later got some mint aromas too. The finish, though, was surprisingly short.

This wine split the table. Two of us really, really disliked this wine (curiously, one of them being a bold, heavy red wine lover!) because, to quote them “their mouth went numb from the alcohol”.  I’d say it was a mixed start, the heat was an issue, but the wine still had some interesting aromas to it.

Our second wine was the 2003 vintage. According to the notes, 2003 was a great season with welcome April rains and a warm finish of the season. The grapes were harvested on October 17th, 2003 (a month later than 2004!), aged for 18 months in 50% new French oak. Release date was June 1, 2007. The wine has 14.9% ABV.

In the glass, the 2003 vintage was a rather dark red. All of us smelled manure (not in a good way!), and that was a bad reminder of this stinker that we tried at an earlier tasting. Once you got over the manure, it showed a fruity nose with blackberry and what I would call raspberry-balsamic aromas. Weird. On the palate, this wine was light to medium bodied, a lot spicier than expected. There was a sizable amount of acidity, but one could also tell that the grapes were riper than in 2004, because the wine tasted somewhat sweeter than the 2004 (a bit too sweet for me). It was more herbal than the previous wine, some got black olive aromas, I thought it was smoky with a dark bitter chocolate aroma in the finish.

Next up the 2006 vintage, which was reportedly a cool season with roller coaster hot spells in the fall and uneven ripening that led to reduced quantities. Harvested on October 18, 2006, aged for 18 months in 63% new French oak and released on June 1, 2010, 13.68% ABV.

The color of this vintage was striking: It was a full bright black currant color. The nose was fresh and bright, full of raspberry, blackberry, some vanilla and again marzipan. On the palate, it was medium bodied and nicely velvety to begin with. There was some acidity, tannins, well balanced. I did enjoy the first sips of this wine a lot, except for the shortish finish. Otherwise it seemed nicely balanced. And then it collapsed. Every following sip seemed flatter than the one before. Someone remarked the finish was awkwardly dusty. I don’t really know what happened to that wine, but it just fell apart…that was very sad.

We moved on to the 2005 vintage, which saw a long, cool season with rains in the end. Not exactly ideal. The grapes were harvested October 17, 2005 and aged for 19 months in 50% new French oak. The wine was released on June 1, 2009 and has 15.15% ABV.

It presented itself in a dark ruby red. The nose was full of unripe aromas: greens, herbs, some mint, some red currant. I thought the nose was so, so. Not exciting exactly. In the glass, I did like this one quite a bit. It was light to medium bodied, spicy and had some good branch aromas (I sometimes like that, as in this case). There was definitely too much heat, a general problem for me when wines go over 14.5% ABV. The finish was actually rather long, albeit just of medium length. I thought this one paired well with the goat gouda we had with it…

The final wine in this line up was the 2002 vintage, the oldest of the day. The grapes saw a long relaxed season with some early hot spells. The grapes were harvested on October 7, 2002 and spent 20 months in 50% new French oak. The listed alcohol level was 14.3% ABV. Release date: June 1, 2006.

In the glass, we found a slightly brickish red color. The nose was full of earthy aromas, some age, the fruit aromas had definitely receded from this wine. On the palate, this wine tasted like an older wine, with earthy aromas, some tobacco and leather. Don’t get me wrong, the wine still tasted quite fresh. Its medium body was carried by noticeable residual sugar that led to a long finish. I’d say a bit more old world flavors, which I definitely appreciated. I liked this wine quite a bit. It had some bitter aromas in the finish, but I did not mind those.

Again, there they are...

Again, there they are…

So, staring at my notes, I am wondering: What have I learned from this tasting? I am not quite sure. First of all, I am not sure the order really worked. It was a rather cumbersome guess work what the wines would taste like later when fully explored, and I don’t think I was fully comfortable making that decision. Second, the wines were….so, so. I didn’t expect too much because I tend to have problems with Cabernet Sauvignon single varietals, but others around the table also didn’t seem really satisfied with the experience. Third, I didn’t really get an overarching theme in the wines that I would have identified as the winemaker’s hand or the terroir…I guess I am just not as experienced to get that stuff…The coolest thing about the tasting were the corks, though: The 2002 and 2003 cork did not have a website on it, but an email address that ended in @aol.com. How awesome is that???

We still had fun, and we naturally opened a bottle of Riesling to cleanse our palate and finish off the evening. More about that in another post…

Oh, and our ranking? Well, mine went like this (best to worst): 2002, 2004, 2005, 2003, 2006.

But I was outvoted (only four voted – best wine got 5 points, lowest 1 point):

Groupwise we ended up with 2002 (19 points), 2005 (13 points), 2003 (11 points), 2006 (9 points), 2004 (8 points).

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