Tag Archives: Chenin blanc

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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Stellenbosch: First Impressions Part I (lots of photos)

As I mentioned before, Nina and I have been spending last week in Stellenbosch as guests of Stellenbosch Wine Routes. Needless to say, we had a fantastic time and there will be plenty of posts coming up over the next weeks dealing with every aspect of it in more depth, but for now I just wanted to share first impressions by photos.

Stellenbosch is what appears to be the pinnacle of South Africa’s Cape Province’s wine growing (I only say appears because we haven’t had a chance to try any other wines…and what we tried was outstanding!). Situated gorgeously along a range of mountains, most notably the Simonsberg, Stellenbosch is a bustling university town that developed from a Dutch settlement in the 1700s. Even if you have seen photos of the landscape, nothing prepares you for how stunning the mountains are in real life.

We came to explore the wines of Stellenbosch, most notably its Pinotage, but we soon realized, as is all too often the case when it comes to wine regions, the true stars of Stellenbosch are its people: From the cellar aide to the venerated winery owner, from the hostess at restaurants to the bus boys, everyone was so friendly. I wrote why I love Southern Africa in my previous post, and Stellenbosch seemed to be on a mission to prove me right – and more.

We did our fair share of wine tastings, ate fantastic food, and stayed in beautiful hotels, we met interesting and warm people, and we were treated like family everywhere. How blessed (there, Tracy, I said it!) are we really?

But let’s not get too sentimental, so, without further ado, this is the first part of just some photo impressions of our time in Stellenbosch. Installment two will follow soon…also, I realized during this trip how insanely inadequate my photo taking skills truly are, so forgive my amateurism.

Our suite at Majeka House, a beautiful boutique hotel just south of town in the aptly named quarter Paradyskloof.

Majeka House

As we got back to our room from a swim, the sun was just setting.

Sunset at Majeka House

A 2001 Straw Wine made from Chenin blanc (yes, what looks like stale Coke was made from a white grape) served during dinner at the excellent Makaron Restaurant. My first of many seriously impressive Chenin blancs.

2001 Straw Wine

We were alone in the restaurant that night (it’s low season here), so we had lots of time to bond with the sommelier, Esme.

Nina and Esme at Majeka House

We woke up to this vista on Tuesday morning.

Sunrise at Majeka House

Breakfast at Majeka House with Annareth Bolton, the CEO of Stellenbosch Wine Routes, that set us off on our journey. Annareth immediately made us feel part of this awesome community.

With Annareth Bolton

We headed off to L’Avenir winery in the morning, where winemaker Dirk took us on a vineyard tour first.

In the vineyards at L'Avenir

More vineyards at L’Avenir.

Vineyards at L'Avenir

After that, Dirk took us on a barrel tasting in his cellars, where we tasted the different barrels and their influence on the batches that go into their Pinotage. This barrel, however, contains a Chenin blanc in Acacia wood. A freaky crazy pine needle and honey flavored batch.

Barrel tasting at L'Avenir

From L’Avenir we headed to Warwick, where winemaker Nic treated us to tapas, great wines, and we got to hang out with a beads Madiba.

Paying our respects to Madiba at Warwick

After Warwick, we did the few minutes drive to Kanonkop, where winemaker Aabrie was awaiting us with a vertical Pinotage tasting from 1999-2012 in their treasure chamber. Nina clearly was in awe. We hit it off and stayed way after the estate’s closing time.

Vertical at Kanonkop

From there, we checked in at Evergreen Manor and Spa, a wonderfully preserved Stellenbosch villa in the university area of town.

Evergreen Manor

Dinner was served at Tokara Restaurant which during daylight offers stunning views over Stellenbosch all the way to Cape Town. Try to be there for sunset. The chef serves outstanding, creative food. This is a “Baked Alaska” (a typical dessert, I am told) as a starter, with Alaskan salmon, ice cream and a citrus relish.

Dinner at Tokara

The next morning, we had a tasting at Stellekaya with the winemaker Ntsiki, who had been down with a flu the day before but she hurled herself out of bed to present her intriguing line of accessible wines, some of which contain Sangiovese which adds a cool twist to the standard Cape blends.

With winemaker at Stellekaya

More to follow soon…

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Sunday Read: Sips Closest to Dessert

I’ll be participating in a #Winechat this Wednesday (9-10pm EST), a Twitter event hosted by @ProtocolWine (if all the wines make it here in time, the East Coast snowstorms have delayed some deliveries). The theme is “Ice Wine” and dessert wines in a nod to the Olympics (where all ice is fake, as we are being told). When I heard of the theme I immediately got in touch to see whether I could participate and was lucky to be chosen to receive some samples to talk about this Wednesday. Needless to say, I am super excited. Coming of (wine) age in the Mosel valley, I had ample exposure to its sweet wines and therefore feel particularly comfortable tasting these wines…

We’ll have a dinner party with friends that night because I don’t want to try the wines alone and so naturally my thinking has moved to what to pair dessert wines with. I am not a fan of sweet desserts and these wines, it is usually overkill. I am looking for ways to pair wine with savory dishes. Because for me either the wine IS the dessert or it should complement savory aromas.

I came across this article by Eric Asimov published in 2009 in which he looks at exactly that topic: pairing savory dishes with sweet wines (we’re on the same page regarding dessert and dessert wine). I found it an inspiring read!

Happy Sunday!

Eric Asimov: Sips Closest to Dessert

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