It has now been ten-and-something years since the wines of Stellenbosch property Kleine Zalze first passed my parched lips, and to this day I still have to find a wine under this label that fails to hit the spot. Starting at the entry level Cellar Selection range, made from grapes sourced from around the Coastal Region, to the top-tier Family Reserves from Stellenbosch, Klein Zalze just seems to get it right. Always.
This is surely one of South Africa’s most successful wineries in terms of diversity, quality and the ability to play to economy of scale. In other words, to be commercially prosperous by making shedloads of good wine backed by dynamic marketing and brand visibility. For Kleine Zalze is not slow in terms of consumer-acceptance.
At the end of last year I popped in for a tasting with winemaker Alastair Rimmer, a former international flying-winemaker-type who relishes the challenges of Kleine Zalze’s ambition in the numbers game, as well as the focus on creating classy wines from various grape varieties.
It would be difficult to taste through the vast Kleine Zalze range in one session, so pressed to offer what he’d like to see the brand identified with, it was Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. As they say in the classics, what’s not to like?
The Cellar Selection Chenin Blanc 2017 kicked-off proceedings, and for R70 you get a unwooded Chenin made from bush vines, a wine oozing as much varietal pedigree as a Sumo wrestler reflects his Japanese heritage. Even with your tongue cut out by organ-harvesting zombies one would be able to taste the character of South African Chenin Blanc in this wine: the breezy wafts of sun-dried hay, the succulence of a chilled ripe Packham pear, a splash of clear river water from a pebble-lined pool and a refreshing drinkability to put a smile on your face and a glint in the eye.
As can be expected, the Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016 puts a totally new narrative on the Cellar Selection. This wine is made from Stellenbosch fruit, selected from different wards where the bush vines are rooted in a variety of soils, namely decomposed granite, oakleaf and the pH-enhancing duplex dirt. It is also aged, in 400 litre barrels of French wood – none new, 2nd to 4th. Gestation period, all of eight months.
Despite the wood providing a firm supporting structure on which the wine flavours can strut their stuff, the chic muscularity comes from the grapes. Here the meticulousness of the farming is only exceeded by the diligence of the selection process.
The Family Reserve Chenin Blanc is concentrated to a level that is almost showy in an ostentatious way. Fragrant honeysuckle oil and quince jelly attack the mouth with a visceral pleasure intense enough to make the loins tingle. Then, on the mid-palate, heavy acids cut through the fruit-filled decadence, a palette of flavours resplendent with kumquat, winter melon and Moroccan lime-preserve takes over. There is some spice, too, and the after-taste is as everlasting and memorable as a wink from a Parisian fortune-teller bearing good news.
If this wine was a person, it would look like the love child of Ava Gardner and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
After such a heady Chenin Blanc experience I was not going to mess around with the Cabernet Sauvignons, so moi went straight for the Family Reserve 2013. And here the wine came cantering on a sweaty black stallion, heralding the fact that when it comes to South African red wine, Stellenbosch Cabernet is where it is, like, most definitely at.
The vineyards are on the Kleine Zalze property, the grapes selected and receiving a watchful eye during the fermentation process. Pump-overs and punch-downs are done rigorously as the ferment gets going, with the frequency and intensity easing off towards the end to avoid over extraction and crude tannins. Wooding is the full Monty: 90% new French, and the rest 2nd fill. And all of 24 months, as good Stellenbosch fruit warrants.
What I really like about this wine is that it is not shy to portray an accessible delectability for which New World Cabernets are known. The wine-gum fruit core lies at the centre of it all, lip-smacking and truly delicious. But then, as the wine takes a proper hold, fantastic and typical Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon comes to the fore. Blackberries and fresh hot tar. Dry pine-needles upon which the fresh morning dew is drying in the mid-day sun. Turkish figs, lead-pencil and a handful of ripped fynbos, with an airy, dusty note carrying a murmur of seaweed keeping everything fresh, joyous and magnificently drinkable.
Surely these lips can’t be sealed.