Things about Zinfandel that you always wanted to know but were too afraid to ask: DNA “fingerprinting” has demonstrated that it is the same as the Crljenak Kaštelanski vine of Croatia and Primitivo of southern Italy. Today it is most predominant in California, where some 300 growers cultivate slightly over 20 000ha. All this became clear at the fourth annual Blaauwklippen Zinfandel tasting, this Stellenbosch farm being one of the few local producers to grow the variety, there being a total 34ha of it planted in South Africa at the end of 2009.
Blaauwklippen has a long history with Zinfandel, the 1980 vintage seeing Walter Finlayson triumph in the category “Innovative Wines” at the inaugural Diners Club Winemaker of the Year competition held in 1981. Today, there are 8ha of the variety on the property, planted in 1982 and 1983, while there are plans to plant more in 2013.
Zin has a particular viticultural disadvantage in that bunches tend to ripen unevenly: green berries on the same cluster as those that have reached full maturity. Consequently, producers face either high acidities and harsh tannins from the green portion of fruit or a dead fruit character if picking is delayed too long. Zin therefore tends to make rather sturdy and unsubtle wines.
Among a flight of five wines also featuring a Crljenak Kaštelanski –cross from Croatia, two examples of Primitivo from Italy and a Zin from Mendocino, California, a 1997 Blaauwklippen was by far the most distinguished. The nose showed pleasing evolution, a note of tobacco being its most marked characteristic, while there was still some sweet red fruit in evidence on the palate, this offset by a fresh acidity.
Blaauwklippen winemaker Rolf Zeitvogel is keen to leverage the unusual selling proposition that Zinfandel affords and makes not only a conventional red, but also a White Zinfandel (actually “onion skin” in colour after minimal skin contact) and a Noble Late Harvest. The red (current vintage 2007) is surprisingly refined for a Zin with dark cherry fruit, bright acidity and fine tannins – not at all bad value at R90 a bottle. The 2009 White Zin is competently made and not unappealing but also sells at R90 a bottle and simply not exciting enough to warrant that price. The 2009 Noble Late Harvest is an oddity – it went well with the blue cheese and pear tiramisu served at lunch but a pairing you’re unlikely to repeat at home very often.