Stand-out wine when Stellenbosch winery Kleine Zalse put on a vertical tasting from 2006 to 2009 of its Family Reserve Shiraz at Bizerca restaurant on Friday was the 2007. Aromas and flavours of ripe berries, vanilla, a hint of spice and the first signs of tertiary character. Rich, full and smooth textured with huge fruit concentration but enough acidity to ensure it wasn’t devoid of all refreshment. On this showing, my score was 16.5/20.
Plenty going for it including a smart analysis with an alcohol by volume of 14.5%, a residual sugar of 3.6g/l, a total acidity of 6.8g/l and a pH of 3.39. Powerful but well put together. Winemaker Bertho van der Westhuizen describes the wine as “massive” in an entirely favourable sense and explains that he and cellarmaster Johan Joubert favour fruit over spiciness fundamentally so the end-product must be seen as true to their intention.
The wine won best in category and best red overall at the 2009 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show among a slew of other awards so plenty of endorsement. At lunch on Friday, however, I found myself wondering if the Kleine Zalze had enough intricacy to be considered truly great? My sense is that it doesn’t but it’s a verdict I’m not completely happy with.
The thing is I’m increasingly starting to think that it’s unfair always to insist on intricacy as condition of greatness for South African reds. Local growing conditions simply don’t allow this – fruit weight, yes but real detail, no. Rather fully ripe grapes than less ripe and all the attendant problems of greenness that come with that. The whole situation is exacerbated by the prevailing anxiety that our wines should not be too high in alcohol. This means that wines are picked too early, even if marginally, and the best possible fruit expression is compromised accordingly.
There will be those who point to something like Eagles’ Nest from Constantia as a step up on what Kleine Zalze are doing when it comes to Shiraz but it should be noted that there’s typically nothing slight about those wines either, at least in terms of abv – the 2006 at 14.74% and the 2008 at 14.92%, both top achievers at Trophy Wine Show in their own right.