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Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Shiraz 2007


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.


  1. I absolutely loved this wine when I tasted at the 2009 OMTW Show and bought a stack. (My fave wine of that show btw was the Haskell Pillars 07 which continues to develop into a complex and pure fruited wine IMHO). I agree with your ultimate above views on the KZFR Shiraz. My sense when I last drank it a month or so ago is that it may not mature for as long as I initially expected, and perhaps what it’s showing at that tasting promised,  as the fruit weight starts to abate. I plan to drink mine sooner rather than later and not risk disappointment. My personal score would however be more likely a 17! In general, I am a big fan of Kleine Zalze and  the ladies in my house quaff their Chenin in copious amounts!

  2. Hi, Christian. I agree that South Africa’s wines will always be different in structure and fruit expression than, let’s say Bordeaux and New Zealand’s South Island – something we should celebrate. But what do you think of the earlier harvested, lower alcohol wines being made by Craig Hawkins? He gets his fruit from a much warmer area than Stellenbosch (KZ) and Constantia (EN) so, all other things being equal, conventional wisdom would have him harvest at much higher sugar levels, resulting in higher alcohols. He does the opposite… 

  3. Hi Kwispedoor, I think Hawkins is definitely on to something and watch his Swartland compatriots follow suit. Even so, I don’t think we should fixate on alcohol levels but rather how we achieve freshness and detail in our reds – our conditions are such that fruit concentration is rarely going to be the issue. Put differently, using alcohol in isolation as a determinant of quality is misguided – there are plenty of examples of wines of balance and complexity at high alcohol levels for one thing while it is only logical that it becomes harder to make fine wine as you move towards the extremes of alcohol, whether high or low, for another.

  4. Hi Christian, I am interested in your use of “intricacy” as a measure of “quality”. Whist intricate can be complimentary, in its use as complex, detailed, involved, it can also have a slightly negative connotation as complicated.
    Yes, I love my wines to be complex, to have to dig a little for each nuance, each layer of flavour, but I don’t want to be confused either! I know we are almost splitting hairs here, and the last thing I want is to get bogged down in wine-speak, but ultimately I am looking for purity!
    BTW, the most obscure word for a wine description I have yet come across is “quaquaversal”, used in a UK review last week! That certainly had me running for Google!!!

    • Hi Stephen, I think we understand each other pretty well – I’d concede that “intricate” does indeed have a connotation of being complicated – not a good thing when applied to a SARS tax return form but no bad thing when it comes to wine. I have to say I like wines which reveal themselves obliquely rather than directly, that are hard rather than easy to describe, that are complicated. I don’t think any criterion should be privileged above any other however – “purity” generally applies but what of the slight flaw which elevates the pretty to the beautiful (cf. Cindy Crawford’s mole)? As for “quaquaversal”, don’t expect it on this blog any time soon.

  5. Christian, The question is how do you balance a high alcohol wine – even at 14.5 as this is mostly at 15%? And more, how do you achieve such a favourable pH, high acid, etc? This is nothing against the wine above, just general questions. I can answer these of course, but I mention them only to entice your readers to think about wine. Hawkins and other Swartlanders go with low alcohol, because they want to make natural (and do I dare say honest or authentic) wines, that is via natural fermentation and minimum if any sulphur additions. Also, they have realised that brightness in wine, structure, complexity and depth are achieved as a result of earlier picking (23 balling and less). About the above wine: I do not like it. The fruit and structure were derived from yeast, barrel and sugar, and the balance obtained by added acid. Nothing wrong with this, even more so when the winemaker states his and the proprietor’s preference for fruit-forward (read: barrel, alcohol and sugar) wines. Hell, they make money this way, so hats off to them. Bottom line, do not feel guilty if you were seduced by the wine, but if your remorse the morning after makes you want to wipe you willy (figuratively speaking of course) with brandy, then just accept you’d been had by a buxom centrefold.

  6. I don’t know anyone who would use alcohol in isolation as a determinant of quality. Surely most aficionados realize that balance is much more important – I for one have had many superb big wines in my lifetime. I just think that, in this country, you hardly see ANY red wine under 14% alcohol anymore (apart from Pinot, Gamay, etc.) It has become the easy way out to go riper and riper (let’s hide some faults behind residual sugar while we’re at it). If some people in warm areas can make very good wines at lower alcohol levels, then why are just about ALL the winemakers in the cool areas battling their asses off to make wine at below 14.5%? I can’t believe that they are all lazy and untalented (though the law of averages would dictate that some must be). A huge paradigm shift occurred after the inaugural Tri-Nations competition between us, New Zealand and Australia, when we realised our wines generally lack ripeness. I think we’ve over-corrected and another paradigm shift is needed if we want to move to the next level as an industry. 
    Talking about exceptions, I had two this past weekend. A De Morgenzon DMZ Concerto 2008: wonderful fruit expression (red fruits, typical pepper, etc.), but a quite riveting freshness not often experienced here anymore. Lovely wine at 13% ABV. Then, a Fryer’s Cove Bay to Bay Sauvignon 2010, showing both thiol and pyrazine character, wonderful balance, huge fruit, good, but non-aggressive acid and really long aftertaste at 12.5% ABV. Half an hour after a buddy and I started on it, it was gone. There really is something to be said for the great drinkability of the (good) lower alcohol wines. Or, rather, normal alcohol wines (one must be careful of what you get used to) – below 12% is low. 

  7. Kwisp, agree fully re balance. Question re picking red grapes early in warm to hot areas: that means short hang time and little capacity to achieve phenolic ripeness.
    Will that ever yield great red wines? Time will tell, but I am not convinced. Best to plant the right cultivars in the right places.

  8. Yes, Dana – I don’t expect we’ll see Carménère plantings in the Swartland anytime soon!  :-) All I’m hoping for is a mind shift from at least SOME of the winemakers in South Africa’s cooler areas to not only look for phenolic ripeness at all costs (ending up with high pH, habitually adding acid, jammy, awkward and often inelegant fruit, difficult to drink alcohol levels, etc.) but also a natural balance and drinkability. We always bemoan the fact that we are not a nation of wine drinkers, but any newcomer to wine is mostly bombarded with monster wines. Heck, I had a 14.5% ABV (labelled, so likely higher) varietal Cinsaut the other day. Yes, Cinsaut..!
    I would have resigned myself to the fact that it’s not possible to make anything but ultra-ripe, extracted, heavy wines in this country, but the fact is that a few winemakers do get it right – in a variety of areas. If more winemakers just really start to think and wrestle with these issues, I can’t see it hurting anyone. At this moment, I get the distinct impression that many winemakers are immovable, with stone-set opinions and pretty happy as long as they can manage to get no more than 14.5% ABV on a label. 

  9. One of my favourite wine producers is Mollydooker, the husband and wife team, boutique winery in McClaren Vale Australia. Their shiraz offerings throughout the range are regularly rated =as a Top 10 in the world and this despite their unashamed and weighty 16.5% alcohol level. They are sought after and have a minimum price in the UK of £25-00/bottle ranging to their premium label which fetches £150-00/botle. This is due to their intelligent oak use, fruit weight and acidic balance. Taking this as an example seems to indicate to me that balance is the destination and arriving there the goal. Acidification in SA wines (I remain a Patriotic embiber and promoter of SA wines) sadly for me always leaves a distinct bitter and astringent persistence which is unpleasant and undesirable. There must be a solution to the balance issue in SA reds. If the ausies can get it right I’m sure our winemakers can too.

  10. @Shane, Mollydooker make great wines & I have been there a few times, but also worth remembering McClaren Vale has ave annual degree days of 1910, which is like the Simonsberg-Paarl areas – so not a cool climate. For some reason, maybe being right next to the sea, McClaren Vale produces great, balanced Shirazes. Not only MollyDooker, also the likes of d’Arenburg’s Dead Arm Shiraz which is just as big but very polished.
    @Kwisp – come by and I will give you our 2010 Shiraz from our Elgin vineyards. Full ripe at 13%! As part of our Artisan Range it is normally only for our WineClub members, but for you an exception with pleasure! I am personally very excited about the red potential from Elgin, esp where the cultivar and soil types are carefully matched. Time will tell.

  11. I’m slobbering all over my keyboard again. Thanks so much, Dana, but I’m up in Gauteng… I’ll send an e-mail to info@vnl.co.za with my details; let me know if you’re up here for a show or something and I’ll come say hello.

  12. Hi Dana
    Otjers to look out for from the McClaren Vale: Clarendon Hills; Mitolo; Glaetzer; Two Hands; Noon; Ch. Reynella’s basket pressed; Noon; Coriole and Kangarilla Road.


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