Last week Blaauwklippen hosted its sixth International Zinfandel Tasting, this year choosing to compare its Zinfandel wines against four from Australia. The thirty or so wine writers attending judged the Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Reserve to be better than the Australian counterparts.
The tasting was led by Rolf Zeitvogel, Cellarmaster and CEO of Blaauwklippen, and passionate about Zinfandel. He said of the wine variety: “Zinfandel is a particularly demanding variety to manage both in the vineyard and the winery. The resulting unique and hedonistically rich wine makes all the hard work worthwhile”.
The four Australian Zinfandel wines we tasted, with interesting labels and some with high alcohol content, were the following:
* Cape Mentelle 2010 – of this wine from the west coast Margaret River wine region Rolf said that it has developed a ‘cult following’ amongst Zinfandel lovers. Their first Zinfandel was planted in 1974, to low density bush vines, and there is ‘fastidious attention to detail to ensure that only the best quality fruit is produced’, Rolf said. The grapes are hand picked, de-stemmed, and berries sorted individually. The must is soaked at cool temperatures prior to fermentation. Fermentation and maturation took place in oak vats, 25 % going into new French oak barrels. Zinfandel was first planted in 1974. Some say that this is the best Zinfandel producer in Australia.
* Cargo Road 2010 – this is one of the older Australian Zinfandel blocks, based in Mount Canobolas, planted in 1983. It is planted northfacing at 860 m above sea level, allowing it to be un-irrigated, developing a good dark colour, and maintaining good acidity. Its total planting of 4 ha is one of the largest in New South Wales. The crop is thinned dramatically, from a potential crop of 20 ton to 9 ton, to assure quality grapes. This Zinfandel was not well received by the tasting panel.
* Smallwater Estate 2009 – located in the south west, this region is proving itself as one of Australia’s most reliable wine growing areas, and the wine estate saw the opportunity to plant the Zinfandel grape in 1993 for the first time, and make a premium flagship Zinfandel. Initially the wine estate contract-produced grapes for Cape Mentelle, but started making its own wine from 2006 onwards. The crop is thinned out in four stages, taking out bunch wings and shoots first, reducing the crop to 5 tonne per ha. A Rosé is also made from the Zinfandel. Of the four Australian wines, this Zinfandel was liked most by the wine writers.
* Peel Estate 2007 – produced in Karnup, 70 km south of Perth, the Zinfandel was first planted in 1974, and the first wines were made in 1980. Being 3 km from the ocean, the grapes benefit from a Mediterranean microclimate, with mild winters and cool coastal breezes in summer. The dry summers suit Zinfandel well. The grapes are crushed and fermented on their skins for a week before being pressed and are then transferred to a stainless steel tank for the primary and secondary fermentation processes. Thereafter it is matured in oak for two years. The wine writers likened this Zinfandel to a port.
The Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Reserve 2011 is made from Block Padstall1 grapes first grown in 1982, at 146 m above sea level. They are planted on southfacing slopes in sandy duplex soil. They use a six wire trellising system, the bunches are halved, and intense canopy management is practised, to make a single vineyard wine. They get a crop of 4,5 – 5 tonnes per ha. There is no irrigation. Fermentation is in French Oak, for at least 18 months. Its character is described as spicy plums, raisins, rum chocolate and vanilla spice flavours with ‘whiffs of cigarbox, bitter chocolate, and English tea’. It is ideal to drink with spicy dishes, game, potjiekos, and matured cheeses. It was best liked of all the five wines tasted, tasting like a wine, it was said, and not like a port. We tasted a tank sample, and Rolf said that the wine would be at its best in three to four years. It costs R310 at the cellar door.
Rolf shared how difficult it is to manage the Zinfandel grapes, when asked why so few winemakers grow Zinfandel. Blaauwklippen had wanted to pick the grapes at the end of February, but the heavy rains in early February forced them to pick overnight just after the rain, otherwise they would have lost their crop. The wine variety is also not well known. He shared that at a food and wine pairing evening the day before they had paired a Zinfandel 2007 with a steak served with a pepper sauce, the wine standing up well to the strongly spiced sauce.
Exciting news is that an MCC is to be launched by Blaauwklippen in 2015.
After the tasting we were spoilt with a Zinfandel-inspired lunch at the water’s edge, prepared by Radisson Blu Hotel Executive Chef Grant Kennedy. PR consultant Nicolette Waterford related how much trouble the chef had taken to prepare a well-matched menu for the function. The amuse bouche was a beef and dried peach carpaccio, served with emerald asparagus, pomegranate hollandaise gratin, and sprinkled gems, which was paired with the Blaauwklippen White Zinfandel 2012. The peach added a touch of colour to the dish.
The starter was a pink tuna pavé, served with gremolata fresh herb crumb, root bulb dauphinoise, a cranberry beurre noisette, and runner bean shoots, which was paired with Blaauwklippen Zinfandel 2010. This was followed by a prickly pear and grappa dash sorbet palate cleanser. A number of the guests mistook this for granadilla, but the pips of the prickly pear are much harder and bigger, making them hard to swallow. The main course was described as ‘Journey of Duck’, and was an excellent pairing with the Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Reserve 2011. It was a most generous serving of Leg Confit with gooseberry jelly, a thigh and goats curd samoosa with liver parfait, delicious slow grilled breast with a naartjie la orange jus, quinoa and wild mushrooms, braised baby onions, and glazed vanilla carrots.
The dessert was also generous, with an interesting collection of raisin tea and rooibos bread and butter soufflé, an unusual avocado and bitter chocolate tart, and a coconut blackberry semi freddo, which was paired with the Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Noble Late Harvest 2011.
Sitting close to Woolworths wine buyer Allan Mullins it was interesting to hear that he became one of the first Cape Wine Masters in 1986, and started at Woolworths four years later, having been a maths teacher at SACS in his previous career.
Disclosure: We received a bottle of Blaauwklippen White Zinfandel 2010, Zinfandel Noble Late Harvest 2011, and Zinfandel 2012 with our media information.
Blaauwklippen Vineyards. R44, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 880-0136 www.blaauwklippen.com Twitter: @Blaauwklippen Wine Tasting 10h00 – 18h30 (summer)/17h00 (winter)
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage