AmaZINg Zinfandel

A few weeks ago I attended the 5th Blaauwklippen International Zinfandel Tasting and in true form Blaauwklippen MD and Winemaker Rolf Zeitvogel did not disappoint. The theme of this year's ZINtastic showcase was 'Californian Big 5' and featured the flagship Zinfandel and Zinfandel based wines from top Californian producers.
Blaauwklippen is known as the home of Zinfandel in South Africa and this is not surprising as they produce a variety of interesting Zinfandel based wines such as their Vineyard Selection Zinfandel 2007, their Vineyard Selection White Zinfandel 2009 and their Zinfandel Noble Late Harvest 2009.

Blaauwklippen's oldest block of Zinfandel was planted in 1989 and it is the block that is used to produce their Reserve wine. Blaauwklippen currently has 10ha of Zinfandel on the estate but plans to expand this by three or four hectares in the next year.

We kicked off the interesting tasting with background on why Rolf chose the wines for the tasting. Rolf chose the wines after he attended the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers' annual Zinfandel Festival earlier this year in San Francisco.

Blaauwklippen was the only South African producer that exhibited at the event and drew quite a crowd of interest. The Zinfandel festival draws crowds of between 8 000 and 10 000 people over the three days of exhibition and there were roughly 250 producers that showcased their ZINful wines.

The tasting was my first interaction with Zinfandel and I found it to be a grape cultivar that's not for the faint hearted. We tasted ten wines in total (six Californian wines, the newly released Blaauwklippen Reserve, two vintages of the Blaauwklippen White Zinfandel and the Blaauwklippen Red Noble Late Harvest).

1. Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah 2009
(Thomann Station, Napa Valley, California, $51)
The first wine we tasted was a single cultivar Petit Sirah as it is the most common blending component in Zinfandel based blends and Rolf wanted to show us what the cultivar was like on its own.

I found notes of raisin and fruitcake on the nose and liquorice on the palate. It also had full firm tannins and a hint of oak flavours in the mid palate. The colour was very similar to Petit Verdot in that it had a dark violet hue.

The wine was aged for 14 months in 20% new and 80% 2nd and 3rd fill barrels. There was no further analysis provided except for the alcohol that came in at a hefty 15.2%.

2. Robert Biale Vineyards Zinfandel 2009
(Monte Rosso, Sanoma Valley, Napa, California, $50)
This wine was made from 132 year old vines that still produce a yield of between 6 and 8 tons per hectare.

This wine showed subtle stewed fruit characters on the nose with well integrated tannins. This wine was my favourite of the international wines as it had a nice long lingering after taste. I also found the wine to be in perfect balance despite its whopping 15.8% alcohol. The colour was also surprisingly different form the Petite Sirah and leaned more towards a red or ruby hue. This wine spent 14 months in oak.

3. Rosenblum Cellars Annette's Reserve Zinfandel 2009
(Mendocino County, Rutherford, California, $35)
This wine was made with the consumer in mind as it is not as overpowering on the senses as the other Zinfandel's we tasted on the day. This wine is blended with Petit Syrah and Carignan though the exact percentages weren't disclosed. The wine showed more depth of colour than the single cultivar Zinfandel wines due to its blended components.

This wine showed stewed berries on the nose and was very elegant in terms of taste. The blending components seemed to help mask the 15.5% alcohol. This wine was aged for 16 months in a combination of American, Hungarian and French oak barrels. Most Zinfandel producers in California have moved away from using only new oak and the majority use mainly older oak barrels for maturation.

pH: 3.6
TA: 6.2

4. Michael David Winery Earthquake Zinfandel 2010
(Lodi Appellation, Graton California, $26)
The label on this wine is extremely striking and was the first to catch my eye. The label is broken in two parts with the Richter scale measurements in the middle.

This wine was made from a vineyard that was planted in 1906. This wine showed very dark smoked characters on the nose and roasted flavours on the palate. This wine has very dark violet colour. This was by far the boldest of the wines on the day with a whopping 16% alcohol and a salty (almost Marmite) aftertaste. This wine was aged for 11 months in American oak and the wood is definitely very prominent.

pH: 3.7
TA: 6.2

5. Talty Vineyards Zinfandel 2008
(Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg California, $38)

Talty Vineyards was crowned as's 'Winery of the Year' last year and is highly commended in the US. This wine is a blend and includes 7% Petit Syrah and 3% Carignan and is unfiltered. The Zinfandel vines used to produce this wine are 48 years old. This wine is very rustic and bears a resemblance to the style of its Italian counterpart Primitivo.

This wine was much lighter than the others we tasted on the day and had meaty characters of marmite and biltong on the nose as well as some stewed fruit and plums. This wine was medium bodied (as opposed to the other heavier wines of the day) and aged in a combination of 35% French and 65% American oak barrels.

Alcohol: 14.6%
pH: 3.46
TA: 7.5

6. Terra d'Oro Winery Deaver Zinfandel 2008
(Amador County, Plymouth California, $30)

This wine is 100% Zinfandel made from 131 year old vines. Terra d'Oro has been experimenting with oak and different barrel sizes and uses a combination of American, Hungarian and French oak barrels. Despite the 16 months barrel ageing I found this wine light, fresh and fruit forward. There were some smoked flavours present as well but the wine had a great taste and lovely finish and showed enormous commercial appeal.

Alcohol: 14.5%
pH: 3.72
TA: 5.9

All of the wines were interesting and the tasting was a great learning experience. I especially liked the fact that we got to taste the newly released Blaauwklippen Vineyards Zinfandel Reserve 2009. It was wonderful being able to compare our local Zinfandel master to the top Californian brands. The Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Reserve was matured for 14 months in 65% new European oak barrels and bottle matured for a further 12 months before being released. The wine underwent spontaneous fermentation in open wooden casks and has a full deep colour, brilliant fruit integration, some serious tannins and red fruit flavours.

The Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Reserve is a wonderfully well made wine that definitely has a long ageing potential and is best served as an accompaniment to a hearty fillet.

The images included in this article were taken by me at the event, if you'd like to view more images please visit Blaauwklippen's Facebook Page. I have also included the video Judy Brower took of Rolf for our March Spotlight Theme below.
Blaauwklippen MD and Winemaker Rolf Zeitvogel