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Kleine Zalze Chenins Blancs

22 Jan 2010 by Jancis Robinson

Quite a stir has been caused in the South Africa by wine writer Tim James’s discovery that Kleine Zalze, Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2008, winner of South African WINE magazine’s important Chenin Challenge, comes in three separate versions. See here for the original article and the many responses to it, including a not especially convincing one from Kobus Basson, managing director of the well-regarded Kleine Zalze.kleinezalze

I think we all realise that there may be many different bottlings of basic commercial wines, dictated by space, demand and financial considerations. But this particular issue is rather different. The harvest in this case was interrupted by rain and Kleine Zalze made several different batches of quite different wines.

Instead of choosing to blend them, they made three different lots of wine, with different analyses (which is how this was discovered), but sold them all under the same label – their Vineyard Selection label, moreover, which really does suggest some careful and specific selection of grapes and wine was involved. The embarrassing thing is that the batch that is presumed to have won the Chenin Challenge constitutes just 14% of the amount in commercial circulation, and the Kleine Zalze, Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2008 that was exported is most likely to have been the lightest batch made from grapes picked before the rain, as opposed to the richest version, which won the competition.

All of this brings to mind the Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2006 debacle in New Zealand in which there were several different bottlings quite different from and inferior to the major award winner.

It surely behoves wine producers who submit wines for competitions to be sure that there could be no element of confusion if their wines were to win. And those organising wine-tasting competitions should do their utmost to enforce a rule that requires all entries to be represented by a single wine.


There appears to be a question addressed to me by Udo Goebel above - implying that I am chairman of the Michelangelo. I don't know why he should be under this impression. Just because his name shares its first three letters in common with a Japanese noodle, I don't imagine he is one. I cannot speak for the competition or its organisers. I am chairman of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and here I can say that the entries are monitored in terms of the batches and quantities certified by the Wine and Spirits Board. Winning wines are tested for their compliance with their final certification analysis and stickers are issued against the volume of wine certified in that particular batch. There are of course still opportunities for grievously dishonest or downright incompetent producers to abuse the system - there always are: the global financial crisis occurred despite the massive regulatory framework we had all come to trust. Over and above the quality of the judges and the judging procedures, it is in how these breaches are managed that the competitions distinguish themselves.

2 Feb 2010 06:35 by Michael Fridjhon

Christoph Mack, Vice President International German Wine and Spirits Association BWSI, Wiesbaden, Germany. sends these very pertinent observations:

Wine is a very complicated medium. Especially for the consumer who mostly is neither a Master of Wine nor an oenologist. He has to choose from ten thousands of wines of different countries, areas, varietals, styles, prices – and an award or medal on the bottle definitely helps. It helps the consumer to choose and the producer or distributor to sell.

Because it works we face in Europe an amazing inflation of awards and medals from all over the world. This especially since the European Commission has banned their list of controlled and recognized awards.

Check the sales folder of European retailers or discount chains. It looks like the medal collection of the United States Olympic Team. And who knows what is serious and what is not?

The International German Wine and Spirits Association BWSI tries to monitor the market in order to secure the legislation as well as the good practices of competition.

Recently they discovered a South African Sauvignon Blanc wine awarded with a Michelangelo silver medal in a discount chain at 6.99 EUR. The producer is a very well known winery and Estate in the area of Durbanville.

The Association’s first routine control shows that this wine sold in Germany seems to be labelled differently than the producer’s awarded wine sold in South Africa. And it is of Origin Coastal Region, rather than the awarded Sauvignon Blanc which seems to be of Origin Durbanville Hills.

At the beginning of December 2009 the Association asked Michelangelo to clear this up  - without any substantial response so far.

 Some producers might look at it as a kind of ‘little crime’ to use awards for batches which do not correspond 100% to the awarded lot. But there is no doubt: it is fraud! And as any fraud it will be only a question of time until it will be discovered and then disclosed to the public.
This is like playing with fire next to a petrol tank.

Can any one of you imagine what it would mean for the reputation of South African wine if the public press (and they love this kind of topic) picked it up?

Producers and distributors – in spite of all egoism – should not forget that they also carry a responsibility to protect the interest of a whole industry. It is a fact: serious awards are and will only be such of organisations which are able and willing to control the transparency of the producer, the number of printed awards and medals and the identity of the tasted and labelled lots. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it is the only way to long-term reliability and existence.

Guys who do not respect rules, laws and good practices of competition and therefore risk the reputation of awards as well as the reputation of the whole industry – no matter who they are – should be banned from tastings. That’s the only way to credibility and sustainability.

27 Jan 2010 15:58 by Jancis Robinson

@ Michael: do you feel deceived as chairman of this competition? Or is it normal practice?

22 Jan 2010 22:03 by Udo Goebel

Whether this incident came about by accident or calculation, it is not just a single label whose reputation is compromised, but that of the competition and, by extension, entries from other producers.

22 Jan 2010 19:30

Yes it is about integrity. If two vintage-dated bottles have the same label, they should contain the same wine, period. It's not just about the wine Challenge competition. All consumers deserve to know what's in the bottle.

22 Jan 2010 18:19 by Cathy Corison

I share Tim's concern about the multiple batches. However, in my view, in this particular case, on the basis of what has been explained to me, we are dealing more with incompetence than questionable integrity (and which makes the Wither Hills analogy inappropriate). Kleine Zalze should have made a labeling distinction to their batches. They didn't. But since the Challenge winner came from the tail-end of their stock (Basson says they had to get wine back from their local distributors to meet the entry requirement), it's not as if they've used a select batch to pump out the big volumes. (It should be said that if Kleine Zalze have so little respect for their customers that they offer two so wholly different wines under the same label they may find that in time their customers have no respect for them). At one level - as Tim has observed to me - they are polishing the reputation of their brand on a mere 14% of the total production - but the truth (which may be no prettier) is that this is equally true of all wineries which have separately labeled multiple selections. Kleine Zalze's top wines (the Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz both won trophies at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show last year) are sold under the Family Reserve label. They are produced in quantities of under 500 doz and there is only one bottling. But the awards garnered by those wines no doubt help to sell the next tier (Vineyard Selection) and the lowest tier (Cellar Selection). There's a last question at that's the issue of applying the sticker to a wine which is not the same as the cuvee which has been judged. This appears to be the case at Kleine Zalze in respect of at least one of the stickers appearing on this bottle. It's no doubt happened elsewhere and that, it would seem to be, is flagrantly deceitful.   Michael Fridjhon

22 Jan 2010 15:56 by Michael Fridjhon

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