Zalze, Shiraz / Mourvèdre / Viognier 2016/17 Western Cape


From £7.25, €13.49 

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As I write my very first wine of the week, I recall over 30 years of an unchanging but enviable ritual, and my role as what can best be described as a wine guinea pig. 

Most evenings, when we are at home, follow a similar pattern between 6.30 and 8 pm. Jancis tastes a range of wine samples while I cook. This process means that she stays on top of the massive influx of wine bottles that she is sent on a daily basis while also ensuring that none of the precious bottles in our ever-expanding wine cellar ever get drunk.

We finally meet again when supper is almost ready. I am about to serve when Jancis reappears with at least a couple of bottles in her hands. ‘Red or white?', she kindly asks me. After my glass of sherry while cooking, my answer is invariably red. And that is how I came to fall head over heels in love with a bottle of Zalze Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier 2017 Western Cape, a fine South African red that I discovered only subsequently is a massive bargain.

The first thing that caught my eye was the clarity of the label. In purplish/red ink on a clear white label, the bottle makes no attempt to hide either its origins or what is inside. The tree to the right of centre is an invitation to these beautiful winelands, Kleine Zalze being 3 km (2 m) west of Stellenbosch.

Then there is the proud proclamation of the wine’s mixture of grape varieties: Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Viognier, which I discover have been blended in the proportion of 82%, 15% and 3%. The two red varieties give the wine the necessary fruit and punch (it is 14.5% alcohol) but it may be the presence of the white grape variety that lifts this wine and gives its freshness and appeal. It satisfies completely my wife’s verdict on any wine, that it must first and foremost invite you back for a second or even a third glass.

This our bottle did readily and even quite a few days after opening, the little that remained in the bottle was still giving a great deal of pleasure. Dark purple in colour with a spicy nose, this wine has great appeal on the palate and also impressive length with good, juicy tannins. Its charms are pretty obvious – I am an obvious kind of a man – but I am sure that if anyone can stash a few bottles of this wine away in their cellar for a few years it may well repay such careful custodianship in spades.

What I subsequently discovered only added to this wine’s appeal, in particular the estate’s combination of history and modernity.

The estate’s name of ‘little salt’ was given to this parcel of land in 1683 when the German explorer Nicolaas Cleef came across it. Cleef’s home town in Germany was known as ‘Grosser Zalze’. Today, the estate bought in 1996 by Kobus Basson has grown into not just an ambitious producer of red and white wines but also a Cape Dutch lodge complete with a restaurant called Terroir and, naturally, a golf course.

But it is the broad-shouldered winemaking team of Alastair Rimmer and RJ Botha shown here, left to right, with owner Kobus Basson and Norman Paulse, that shines through in the range of Kleine Zalze wines and in particular this bottle, from one of their more commercial ranges known simply as Zalze. With its juicy, sweet concentration, it would make it an ideal accompaniment to anyone enjoying some pink lamb this Easter.

We have enthusiastic tasting notes on the 2010 and the 2009 vintages. The 2016, which is fine but not quite as vibrant as the younger 2017is very much more widely available than the 2017, in Germany, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and South Africa, and one without any vintage cited seems to be available in Canada. In the UK the 2017 is apparently available from Morrisons (where it's £7.25 although no vintage is specified on their website), ASDA and Waitrose (£8.99); Spar and Booths have the 2016. The sadness is that this wine is not – yet – available in the US. Kleine Zalze had planned to start exporting to the US but suffered not one, but two devastating fires last October so have had to delay plans to invade the American market.

The following are importers who have taken the 'SMV', as Kobus Basson calls it:
Famous Wine Ltd (Bulgaria)
New Brunswick (Canada)
Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (Canada)
Nouveau Wines CC (Namibia)
La Distra Brut (Zimbabwe)
Sligro (Netherlands)

Just to continue the family connections, the combination of this wine’s remarkably low price (£8.99 for the 2017 currently at Waitrose) and its wide availability in the UK remind me of a comment from my late mother. ‘What', she was often heard to exclaim, ‘is there not to like?’

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