Cape Zinfandel

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Too damn difficult – that’s where many vignerons have left Zinfandel. Or making good Zin can make pedantic Pinot look like a doddle. Besides temptation, Zin’s biggest weakness is uneven ripening and it often requires extraordinary patience and a lot of additional cellar and vineyard work, anything but sinful.

In the Cape, Zinfandel is Blaauwklippen. Walter Finlayson planted it there in the 70s and this month winemaker/MD Rolf Zeitvogel celebrated 10 years at Blaauwklippen – and of grappling with Zin.  In California, if Zin were a car it would be a muscle car, probably a convertible Mustang, but it has also appeared as a pink VW Beetle (blush) or bag-in-box VW camper. Like the Beetle, it was a huge contemporaneous seller in the USA when made and marketed as a blush or rosé wine.

Now that DNA has proven that Primitivo and Zinfandel are clones of the same variety,  California can no longer realistically call it their own, but there is no question who put big, serious Zin on the map – Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards. Unless Zin is sorted, raisins – which can appear on the same bunch as greener berries – can lift the alcohol above 15 percent.

Rolf’s strategy of working with the uneven ripening is making different styles, reflecting the evolution of the grape in California and more. Blaauwklippen now produces a single vineyard Zinfandel (and reserve in good years), white Zinfandel (blush), a noble late harvest, a husk spirit, an aperitif and their latest addition, Ons Sprankel, a perlé (sparkling) wine, all from or based on Zinfandel.

The last 10 Blaauwklippen vintages reveal just how varied and versatile the grape can be and how Rolf is getting to grips with the variety.  We experienced the whole gamut of styles including red to dark berries, plumbs, herbs and spice, including oregano and cinnamon, prunes, raisins, dates and tea leaf.   Some of the years had good tannic grip, others remarkable tanginess and tension, and from 2010 a thread of modern plushness is starting to emerge following more careful berry sorting in the cellar.

Zinfandel has its fair share of evangelists like Rolf and celebrity endorsements like Steven Spielberg, and now none other than our very own Charlize Theron appears to have joined the Zinophiles.   “Dry Creek Vineyard has been the official wine of the Screen Actors Guild Awards for many years, and one year Charlize fell in love with our wines at the awards show. Later that year, during the summer, she came to the winery with her mom for a visit. It was pretty darn cool,” says winemaker Tim Bell. Wouldn’t Rolf do well to get Blaauwklippen under her nose?

Meanwhile winemakers of Croatia have carried on producing deeply coloured, full-bodied red wines from their Crljenak Kastelanski and Tribidrag (Zinfandel parent) grapes. Interest in these otherwise obscure wines has increased following the Primitivo/Zinfandel debate, so many of them are now available in various countries around the world.

Blaauwklippen Zinfandel can be found in Germany, Belgium, Poland, Monaco, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Namibia.

blaauw zin 11 res

 Jonathan Snashall