Three wines, one Klein Zalze label

The mysterious discrepancy I noted in an addition to my last article between the analysis given for the Chenin Challenge winner in Wine mag and for the same wine on the Klein Zalze website is explained. They are not the same wine. There was no intention to deceive the competition organisers, but it’s … a pretty odd situation to say the least. If you bought the wine on its initial release you got an entirely different wine from the one that won the competition.

In fact there were three separate bottlings of Klein Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc, all of them different, as explained by Kleine Zalze co-owner Kobus Basson (see his letter posted as a comment to the article).

July 2008 bottling: This came from grapes “picked before the early rain of the 2008 harvest”. The residual sugar was 2.8 grams per litre, and the alcohol 14.65. (As per the website information, and the information that all the online dealers are quoting.) It amounted to about 30% of the eventual total production, and 80% of it was exported.

September 2008 bottling: This and the third batch were from a post-rain harvest. Clearly the grapes were very much higher in sugar now. This bottling has “an alcohol near to 15 and RS near 6” says Mr Basson.

October 2008 bottling: Alcohol 15.18, residual sugar 7.2g/l. This bottling constituted 5022 bottles out of the total 35 372.

That is, the wine that won the Challenge is a mere 14% of the wine bearing the label “Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2008”.  Put the other way round, 86% of wines with that label are not the same as the winner. On the strength of that, are Kleine Zalze claiming that “Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2008” won the Chenin Challenge?

Consumers can decide if this, presumably entirely legal, procedure is ethically acceptable.

I notice that the picture of the bottle in Wine mag shows a number of award stickers on it – including that of the International Wine Challenge. I wonder if this and the other awards were won with the same bottling that the picture relates to? I wonder if the bottles currently on the shelves carry those award stickers, and if they are the same wine that the stickers were won for. If not, that is a significant misrepresentation of the true situation.

If it is the case that the packaging misrepresents the awards, I’d say that it is more than regrettable practice by one of our leading producers. I can’t say, anyway, that I think very highly of the idea of three very different bottlings being sold under essentially the same label either. If Kleine Zalze had been open about this procedure in the interview they gave to Wine mag, it would be less of a problem. In the absence of such an open explanation (that the winning wine was a very small percentage of the wine under this label), many winelovers will have been deceived.

Those winelovers can decide precisely how this all relates to the scandal over Wither Hills in 2006, when there were identically labelled but separate bottlings of their 2006 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. One blend, it seems, went to the public, the other to critics and competitions (see the Wine Spectator story on this). I don’t think that this is anything like that, but the Wither Hills scandal should have warned Kleine Zalze about the dangers of separate bottlings of a wine going into public competitions where they will be closely scrutinised.

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