Kanonkop is one of the oldest wineries in South Africa with a history that is more than 100 years old.Today the estate is run by Johann and Paul Krige, fourth generation sons of the founder, Paul Sauer, who has also given his name to the Bordeaux blend, which is the other top wine they do.
We will instead focus on what they do with South Africa’s red signature grape, Pinotage, that is a cross between pinot noir and Cinsaut. Cinsaut was previously known as Hermitage in South Africa, hence the name. The crossing was created by Professor Abraham Izak Petzold in 1925 to combine cinsaut’s robust properties with pinot noirs ability to produce excellent wines.
When Kanonkop’s winemaker Abrie Beeslaar recently was in Sweden it was an opportunity to take a closer look on their Pinotage.
This is the second of two articles about Kanonkop. You can find the first here: Wines with a bang from Stellenbosch in South Africa.
Kanonkop (like Rijk’s) has conquered the spot as one of South Africa’s top ten Pinotage wines eleven times since 1997. The contest started six years after Beyers Truter in 1991 was named “International Winemaker of the Year” thanks to his Kanonkop Pinotage 1989. That was the time it took for South Africa to realize that the Pinotage grape is a chance to distinguish itself as wine country, shortly after the dissolution of the apartheid government in 1991. So one can say that the story of Pinotage coincides with South Africa’s contemporary history.
With the this year’s win, the current winemaker at Kanonkop, Abrie Beeslaar, has won the title once more than his predecessor, but he has also been there a year longer. One can on the one hand say that he had a solid base to build on and one can, on the other hand, also say that he has taken Kanonkop further from an already high level. Competition has increased very significantly and Kanonkop is still on top.
Winning titles is great, but the wine is truth or, as any classically educated would know, “in vino veritas”:
Your correspondent tasted four Pinotage wines:
2014 Brenton Pinotage
Fine fruit with typical plum aroma, barrel-notes and fine structure in a still young wine.
2009 Kanonkop Pinotage
Balanced and complex red-blueish fruit with elegant barrel-tones, tight tannin structure in a fine wine.
1994 Brenton Pinotage
Rooibos-nose with red fruit going to a lingonberry direction, light and more slender tones, elegant, not quite medium-bodied.
2014 Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage
Coming from a vineyard since 2006 that is planted with 60 years old vines. A special wine, a little sleeker with delicate fruit, extremely elegant and amazing even as young. Specially selected barrels from the normal production gives the best Pinotage your envoy has ever tasted. Really, nice.
Abrie Beeslaar at Kanonkop makes South Africa’s best Pinotage. Is there maybe a secret?
Well, not really, or maybe there is, but the work begins in the vineyard at Kanonkop. The Pinotage grows higher up on the Simonsberg than the cabernet sauvignon and thus has a cooler climate during the growing season.
After harvest the Pinotage grapes not treated as mildly as one might think. Fermentation takes only three days and then they punch down the “cap” every two hours (so called pigeage). The punching down is particularly important, because it is important to fracture the skins. In other words, pumping over of the must on the cap does not give the same wine.
Now, your envoy does not think that Abrie Beeslaar has revealed the final secret behind South Africa’s best Pinotage, but possibly it might help some to move further up on the list as one of the top ten pinotage. Until that happens, one might just as well buy what is well-proven as the best there is.
More about Kanonkop Wine Estate on their site.
Mikael Karlin writes för BKWine Magazine on wine tastings and wine events in Sweden.
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This post is also available in: Swedish