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Back to Stellenbosch, South Africa and the Wines of Kanonkop

kanonkop_logoThe wines from Stellenbosch in South Africa have become some of our favorites from anywhere in the world over the last year or two.  There are very good reasons for this.  The best reason, however, in simply that they are fantastic, world class wines at reasonable prices.  That’s a hard combination to beat.  Here we’ll take an in depth look at another of Stellenbosch’s farms, possibly the best known and most highly regarded of all of them, Kanonkop.

With a reputation for producing some of the Cape’s finest red wines, the heralded Kanonkop Estate is often referred to as a South African “First Growth.” The fourth generation family farm, presently run by brothers Johann and Paul Krige, has been owned and operated by the Sauer-Krige family since the early 1930s.

Respecting tradition while embracing the future, Kanonkop fuses labor-intensive, age-old wine-making techniques with state-of-the art 2013-03-25-16-28-21cellar technology. All of the grapes are hand picked and sorted, and the wines are vinified in open concrete fermentation tanks with manual punchdowns performed every two hours around the clock. The wines are aged solely in French oak.

Kanonkop crafted their first estate bottled wines in 1973, and they have since garnered numerous accolades and tremendous international recognition as one of South Africa’s elite wine producers. In 2008, Kanonkop “Paul Sauer” was awarded the Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande trophy for the best blended red wine in the world at the International 2013-06-13-16-37-20-1Wine & Spirit Competition — the third time the iconic wine received this prestigious accolade — while Kanonkop winemaker Abrie Beeslaar, at the helm since 2003, was  named IWSC Winemaker of the Year. We review the 2011 Paul Sauer red blend below, and you will see we agree with previous impressions.

The name Kanonkop was derived from a kopje (hillock), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th Century to alert farmers in outlying areas that sailing ships plying the waters between Europe and the Far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town.  Today that is signified and remembered by the cannon at the entrance to the farm, as well as larger versions on the grounds, and of course in their logo, which you can see at the top of this article.

LOCATION

Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape. It is between Stellenbosch and Paarl on the R44 and falls in a ward called Simonsberg, more commonly known as the “red wine bowl” of South Africa. It has earned a reputation both at home and abroad as the area producing the best wines in the country. We reviewed six different Stellenbosch farms last year, and you can begin reading that series by clicking here. You can see Kanankop’s relative location on the map below.

kanakop-in-stellenbosch-map

paddy-starlingThe Estate is situated on 125 hectares, of which 100 hectares (~250 acres) are planted to vine. Kanonkop is blessed with ideal soils, cool sea breezes and long summer days, creating the perfect climate for growing grapes.

Kanonkop boasts some of the Cape’s first commercially planted Pinotage vines, with an average age of over 50 years. These are maintained as traditional bush vines, while the Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are trellised.

WINE VARIETIES

Kanonkop is renowned for its red wines, with Pinotage making up 50% of all plantings, and Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Merlot (7.5%) and Cabernet Franc (7.5%) accounting for the rest.  Hardly any irrigation is needed due to the ideal soil type and location.

We have four wines from Kanonkop to review, including some Pinotage and a Pinotage blend from the old bush vines.

2014 Kanokop Kadette – this is a Cape Blend, meaning it must have between 30% and 70% Pinotage, blended with more img_0871traditional Bordeaux varietals.  Here there is 44% Pinotage in the blend, along with 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc.  Grapes were hand harvested and sorted.  Open top concrete vats were used for fermentation, over a 3-5 day period.  The caps were punched down every two hours around the clock.  Oak barriques (2nd and 3rd year) were used for malolactic fermentation and aging, which lasted 12—14 months.  No fining or filtration used before bottling.  Our impressions:

A purple/red wine, the Kadette presents ripe fruit and earthy/savory tones, which carry through to the palate.  It has good balance, and really is built to pair with your favorite grilled steak, which is exactly what we did with it.  It also has nice, smooth tannins and a really long finish.  All in all this is a good wine.  $14.99 Suggested Retail.

 

2011 Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon – 100% Cabernet from an excellent growing year, this wine saw the same oak vat img_0870fermentation, this time over 5 days.  Two hour punchdown intervals were also used.  It was aged in 50% new French oak for 24 months.  The vineyards are on southwest facing slopes with excellent water retention, and the vines supplying the grapes for this wine are 24 months old.  This received 92 points from Stephen Tanzer and 91 points from the Wine Spectator.  High praise indeed.  What did we think?

This wine was number five in our list of Top Ten Red Wines from the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival, which you can read more about here.  So this is a second chance to evaluate the wine, and our opinion has not changed.  It is dark purple, with dark berries and savory herbs on the rich nose.  Cheri got a clear coffee note as well, which I really didn’t pick up until the finish. Smooth tannins provide the structure for this rich wine.  The berry fruit goes on forever.  Luxurious would be a good descriptive here.  Suggested Retail of $39.99, and it makes our Value List at that price. 

 

2011 Kanonkop Paul Sauer – This is a classic Bordeaux blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 12% Merlot, soimg_0872 more of a Left Bank style.  It has received excellent scores from the international wine rating big boys, such as a 93 from Stephen Tanzer and a 92 from the Wine Advocate.  The usual Kanonkop red wine treatment of concrete vat fermentation and two hour punchdowns,  followed by French oak malolactic and aging was used, this time with 100% new wood barrels.  It was aged for 24 months before being bottled unfiltered and unfined.  What we thought:

The color is a dark, deep purple/red.  Berries scream from the explosive palate, which also carries red licorice, smoky oak and tobacco.  It is very complex, full bodied and crazy long.  Pure, rich berry fruit dominates the complex palate.  Tannins are firm but approachable, and the wine will age effortlessly for years.  Suggested Retail of $49.99, clearly worth it and a lock for our upcoming Top 25 Wines of 2017 list.  World class wine here.  A Bordeaux style blend which can stand with any.  This is the type of wine you want a vertical of in the cellar, so you can appreciate the nuances in its greatness from year to year.

2014 Kanonkop Pinotage – 100% Pinotage, from some of the earliest Pinotage vines in the Cape to be established for commercial img_0869production.  Some are up to 62 years old.  They maintain these as dry, bush vines to achieve maximum sun exposure and ripeness.  For this particular bottling, the vines are predominantly 35 years old.  Open top concrete vat fermentation, two hour punchdowns and French oak treatment followed.  This time there were 75% new barrels.  Eighteen months of aging then followed before bottling, once again unfined and unfiltered.  Pinotage is a funny grape, and it can be great.  Sometimes it is not.  Let’s see what we thought of this particular version:

Another dark, purple red wine, this presents a nose of currant, raspberry and some grilled/savory notes.  On the palate a little raspberry joins the party, along with coffee and mocha.  This is a rich wine with very good length, and is very well made.  If you want to try an excellent Pinotage, this is a worthy candidate.  Suggested Retail of $39.99.

Below is a quote from the Kanonkop website, so there may be more benefits to trying this wine than just the fact it is delicious.

“Pinotage is the juice extracted from women’s tongues and lions’ hearts. After having a sufficient quantity one can talk forever and fight the devil.”

True?  Not true?  We’re staying well out of this argument, but it is intriguing.

There’s a reason Kanonkop is considered one of the best wine producers in South Africa.  If you look at the most popular wines from the region, you’ll find four or five of Kanonkop’s offerings in the Top Twenty.  Quality and value have a way of winning out, and this is world class juice here.  The Paul Sauer is as good as anything, anywhere.

The wines from Kanonkop are imported by Cape Classics, and you can see more of their portfolio here: www.capeclassics.com.  You can also learn more about Kanonkop there (from which we borrowed much of the background material in this article) as well as at Kanonkop’s website at http://www.kanonkop.co.za/.

Do yourself a favor and try some of these.  If you’re splurging on that $50 bottle for a special occasion, we highly recommend the 2011 Paul Sauer blend.  We don’t put many wines that expensive on our Value List.  Any of the wines we reviewed here are well worth opening.

So many wines, so little time

A votre santé!

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