Pinotage back to 1993 – but mostly 2009

A tasting of local pinotage (strangely, I need to specify that, after the last guest-posting about some international stuff), organised by the estimable South African Sommeliers Association, and presented, on home ground, by the even more estimable Abrie Beeslaar, Kanonkop winemaker. What did it reveal? Basically, three things I knew already:

  1. There’s a whole range of pinotages out there, of which quite a lot, but by no means all, are extracted, powerful and sweetish-in-effect.
  2. Pinotage is a grape that often makes wine that matures really well. Younger pinotage is not often the variety’s best advertisment.
  3. Kanonkop has for a long time made, and continues to make, excellent Cape reds from pinotage.

beeslaarThere was a bit more to the tasting than that, including some good discussion, mostly based on comments from Abrie – including a deliberate bit of provocation challenging the modern piety that wine is made in the vineyard. No it’s not, says Abrie (but remember how his marvellous Black Label is precisely a single-vineyard wine, so don’t take him entirely seriously on this point); Abrie’s proof about the importance of the winemaker as opposed to the vineyard: “You can really bugger up a wine in the winery!” An unarguable point, and perhaps a few of the wines on offer were there as evidence. (The pic of Abrie comes from

Three flights of pinotages were tasted blind, the first two all from the fine 2009 vintage, so they did have the benefit of being past the first flush of youth.

Flight One
was of four wines from cooler areas, with Springfontein and Ashbourne giving some indication of this in the brighter, more ‘burgundian’, red-fruited, high-toned, fresher character. No one else seemed to notice the bitterness I found on the otherwise likeable Springfontein. And the Ashbourne (which includes some bordeaux varieties) was controversial, not everyone liking the fynbos-herbaceous character and element of austerity. I did like it, best of all the flight: really well made, I thought, with restrained oak, and a substantial, grippy tannic structure. The least heavy of the four.

Altydgedacht was big, ripe and powerful, a touch too sweet-seeming for my taste, but good of its type. Lyngrove I didn’t think a very good example of the same type. Lots of vanilla oak, sweetish – and notably too advanced for its age.

rijks pinotageFlight Two
was of four  warmer-origin wines. I really liked the Rijk’s Private Cellar. My note: “Brilliant, youthful appearance. Lovely fruit on nose. Beautifully structured. Dryness, elegance, very precise and poised. Though sweet fruit.  Dry finish. Long.”

The three others in the flight I didn’t much care for. But I thought the big, extracted, plush and concentrated Windmeul Reserve was likely to mature well, though still rather unharmonious now, albeit balanced. Other tasters liked Francois Naudé’s Chateau Naudé Vin de Francois more than I did, I think. For me it was too big and powerful, with a warming, alcoholic finish; somewhat sweet-sour. Like Beyerskloof Diesel, it showed some early maturity rather than youth on its colour. Diesel was also too sweet, oaky, big and warm for my tastes.

Flight Three
was designed to show pinotage’s ageability, which it did most beautifully, thanks to Kanonkop’s great pinotage tradition. The most youthful wine of the day was also there, just to put things in context – Kanonkop Pinotage 2012, a first-class wine. My note: “Most youthful colour. Gorgeous nose. A little spice from oak perhaps, perfectly balanced. Fine structure, sweet fruit, but dry. Herbaceous tinge.  Touch of austerity mingled with generous expression. Great future.”

Kanonkop-Pinotage-NV_21The others were Kanonkops from 1993, 1999 and 2004. The 93 was rather exciting, with plenty of life – though not much future, I suspect. The tannins rather drying, and I don’t think there’s anough fruit there to ever see them resolved. But a satisfying drink at 20+ years.

Kanonkop 1999, from a widely under-rated but (because!) pleasingly elegant, less hot vintage, was the star for me:  “Early maturity showing on colour. Absolutely lovely and refined, at its peak, with great balance. Just a touch rustic in its fruit expression. Balanced dryness. A very good red wine.”

At which point I was obliged to rush off, before all the discussions were done.

Incidentally, Kanonkop’s tasting room is open and delightful again after last year’s fire that shut it down. It offers some old vintages of the estate’s Pinotage if you wish to indulge yourself and learn in the best possible way (just in case you doubt it) that this is a grape that can produce really good wines that age and develop extremely well.

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