Nothing quite like Kanonkop

There’s really no winery like Kanonkop in all the Cape winelands. More’s the pity. I’d guess it’s the most financially successful of the family-owned estates thanks to both astute and excellent management and excellent winemaking; but it’s also somehow the most lovable – thanks to the prosperous but unpretentious farm-like atmosphere that prevails (even as new building proceeds apace to accommodate growth in production), but also to the perennially unassuming and warmly generous hospitality of the co-owners Johann and Paul Krige. The annual launch of the Black Label Pinotage is an unmissable occasion for the few media and the many friends and good customers who get invited, with thoughtful tastings of older vintages of the Kanonkop wines as much of a bonus as the traditional snoekbraai (Paul Krige sweating over the fires, a Krige lady or two ladling out the food).

But I confess to a few momentary treasonous thoughts of: “Is it going to be worth this tedium?” as I – with Angela Lloyd as passenger – sat in the unusually appalling traffic on the N2 out of Cape Town last Tuesday late afternoon, inching our way out to the Simonsberg farm for the launch of the Black Label Pinotage 2015. (Incidentally, the words “black label” don’t appear anywhere on the, er, black label – so really it’s just called Kanonkop Pinotage, just like the other Kanonkop Pinotage with the usual cannon-motifed cream label. However….)

It proved, of course, to be worth it. And in fact we were scarcely late, though we drove into Kanonkop at 7pm, an hour later than invited and intended, and well over two hours since I’d left home. But as we turned into the farm, past the cannon that marks the entrance, we could see that there, above the lawn where it was all happening, puffs of smoke were drifting into nothingness: clearly the customary ceremonial firing of other cannons had just taken place, and we were in time for the tasting of the current Kanonkop estate releases. Whew.

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Launching Black Label Pinotage 2015. Johann Krige (left) drinking it; Abri Beeslaar talking about it (at the barrel); dog being a dog; and guests being appreciative.

As we joined the little crowd, staff were moving around pouring Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 into peoples’ glasses. It’s first-rate stuff – hard to think of a better local cabernet, especially with the benefit of a few years in bottle to velvetise the tannins, make the flavours that little more complex, and harmonise the whole. It’s rich, but dry enough. Though another decade will do it no harm – only good.

Then the Paul Sauer 2013 (cab, with 18% cab franc & 12% merlot). In some ways I preferred it to the Cab; it’s tauter, drier, a touch leaner in its lithe muscularity. There’s a herbal quality, though, that for some people would certainly be culpably herbaceous, and that I feel rather ambiguous about. On the whole, I reckon I’d probably choose the Cab, if I had to choose between these two particular vintages.

kanonkop-black-label-pinotageThe Black Label Pinotage 2015 is unquestionably superb. A little later in the evening I had the chance to taste it again, alongside the 2014 which I had enjoyed last year – and the 2015 is undoubtedly superior in its structure and in its youthful harmony. There’s still some oak showing on the aromas, but that will soon integrate and emerge into the growing complexity. A wine to confound the old diehards who still sneer at the fine-wine potential of pinotage.

The cellar door price of the Black Label is R1590, and I’m certainly not going to say it’s not worth the price of a decent burgundy for those with deep pockets. (Paul Sauer 2013: R490, Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 R330.) But I found myself fatally tempted by one of the Paul Sauers that were available for tasting later: the 2004 tasted ex-magnum. Drinking superbly now, but with many gracefully rich years ahead of it. A whole magnum on offer for R1125 (discounted for the evening from R1250).

Exhilarated by another marvellous evening at lovable, excellent Kanonkop (but sober, having rigorously used the spittoons), with my magnum resting safely on the back seat, I drove home rather more speedily than I’d arrived. Better not say quite how much more speedily.

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