The pleasures of a Kanonkop Black Label release

An undoubted local “first growth”, Kanonkop is not quite as imposing as it gets in Cape wine when it comes to combining history with grandeur and quality, but there are few estates that can compete with it in consistency of excellence over something approaching half a century. And grandeur is not really, it seems to me what the Krige family’s place is after – though quality and consistency is. I have before written that this, of all the local “first growths”, is probably the most widely regarded with great affection as well as respect.

I was reminded of this last week at the launch of the Black Label Pinotage, which was as always accompanied by generous and genuinely warm hospitality: expressed above all by a snoek braai and a generous selection of current and past wines to taste. Where else in the world would the owners of a hugely prestigious and hugely economically successful wine estate be there to braai and serve the dinner to a few hundred guests? Imagine the chatelaine of a leading bordelais domaine (of the few still family-owned) standing behind a counter and ladling out (delicious!) food like Mrs Krige does

Kanonkop1The occasion invariably starts, accompanied by Kadette Pinotage Rosé, on the oak-shaded lawns outside the tasting room with the firing of some miniature versions of the cannon that is Kanonkop’s symbol: a tiny (but disproportionately noisy) one is fired off by, and then presented to, a representative of some trade outlet that has done particularly well for Kanonkop. This year that honour went to Francois Rautenbach of the Singhita game lodges.(As in the pic alongside – sorry about the blur: I was in too much of a hurry to get my fingers in my ears again!)

The larger small cannon (with a really powerful bang that a few years back set off a whole lot of car alarms – now the cars are kept away) was lit, with strict professional controls in place, by Ivan Oertle of Woolworths. I asked Johann Krige if this cannon was “real”. He says that ones of this type were used not in anger but to fire grappling lines between ships, allowing them to be pulled close together.

Kanonkop2And to the tasting of the current releases of the estate’s top wines, with winemaker Abrie Beeslaar (as genial as his employers) in charge. The Cabernet Sauvignon on offer is the 2011 – they held back some of it from last year, in order to gain a year in releasing this label as they feel it always needs more time in bottle than the Paul Sauer blend before being drunk, being sadly aware that few people cellar their wines adequately). In fact, it is remarkably drinkable now and later, with supper, this is the wine I chose to drink), elegant and refined and approachable, but with the concentration and balance to gain complexity over many years. The Paul Sauer is the 2012, also showing, I think an increased finesse in recent years. In world terms, it’s a remarkable bargain at R430 ex-estate, but the Cabernet, at R300, even more so.

On the other hand, I wonder why Kanonkop is these days, unlike originally, in such a hurry to release the Black Label Pinotage (made from grapes off the farm’s oldest, 60 years, vineyard). Of all estates, Kanonkop surely does not need to rush wines out because of cashflow problems. The 2014 is not done any favours, I think, by this hurried marketing. But perhaps, anyway, it’s not the best Black Label yet: in its youth it shows more sweetness and oak than I was expecting. Last year I was rather astounded by the 2013 (at the same age, of course), and trying it later in the evening it seemed to me undoubtedly the superior of the two. Well, I think we might find quite a few 2014s a touch disappointing. Undoubtedly, the 2014 Black Label Pinotage is an impressive wine, with dark fruit, a lovely firm structure and a degree of intensity, but the comparative lack of concentration of the vintage could have prompted holding back on some of the new oak; the finish is a little too fruit- and-oak-sweet for my tastes. At R1450 a bottle, the price of a very good burgundy, it’s also rather less of a bargain than other Kanonkop wines. But, of course, bargain is not the point here.

Talking of bargains – available for tasting later, before the famous snoek-braai, were some past vintages of the “second-label” Kadette Cape Blend (the 2013 is R80), tasted ex-magnum. Again, 2011 showed very well, punching rather above its weight, and staking a claim for this wine as also well worth maturing a good few years for added interest and harmony.

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