Much contemplation and thought goes into not only reviewing such iconic new releases such as the Kanonkop Paul Sauer but also in deciding what the best tone of the opening overture should be. This year, my job has been done for me by the Drinks International Magazine and Wine Intelligence after they recently revealed that the Kanonkop Estate was listed among The World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands chosen by Drinks International’s academy of global drinks buyers and wine experts, including professionals from 48 different countries.
Here, Drinks International editor Martin Green explained the relevance and the prestige: “There are thousands of wineries vying for attention on a global basis, but just 50 elite brands have made the cut. To win a place on this prestigious list is a tremendous achievement, as there are a number of fantastic producers that missed out.” So I think we can all agree that this is a massive achievement. To have one’s hard work recognized locally is a fantastic honour. But to get this recognition bestowed by ones global peers must surely rank as the ultimate badge of success.
Reviewing the 2017 Paul Sauer was made so much harder after the 2015 was lauded with such high praise across the international wine media and also cracked the first 100/100 point rating for any new release South African wine from one critic. (The Fine Wine Safari rated the 2015 Paul Sauer 98+/100 pre-release on 8th June 2018).
However, in my mind, even more significant than this top honour was the way in which both winemaker Abrie Beeslaar and the overall Kanonkop Estate team went about their business in creating another iconic Paul Sauer release in 2016, a super hot, dry, difficult vintage in the Cape. I tasted this wine in May 2019 at the London Wine Trade Fair 2019 with owner Johann Krige and rated it a notable 95+/100. This excellent score was subsequently echoed by other international critics later in the year with a 96/100 point rating from both Neal Martin of Vinous and Tim Atkin MW.
But the 2017 vintage comes from another dry year that yielded yet again a fantastic world class expression of the Paul Sauer red blend. This legendary wine is of course named after Kanonkop’s patriarch and is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The depth of flavour, structure and complexity offered by these three grape varieties is accentuated by 24 months’ ageing in new French oak to create a regal wine recognised as one of the best South Africa has to offer. The first official vintage was 1981, one year after Meerlust Estate’s maiden Rubicon blend and today, approximately 7,000 cases of 6 are produced subject to the overall vintage conditions.
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2017, WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.
The 2017 Paul Sauer is a classic blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc and 7% Merlot from vines grown on prime Stellenbosch decomposed granite, Hutton and Clovelly soils with an average age of 30 years old. The vintage yielded a moderately low 4.5 tons per hectare or 2,750 litres per hectare, and was aged 24 months in new 225 litre French oak Nevers barrels. In my 2015 preamble, I stated that the perfect Paul Sauer blend seeks the comfort of the perfect balance between power and concentration, structure and freshness. This 2017 is undoubtedly elegance and seamless finesse personified. Possessing a deep garnet-purple colour, the aromatics are initially slightly restrained, unfurling cautiously to reveal a fabulous cornucopia of red and black summer berry fruits, black cherries, tart blue berries supported by complexing notes of crushed gravel and a vampish graphite vein. Like any truly great wine, every time you revisit your glass, yet more intricate notes assault the senses. Violets and lilac perfume, cherries immersed in black chocolate, blood and iron, freshly tilled earth and the most seductive kiss of promise from the premium French oak vanillins. The palate is exquisitely framed by fine talcum-like tannins and an invigorating acid freshness that resonates across the tongue. Once again the joyful poise and elegance of the weightless 2017 concentration and intensity confounds the senses, unfurling layer upon layer of black cherry kirsch liquor, crème de cassis and a tart, saline sea breeze freshness on the long exhilarating finish. For a wine like this, Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux is and always will be the road map region by which winemakers navigate their path to greatness. This 2017 Paul Sauer has all the subtlety and finesse, elegance and seamless balance to rival the greatest Bordeaux blends of France, while retaining its own unique South African signature imprint. Drink this wine on release to banish your curiosity but then cellar some of the rest for up to 30+ years. Undoubtedly another must have icon for collectors and drinkers alike.
(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)