Tasting a Fine & Rare Line up of Aged South African Icon Wines…

During the past 18 months of the pandemic there has been far too little sharing of great bottles among fine wine lovers. But with many determined to make up for lost time, South African fine lover and uber SA wine supporter, Thor Gudmundsson organised a fantastic old South African wine tasting lunch at one of his two excellent wine bar / restaurants in London, the Brackenbury Wine Rooms.

With most of the bottles generously supplied by Thor, it was a bit of a challenge for me to come up with some interesting bottles to add a little extra interest and excitement. Perhaps a bit predictably, I decided to bring the fabled Kanonkop pairing of Paul Sauer 1994 and Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 to compare and contrast blind. I have done this exercise twice before and both times it has been a challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable affair. Just to add an extra level of excitement, Thor had a bottle of the iconic Meerlust Rubicon 1994 to throw into the mix with the Kanonkop 1994 pairing.

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5% Abv.

Rich, honied nose like a dry botrytis Sauternes wine. Peaches and dried apricot notes, subtle hints of salinity and a mellow, evolved honied finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Silvervis Chenin Blanc 2017, 13% Abv.

Zippy and zesty with layers of sweet & sour yellow plum, dried pear and peach, tangy tangerine acidity and a vibrant fresh saline finish. Ryan Mostert at his best. 😉

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Rust en Vrede Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1987, 12.5% Abv.

Showing complexing evolution, this has layers of dried leather, mechanic’s diesel rag, dried tobacco and smoked cigars. Tannins are fully resolved bolstered by a sweet core of brambly fruit, savoury prune and plum pudding and a cool lean finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon 1968

Dark, savoury broody nose with aromatics of sweet, stewed strawberries, raspberry compote and hints of Christmas pudding. Retains a fresh attractive tangy sweetness dominated by red fruits with sweet silky tannins and a long mellow finish with just the slightest hint of diesel rag.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, 13% Abv.

Wonderfully perfumed, sleek and elegant on the nose with pressed violets, cherry tobacco and sweet red currant fruits. This wine is pure, precise and quite ethereal. Plenty of shape and structure in the mouth still. Impressive linearity and focus. Beautiful.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1994, 12.5% Abv.

Slightly evolved earthy nose, black currant coulis, tobacco, stewed red berry fruits. Palate is superbly fresh, saline, and incredibly well balanced, complex, silky and profound. Nose and palate slightly detached suggesting some bottle variation. A superb wine nevertheless, but I have tasted fresher bottles.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Meerlust Rubicon 1994, 12.5 Abv.

Initially very pure and tight with focused aromatics of savoury leather, black currant and violets, the nose evolves to show smokey graphite, railway yard, wood smoke and savoury berry fruit. The palate is incredibly vibrant, explosive and intense with savoury black currant, tangy acids and a mellow stewed winter berry fruit compote note on the finish. Spectacular wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Cape Winemakers Guild Cordoba 2001 Auction Reserve, 14% Abv.

Very cedary and spicy with bell pepper, green leaf, dried herbs, coffee beans and black currant fruits. A classical style that is slightly hard work now but with further evolution, could blossom into something legendary. Leave in your cellar for now is my advice. In a slightly awkward stage of evolution.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Taaibosch Crescendo 2018, 13.5% Abv.

This is of course the first release of the rejuvenated and replanted Cordoba estate under the watchful eye of Schalk Willem Joubert. Shows a dark dense nose of brûléed black berry fruits, coffee bean, espresso and sweet cedar spice. The palate is elegant but robust and powerful with grippy tannins, graphite spice, concentrated black currant fruit and an impressive stony mineral length. Bury this in your cellar for 10 years minimum. It will reward patience!

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, 14.5% Abv.

Quite a classically proportioned wine with a nose of black berry fruits, saline cassis, wet tobacco, cedar wood and espresso spice. Texturally sleek and full, creamy and well balanced with just a slight leafy peppery note on the finish. A fine expression for a warm vintage and drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Niepoort & Sadie Cape Tawny 2008, 21% Abv.

Rich, nutty and expressive with layers of burnt caramel, orange rind, old malmsey Madeira and salty nutty notes. The palate is very intense, rich but not overly sweet, more nutty and pithy than unctuous. Tannins are spicy and slightly raw but sufficiently balanced with the acid freshness that is perfect for the expected level of complexity and intensity. A very attractive offering with massive drinkability and certainly plenty of unicorn wow factor!

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018 – The New Release of This South African Icon Wine Reviewed…

With so many of South Africa’s top Cape Bordeaux Blends and Cabernet Sauvignon producers stepping up to the mark to produce their best wines ever across the 2015 and 2017 vintages, 2018 was always going to be under the spotlight to see if some of the magic of these previous vintages could be applied by winemakers to the benefit of the final wines.

Certainly, the winter rainfall was higher than the previous two winters but with irregular temperatures from winter until the flowering period, together with cool growing conditions, there were inevitably some variations in ripening across the Simonsberg vineyards. However, cooler weather and regular rain showers led to less water stress for the vines during the ripening period.

Having tasted most of the top 2018 Cape Bordeaux blends now, the signature style and characteristics of the vintage are becoming clearer and clearer – Very cool, precise wines with impressively glassy acid frames, silky powdery tannins, impressive fruit intensity but without the 2015’s inky dry extract or the 2017’s weightless fruit concentration. The 2018s are very attractive wines, more classically leaning with a little less exoticism but plenty of the traditional characteristics on the aromatics and palate that have made the wines so popular with French Bordeaux collectors and connoisseurs around the world.

The grapes for the 2018 Paul Sauer were fermented in open top concrete fermenters at 29 deg C with the floating skins being punched down by hand every 2 hours during fermentation. The juice was drawn off the skins after 5 days. After malolactic fermentation the wine was matured for 24 months in 100% new 225 litre French Nevers oak barriques.

With only 7,000 cases or 42,000 bottles produced, stake your marker in the allocation queue nice and early as this iconic wine seems to sell out faster and faster every year. This of course is the reward for a proven pedigree and quality track record.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2018, WO Simonsberg – Stellenbosch, 13.91% Abv.

2.4 g/l RS | 6.2 TA | 3.55 pH | 90 mg/l Total SO2 | 0.63 g/l VA

The 2018 Paul Sauer is a classical blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc from vines averaging 30 years of age grown on dryland vineyards of Decomposed Granite and Hutton and Clovelly soils. Vibrant and ruby / purple, the wine almost glows in the glass with inviting promise. At this youthful stage, the Cabernet Sauvignon component shines through strongly revealing a generally dark, broody, black fruited demeanour embellished with subtle notes of saline crème de cassis, star anise, lead pencil shavings, dried violets and signature nuances of freshly tilled earth, buttered brown toast and hints of breakfast espresso. In the mouth, the palate shows gorgeous elegance, purity and fruit focus with the most fine grained filigree tannins, soothingly generous black berry fruits and delicious mouth-watering acids. This wine is precision personified showing such effortless grace and harmony together with a measured power and intensity. The 2018 is certainly a very classically schooled expression that waltzes across the palate without ever putting a foot out of place. Like all truly great Bordeaux blends, this has the finesse and textural harmony to drink on release but also the intensity and gravitas to age effortlessly for 20 to 30+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

New Release Review – Tasting the Exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 From Kanonkop…

The Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is another classical example of this varietal grown on the prime slopes of the Simonsberg ward. Exuding a sense of compact density, balance and harmony, its coolness in character is truly impressive considering the warm, dry vintage conditions of 2016.

With the 2016, Abrie Beeslaar handles this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine with a masterfully deft touch drawing out every drop of prime Simonsberg terroir. These Stellenbosch vines are on average 27 years old and grown on dry land vineyards located on decomposed granite, hutton and clovelly soils. Yields in 2016 were a mere 4 tons per hectare and only 8,000 cases of 6 were produced.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

On opening, this 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon was initially surprisingly taut, tight and broody with reductive aromatics of oyster shell, salty creme de cassis, black currant leaf, black chai tea, iodine and maritime salinity. But as I’ve discovered repeatedly over the past 12 months, the hot dry 2016 drought vintage did produced some really excellent red wines proving that exceptional terroir handled intelligently by an accomplished winemaker can trump even difficult vintage conditions. Given ample time to breath, the nose starts to reveal a growing intensity of black cherry, salty cassis and vibrant blueberry hints with a seductive underlay of cherry kirsch liquor. On the palate, the texture is sleek and polished with multiple waves of creme de cassis and blackberry fruits rising like a tide, finishing with a tangy concentration burst of acidity and mouthwatering fruit. Tannins are understated and powdery suggesting optimal phenolic ripeness. A really beautifully constructed wine with elegance, balance and supple accessibility. Drink on release with a bit of decanting or over 10 to 12+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

New Release Review – Tasting The Super Premium Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2018…

The Kanonkop estate in Stellenbosch is synonymous with not only one of the most premium Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux blends in South Africa, the Paul Sauer, but also the most serious expression of Old Vine Pinotage produced in the country.

This super premium Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage is made from one of the oldest Pinotage vineyards in South Africa planted in 1953 on a site that has over the years continued to produce fruit of specific excellence, deemed special enough to be bottled under its own label.

This new Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2018 was matured for 18 months in French oak, of which 100% was new.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2018, WO Stellenbosch, 14% Abv.

Fantastically dense, brûléed and opulent, this plush textural expression shows complex notes of black plum compote, mulberry, powdered mocha, cinnamon powder and a sweet sappy cedar spice. With the senses reeling, the palate gets assaulted by a plush, fleshy, round weight of black and red berry fruits, spicy brûléed vanilla notes, charred barrel spice and a grippy, youthful tannin on the finish adding a perfect frame and structure for the fruit concentration. Beautifully open and upfront, round and expressive, this wine shows a real accessibility, a soft cool acidity and a perfect amount of grip. Not quite the precision and fresh perfumed purity of the 2017 but certainly not far off. Another very well endowed beauty. Drink from 2022 to 2040+.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Stellenbosch Harvest 2020 Snapshot – The World Continues to Turn…

During all the Covid-19 lockdown madness around the world, it’s easy to forget that the world continues to turn, the vines of the Western Cape continue to grow and grapes continue to be harvested. There is certainly no “off button” when it comes to our flora and fauna.

Old Vines at Kanonkop Estate.

I was lucky enough to spend almost two weeks in the Cape at harvest time in mid-February and witnessed a lot of very healthy fruit coming into various cellars. So while many in the wine trade are thinking about the impending new release whites and reds from 2019, it’s always valuable to reflect on the latest 2020 harvest, one that will undoubtedly be remembered in years to come as the “lockdown vintage”. In essence, bottled liquid memories.

Kanonkop harvest.

KANONKOP

Throughout the season the different grape varietals were picked between 7 and 10 days earlier than normal. Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were picked at lower sugar levels than the long-term average, which will result in wines with elegant structures and moderate alcohol levels.

The crop was only slightly bigger than the small 2019 harvest, but the overall small berry size will deliver wines with intense flavour and aromatic spectrums. Kanonkop obtained beautifully ripe tannins throughout the season, and they expect that the 2020 vintage will deliver elegant, classical wines with extended ageing potential.

RUSTENBERG

“2020 has been super” Murray Barlow proclaims. The crop is up for most varietals and the vintage is around +15% larger than average so a welcome year as we recover from the drought years of the past four years.

Rustenberg at sunset.

Quality wise the Rustenberg grapes have superb acids and more moderate alcohols in the white wines and wonderful fruit concentration and intensity in the reds with good colour and again moderate alcohols.

Murray Barlow’s son Tom, the 4th generation of Barlow’s at Rustenberg, inspecting red grapes before the 2020 harvest.

“So 2020 is a good vintage by our estimations quality wise. Whether it is a great vintage will be seen in the coming months” winemaker Murray Barlow concluded.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Blazing It’s Own Trail of Greatness in the World of Fine Wine…

I can’t deny that I have said it many times across many media platforms that when it comes to truly great, great red wines, nothing beats a blend. Well, ok… maybe a bottle of Domaine de la Romanee Conti Grand Cru Romanee Conti is about as famous and site specific as you can get for a single varietal icon.

But with Bordeaux blends, the whole is almost always greater than the sum of its parts. So when you consider a phenomenal wine like Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015, rated 98/100 GSMW on this site (and also South Africa’s first 100/100 point wine from critic Tim Atkin MW), it does make you ponder the greatness of the Cabernet Sauvignon component of this famous wine. Always set for a release at least 12+ months or more after the Paul Sauer blend, I managed to get a sneak peak of the newly bottled Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon… set for general release in October 2019 in the local South African market.

 

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Stellenbosch

A wine with this level of anticipation needs time and consideration. This wine was opened and tasted several times over a matter of hours and my conclusions were all the same. We are in the presence of greatness, a creation that is an absolute thing of vinous beauty that is certainly unrivalled in quality since the famous 2004 Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon that controversially trumped the Paul Sauer 2004 to win the Platter Red Wine of the Year. At this super youthful stage of its development, this wine is all about the future potential and not many other South African red wines have the track record that Kanonkop has. From the block buster 2015 vintage, the newly bottled Cabernet Sauvignon reveals an incredibly restrained and self assured bouquet of black raspberries, fallen leaves, wet tobacco, freshly tilled earth and a tantalising note of graphite, Chinese black tea, dried violets and cigar box. Despite its intensity in the mouth, the wine retains a classy and classical textural demeanour with a medium bodied weight but also silky smooth sweet tannins and layer upon layer of crunchy red and black fruits. Incredibly finely proportioned and crisply chiselled, the palate slowly shows extra dimensions of saline cassis, baking chocolate, espresso roast, sweet cedar spice and just the most subtle hints of red plum skins and thyme spice on the finish. Architecturally, this has the shape and precision of a majestic Sir Norman Foster sky scraper that towers above its neighbours. Never over worked, never over oaked, this is surely one of the greatest single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon’s produced in South Africa.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Kanonkop 2017 Black Label Pinotage – A Wine for the Most Intellectual of Palates… we

“The 100pt rating was most certainly a terrific boost for the brand,” says Johann Krige, co-proprietor of Kanonkop. “We have never experienced such a demand for the Paul Sauer and it looks as though the interest is spilling over into our next release, namely the Black Label Pinotage 2017 of which only 6 900 bottles are available – far less than the Paul Sauer 2015.”

Black Label is made from one of the oldest Pinotage vineyards in South Africa, one planted in 1953 on a site that has over the years proved to produce fruit of specific excellence and deemed special enough to be bottled under an own label. According to Kanonkop cellarmaster Abrie Beeslaar, the 2017 vintage was truly excellent for the Black Label. “It did not initially look as if this was going to be the case, as 2017 was the third very dry year in a row on the farm,” he says. “We only had 500mm of rain, 250mm less than the long-term average.” But the final results are captured in the bottle and are results worthy of adoration.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

When it comes to Pinotage, there may certainly be bigger wines, bolder opulent wines or more funky wines on the market but nothing ticks all the fine wine boxes like Kanonkop Black Label. The 2017 release marks the dawning of a new era where the local sales in the home market are properly mirrored with an enthusiastic international collector market pre-release offer for the first time. And what better way to do this with than with the 2017 expression which now comes from noble 67 year old vines which create a majestic elixir matured entirely in new French oak for 18 months before release. What Abrie Beeslaar has created in this vintage is a marvel to behold marrying new world hedonistic opulence with old world, Bordeaux’esque delineation and structure. This is a block buster that tantalises and teases the palate in the most intellectual sense and rewards the palate with a cornucopia of stimulation. The bouquet is positively bursting with lifted maraschino cherry, kirsch liquor, clove spice, blueberry, earthy mulberry and plum coulis. But it doesn’t stop there, before this block buster even gets out the starting blocks and close to your palate there are complex notes of sweet cloves, wood shavings, branded oak, iced tea and fresh oregano, sage and rose petal to behold. The palate is equally complex and alluring, exotically seductive in the most sensual sense of the word, showing the succulent delineation you would hope for and expect from a wine of this pedigree and price point but also a complexity of sweet bramble berry fruits, cut hedgerow, freshly tilled Stellenbosch earth and cherry kirsch liquor chocolates. But the stand out quality of this wine is undoubtedly the bright, crunchy yet sultry saline acidity that leaves you coming back for one sip after another. The lasting impression of this wine on the palate is the vitality, precision, knowhow and authority that beam from the glass akin to facing down a glass of Romanée Conti Burgundy. But I’ll stop there… the rest is up to you… the consumer! Dive in now or over the next 20+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Head to Head ~ Kanonkop Versus Beyerskloof Pinotage…

My recent tasting and lunch with Beyers Truter raised a lot of questions around Pinotage – it’s styles, it’s ageability and it’s future. Who better to explore these questions with than Mr Pinotage himself, Beyers Truter. So after our lunch, I assured him I’d explore these questions in more depth when I had access to my cellar in Pretoria where many of his vinous gems lurk. Here’s my assessment…


Kanonkop 1997 Vs Beyerskloof 1998:


Kanonkop Pinotage 1997 Magnum, Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

Perfect cork, this Magnum started off a touch muted as would be expected. But 30-45 minutes of breathing reavealed a dense, powerful wine. From a very late, long hanging vintage, the nose is full of sweet bramble berry fruits, cedar spice, raisined red berries, strawberry confit and cherry pastille sweets. Hardly any tertiary notes at 20 years of age suggest this wine is still a baby. The palate is fleshy and opulent, showing sweet tannins, raisoned cranberries, red orchard fruits, strawberry jam, red apples and black plum. The texture is dense and broad, carrying much more concentration and weight of fruit than you’d expect on a 13 Abv wine. The finish is sappy and spicy, sweetly fruited and complex with a long, youthful finish. Give this another 10+ years I reckon. 

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)



Beyerskloof Pinotage 1998, Stellenbosch, 13 Abv. 

Interesting style departure between these two wines, with the Beyerskloof coming across in a much crunchier, red fruited expression as if it was trying to advertise its Cinsaut parentage. The nose is bright and spicy, with cedary, sappy, stalky complexity marrying well with red plum, bramble berries, redcurrant and cranberry tartness. Whether from vintage variation or fruit source, there is much more herbal tension, crushed leaves and spicy sappy red berry fruit. The tannins are soft, precise and very sweet, with the mid palate developing a ‘strawberry jam on white toast’ opulence. Due to its crunchier, fresher style, the granitic minerality is much more pronounced than on the Kanonkop, making this feel more like a food wine than the Kanonkop. No rush to drink this up as I’d like to see more tertiary Pinot Noir’ish, foresty complexity in another 8 to 10 years. An intriguing expression. 

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 


So after much tasting and retasting, I put the question to my guests… which did they consider the better wine? A tough question considering the Beyerskloof probably cost less than a third of the price of a bottle of Kanonkop at the time and was also probably made to be drunk younger (the label says drink within 8 years).

So the verdict is the same score with Kanonkop getting an extra + based on its assured age ability, its youthfulness, its density and its track record. But the real winner has to be Beyerskloof for is freshness, purity, mineral depth, and great value.