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. 

Catching Up In London with “Mr Pinotage”, Beyers Truter ~ A South African Wine Trade Legend…

It was great to spend time catching up with Beyers Truter at the London Wine Trade Fair this past week to taste a selection of his wines including his new(ish) Trail Dust Pinotage, Cinsaut and Pinot Noir Blend as well as his full Beyerskloof range. His Bordeaux blends, needless to say, have always been real favourites of mine. But it is of course Pinotage that he is best known for. 


Beyers is the founder and Chairman of the Pinotage Association starting his own practical career actually working with table grapes before starting his winemaking career at the now famous Kanonkop winery. Known as Mr Pinotage, he has been producing Pinotage wines since 1981 and it has always been one of his greatest passions, or even obsessions. 


Today he is the cellarmaster and owner of Beyerskloof winery near Stellenbosch. In 1991 he was named international Winemaker of the Year for his Kanonkop Pinotage 1989 at the International Wine and Spirit Competition and also famously won the prestigious Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy for the World’s Best Bordeaux Blend with his 1991 Kanonkop Paul Sauer. 


Spending a last few days in London with his partner Lorraine Geldenhuys, who runs the Elsenberg Wine Cellar, taking in the summer sights and sounds of London, Beyers and I made a date to meet up again for a last few glasses of fine wine and fabulous oysters and seafood, before they headed back to South Africa.


I was fascinated to hear about the wine making venture Beyers is heading up in Angola with one of the countries 4 top army generals, planting among other things, Cabernet, Rubernet, Syrah and Pinotage. The vines are still young but the high altitude vineyards show great potential and it will be fascinating to taste these wines in due course.


Over lunch we enjoyed a few beautiful bottles including a Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Les Belles Filles 2014 Blanc that was salty, briney, fresh and supremely intense and focused with pithy white citrus and liquid minerals (94/100 GS); a fabulously serious Comtes Lafon Meursault 2011 that was initially tight and dense, but slowly opened up to unfurl a masterclass in Chardonnay showing yellow citrus, pithy minerality, dry lemon, a touch of reduction and just a delicate lick of oak (94+/100 GS); and finally a very attractive bottle of Domaine Dujac Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2011 which it turns out is one of Beyers’ favourite Burgundy appellations. The wine was beautifully fragrant with violets, cherry blossom and sappy forest fruits, following to a sappy, spicy, chalky palate with polished black berry fruits, plum and forest strawberries. Over lunch the wine just opened up to give more, and more, and more! A wow wine that’s young but sooo pretty. (96/100 GS).


Such a privilege to spend quality time with another of my ultimate South African wine legends. I look forward to visiting Beyers at Beyerskloof Winery hopefully later in the year. 

The Changing Face of Fine Wine Consumers in the UK…

Last night I attended a lovely dinner at the superb 1 star Michelin restaurant Harwood Arms, with a group of private clients who are all high flying corporate lawyers in the city. I was invited to attend their quarterly get-together where they choose a fine wine theme and then all bring a few top bottles.


Nothing unusual about this gathering, which must be replicated daily across the city. What was slightly unusual was the fine wine theme they chose… top South African whites and reds. A few years ago, these sort of gatherings would be exclusively dedicated to fine Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhone wines.

But the South African fine wine scenery has changed dramatically and so too has consumers’ perceptions of the wines. South Africa’s best wines now regularly rub shoulders at fine wine lunches and dinners with the most accomplished Cru Classe Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundy.


The dinner theme had been set as South African fine wines and I was tasked with bringing the “controversial” grape… using my clients words, being a Pinotage of course. I don’t drink a massive amount of Pinotage, but when I do, it will surely be one of a handful including Kanonkop, Beeslaar, Chamonix, David Sadie, B Vintners or something similar.

The evening’s wines were set against a backdrop of some fantastic game food dishes from the kitchen of Brett Graham, better known for his flagship 2 star Michelin site The Ledbury in Notting Hill. 


First up two Boekenhoutskloof Semillon whites … the awesome 2004 and a more youthful 2010. The 04 showed brilliant honey, wax and yellow peach nuances with pear purée and a most impressive, dense tight knit texture (94+/100). The 2010 took a while to blow off its hallmark reduction, but eventually revealed sweet root veg notes, swedes, turnips, and savoury yellow waxy lanolin lemon butter depth. (92+/100)


Biggest excitement and subsequent disappointment revolved around the Sadie Family Old Vine Series Mev. Kirsten 2011. Sadly the wine was corked. We were all gutted and tried to look beneath the taint. Such a shame! 


Legal eagle lawyers never travel without backups! In this case a Mullineux Granite 2014 that showed austere, taught, tight crushed gravel notes, and mineral driven white fruits (94/100). The Rall White blend 2014 was open, expressive, rich, textural, with orange peel, yellow pastille fruits, and real Burgundian grand cru weight (94+/100). Noted by the tasters as not more impressive than the Mullineux but just more ready to drink.


Next up a fantastic red pair… Hamilton-Russell Pinot Noir 2006 and 2009 from their archive box sets. The 2006 was dense and forest floor laden (92/100) while the 2009 started initially with choc peppermint crisp, and fresh foresty black fruits but opened up beautifully to reveal a really seductive side (92+/100).


Then the “controversial” grape came next. My Pinotage from Abrie Beeslaar. The 2012 maiden release. Wow. This was a rich, bright, sappy, stoney, earthy wine with a dusty gravelly note. Very pure, spicy, elegant and balanced with a seductive mulberry fruit core and a harmonious finish (94/100).


Making up numbers were the beautifully bright, youthful Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2005 laden with wood smoke and cedary red cherry fruit (91+/100), a vibrant Rust en Vrede Estate Red 2003 with rich spicy peppery black fruits and a powerful depth (94/100), and last but not least, a seductively sweet fruited Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2006 endowed with rich black currant and raspberry fruits, forest berry complexity and a superbly elegant finish (93/100).

Well, all in all a night of fantastic food, amazingly accommodating staff and a few very attractive wines paired with amazing Michelin starred food. If anyone was left in any doubt about the quality of SA wines, the final glass of Mullineux Olerasay No.1 would have silenced any doubters. An epic wine of intriguing complexity (98/100).

South African fine wine has hit the big time… and is now enjoying its moment in the bright lights! Long may it last.