Readers should refer to my 2015 South Africa report for more background information on Kanonkop. As I have said before, whenever discussing South Africa’s long-standing stalwart estates, a lot of young winemakers can be quite dismissive, citing poor winemaking practices and their zeal for high volume/low quality wines that did much to tarnish the image of South Africa. The one exception is always Kanonkop, a beacon for quality for many many years. And in my own experience, I have found that the wines age beautifully, whilst recent releases have maintained top-notch quality under cellar master Abrie Beeslaar.
This was actually one of my first visits during my trip to the Cape and I met with the inimitable co-owned Johann Krige. He was on tenterhooks having just heard about a Norwegian weather forecast predicting 100 millimiters of much-needed rain the following Friday, a prediction that turned out to be true, although the rainfall varied significantly between local areas. “We have been suffering a lot of drought,” he rued. “This year, 50% compared to normal. We do not irrigate our Pinotage, so it is important.” I asked whether there had been developments since I last visited and he explained that they are currently expanding their cellar. “We are hoping to finish it by the time of harvest,” he commented wryly. He told me that they are using open fermenters to conduct manual punchdowns. I was also interested to learn that they have followed the Bordeaux model and now use an optical sorting machine, a Bucher rather than a Pellenc that Krige seemed to dislike. I will let the tasting notes speak for themselves.
Kanonkop remain an exemplar for a traditional South African estate that in many ways struck a winning formula many years ago and have stuck to it, modernizing here and there when necessary. If ever you meet a cynic who claims that Pinotage cannot make great wines (and there are plenty of those), then pour them a glass from Kanonkop and they will soon change their mind. I will repeat that these wines do benefit from cellar age, so don’t be afraid to put some of these down for 15-20 years.
Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage Rose 2016 – 86 points
The 2016 Kadette Pinotage Rose is made in a fuller style. It has a pale salmon color. The nose is fresh on the entry with touches of orange peel, red cherries and a touch of marzipan. The palate is fresh on the entry with light red fruit, nicely weighted in the mouth with a squeeze of lemon zest on the finish.
Kanonkop Kadette 2015 – 88 points
The 2015 Kadette Cape Blend contains 50% Pinotage, 20% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon matured in used oak. It has a light red cherry and bergamot tea scented bouquet that just needs a little more vigor. The palate is fresh on the entry with a touch of green pepper, nicely balanced, simple but with ample freshness on the finish. This is a well-made, entry-level wine from Kanonkop and for the price, it comes recommended.
Kanonkop Pinotage 2014 – 90 points
The 2014 Pinotage is matured for 16 months in 80% new oak. It offers a vivid and powerful bouquet of black cherries, licorice, melted tar and blueberries that seem to gush from the glass. The palate is powerful on the entry with bold tannin, but there is the acidity here to keep everything balanced and counter the layers of fruit with freshness and tension. As I have written before, Kanonkop know how to make a great Pinotage and this is a delight.
Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – 92 points
The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is matured in 50% new oak for 24 months with an additional two years in bottle (it used to be one year). It has a strong, opulent nose of black cherries, mint and a touch of camphor, later a pleasant hickory note emerging. The palate is medium-bodied with firm tannin. Tarry black fruit, tobacco and sage, a quintessential Kanonkop wine that stays true to South African Cabernet, but done with a sense of panache and style. Give this 2-3 years in bottle for the tannins to soften a little.
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2013 – 93 points
The 2013 Paul Sauer is a more or less 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot that is matured 24 months in 100% new French oak (Seguin Moreau, Demptos and Nadalie). It has an attractive bouquet, a mixture of red and black fruit intermingling with star anise and a touch of Chinese five-spice. The palate is medium-bodied and very well balanced with a fine seam of acidity, very impressive purity, and a suave and sophisticated finish that renders this Paul Sauer (as always) a superb value. It will surely give two decades of drinking pleasure.
Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2014 – 93 points
The 2014 Black Label Pinotage has a well-defined bouquet with lovely cranberry and loganberry fruit, sage and a freshly tilled earth. The palate is medium-bodied with grippy tannin, a cooler and more masculine Black Label with a sense of reserve towards the finish, as if holding something back. There is plenty of freshness here, long in the mouth, but I would cellar this away for 4-5 years, because I am sure it will develop, rewarding secondary notes and flavors. Just 5,000 bottles produced.
Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2015 – 94 points
The 2015 Black Label Pinotage is the current release, from the oldest vines around 65 years in age. Matured entirely in new French oak for 18 months, it has a ripe and more opulent bouquet compared to the more modest 2014, but what they share is fine delineation and purity, aromas of black cherry, camphor, blueberry and cassis. The palate is medium-bodied with succulent ripe tannin, layers of black fruit intermingling with dried herbs, sage, rosemary and white pepper, fanning out beautifully on the finish. It will benefit from 4-5 years in bottle as usual, but it is an immensely impressive expression of Pinotage—a bit of a head-turner, you could say.