07 February 2008

Cannon and Castle - L'Avenir and Kanonkop

Yesterday I took a brief drive up the R44 to visit L’Avenir and Kanonkop.

L’Avenir acquired neighbouring vineyards of the defunct Sentinel, and with it the ‘castle’ which was re-opened last week as the new tasting room for L’Avenir (above). Gone are the turrets, battlements and historic cannons. In their place is a thoroughly modern corporate tasting room with leather benches, standing tables and logo emblazoned spittoons. I’m an old romantic, and no matter the warmth of the greeting from the lady in the tasting room, this place felt heartless after the tasting corner in L’Avenir’s working winery barrel cellar.

I tasted the standard L’Avenir Pinotage 2006 which was an impressive dark purple colour with attractive sweet fruit on the approach followed by red berries but a tart finish. I asked, and was told the bottle had been opened the previous afternoon, some 24 hours previously. I don’t open my wines a day before drinking and I wondered if the sharpness was an effect of such long opening in a warm climate. This wine retails at the cellar for 120 Rand, (about £9.60/$20).

Also open for tasting was the Grand Vin Pinotage 2005 at a whopping 250 rand or (£20/$40). This had a dark red colour and was powerful yet sweetly fruity. Some nice spice in the middle, but let down by a sharply tart finish. Opened too long?

A bit further along the R44 a cannon still marks the entrance to Kanonkop Estate.

I wanted to taste their 2005 Pinotage (140 Rand - £11.20/$22.40) which is now available – I had last tasted it a year ago. It was bottled in July ’06 and bottle-matured in their cellars until ready for release at the end of 2007.

This wine tastes so soft; it is one of the softest Kanonkop’s I can recall. But in the fruity body there is a structural spine of finely tuned tannins down the middle followed by cleansing acids on the finish. It reminded me a lot of the 1999 vintage that was also very drinkable when young – so much so that I drank all mine shortly after purchase and then discovered on re-tasting it at the winery last year that it was even better with age. A mistake I will not make with the deliciously approachable 2004 of which I have bought prodigious amounts to drink and to keep, and now I must also plan on making room for some 2005’s when they finally appear on the UK market.

I happened to see winemaker Abrie Bruwer in the tasting room and he told me Kanonkop had always intended to make wines that would age – hence the back label maturation chart. But modern viticultural practises and innovations -- such as the grape sorting table which allowed the removal of stalks and unripe grapes --enabled them to make a wine easier to drink young yet still capable of long aging. Of this 2005 vintage Abrie said he tasted a ‘tomato cocktail’ with lots of red berries.

And what of the 2008 vintage? “The grapes still need a little more time for optimum ripeness,” says Abrie. “We’ll be picking them when they’re ready, and not before.”

I wonder how much longer Kanonkop will be able to show the maturation chart. There is no room for it on labels for sale in the USA; the Surgeon Generals's mandatory fatuous warning takes its space. The label pictured has recycling logos, plus the nonsensical French pregnancy sign. There is increasing pressure for more information and warning messages to legally required.

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