24 January 2011

Kanonkop 2009 - a bud ready to flower

Friday afternoon an hour before closing and Kanonkop’s normally sedate tasting room is busy. All seating is occupied and groups of people are standing swirling glasses, discussing wine and ticking order sheets. Counter staff are hard pushed to fill tasting glasses, answer questions and take orders on a till that is playing up.
“It has been like this all day,” says Anita Heyns who has run Kanonkop’s tasting room for as long as I can remember. She is trying to find the wooden case for a Methuselah (5 litre) bottle of Pinotage that has just been snapped up.

I wait for the purchases to be made and collected and the room starts to empty. Winemaker Abrie Beeslaar has brought to work his new baby daughter to show his colleagues and while they cuddle her he comes over for a chat and pours me a taste of Kadette 2010 Pinotage Rose which I’d tasted a tank sample of at the London Wine Fair in May. With some bottle time this dark pink wine was drinking well. “It had minimal skin contact,” said Abrie, “less than two hours. Just the time it took to fill the press — it has 55% free run juice. As soon as it was full we pressed it off the skins. Pinotage has this tremendous colour.” The wine is made dry; there is just 2 g/L residual sugar but the 14% abv “gives an impression of sweetness,” according to Abrie.

The red Kadette 2009 is very impressive. Made from a blend of 46% Pinotage, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc this vintage is a step up, being much more serious. There’s less upfront obvious fruit and a classic linearity. “We make it the same as the other wines,” Abrie told me. “The difference is that we use the young vines and older barrels.” 60,000 cases were produced and the UK Sainsbury supermarkets will be listing it.

To my surprise the tasting counter had open bottles of 2000 Pinotage. Abrie told me that for the past decade Kanonkop had been holding back supplies with the intention of being able to offer ten year old bottles. “Few people have the chance to taste aged Pinotage,” says Abrie, “and yet it is a variety with great aging potential so we wanted to be able to promote Pinotage by releasing some ten years old. Next year we will have the 2001 vintage available alongside the 2010 and so on.”

Kanonkop Estate Pinotage 2000 vintage was perhaps not an ideal example of the variety’s aging potential as the wine was pale, light bodied and had lost its primary fruit. All the same it offered rewards for aficionados of aged wine, with a delicate red berry flavours and a long aftertaste . “I think it is now showing its Pinot Noir heritage,” said Abrie. “2000 and 2002 were our toughest vintages. In 2000 we had bush fires and when the wine was young you could taste the smoke.”

Kanonkop had been hosting some trade tasting events elsewhere in the winery that Friday and when I mentioned that 1999 was my all time favourite vintage an opened leftover bottle was found.

Kanonkop Estate Pinotage 1999: In contrast to the 2000 this looked youthful with a dense deep black-red colour with a red rim and a soft warm sweet nose. I’d last tasted it in 2008 with Beyers Truter when my notes read “concentrated dense fruit, great complexity and it is just so drinkable” which is just as true now. Lovely wine, how I wish I had some.

I had come hoping that the 2009 Pinotage was released, and it was. Based on experience it won’t be available in the UK until next year: the 2008 had just appeared on the Wine Society Christmas list and I have a case at home. “It needs another year in bottle,” advises Abrie.

Kanonkop Estate Pinotage 2009: Dense impenetrable black, big and soft approachable tannins with fruit appearing in the mid-palate, a refreshing food friendly acidity and an after taste that just lingers. This is going to be a stunner. Abrie says that they used more fruit than usual from the older vineyards and that gives subtlety to the flavour and the long aftertaste.

I bought some bottles and opened one Saturday night with a Spur steak fillet and enjoyed it immensely even though too young. Spur doesn’t run to decanting, and the wine is young, but it is like a bud that will open and flower, and I reckon if (like me) you can’t wait then try opening it a few hours before drinking or decant it because by the end of my meal the wine in my glass was starting to open up.

The 2009 Pinotage is 185 Rand a bottle at the winery and the 2000 is a little more at 210 Rand. The Kadette Pinotage Rose is 52 Rand and Kadette Red is 65 Rand.
Another reason to visit Kanonkop, should you need an excuse, is that signed copies of my book Pinotage: Behind the Legends of South Africa's Own Wine are on sale in the tasting room.


  1. Anonymous00:08

    I had what seems to be the rare chance of trying the Kanonkop Estate '09. Excellent, excellent, excellent. I do not think I can say that word enough in describing this wine as I have been blown away. Very unique taste. I have one bottle left after selling out the one and only case in my shop in just 2 days (word spreads quick). I just wish my rep still carried it. I have not been able to find it anywhere else. (this is coming from the states where Napa is king. The Kanonkop has turned a few heads.)

  2. Anonymous06:38

    I have had the oppertunity of tasting the 2009 vintage from Kanonkop as well as the Beyerskloof Reserve Pinotage and Diesel during the last two weeks and think that 2009 was an excellent year for Pinotage. Buy now while they are still available!

  3. Anonymous10:25


    I have just tried my first pinotage: Kanonkop 2011. It is excellent, wonderful balance, good structure. A hint of smoke but nothing outrageous like all the ranting I've read about.

    A question though: is this experience representative of pinotage in general, or is it more attributable to a great producer such as Kanonkop?

  4. Hi Anonymous - you have the advantage oof me as I haven't tasted the 2011 and it has yet to appear on my shores. Kanonkop are one of South Africa's top makers of Pinotage and they have some of the oldest vines, and use a lot of new barrels so bear that in mind, but you ask 'is your experience representative' and I think it is.

    Look for Pinotages from wineries that you can identify, especially Estates - i.e. not from anonymous brand names (although some can be good) and don't buy the cheapest
    if you want to repeat the experience.

    The Kanonkop will be even better with some bottle age, the winery usually suggest that it starts to reach its optimum drinking time four years after the vintage year.

  5. I have a 5 l Kanonkop Pinotage 2004 in a wooden box.
    I bought it at the Estate in 2006. It has been stored in a wine celler in Cape and now I have managed to bring IT with me to Sweden.
    Have someone any Idea when I should open the bottle?
    Bjorn Gripwall

    1. Hi Björn

      I opened last a 2004 bottle in Oct 15 and it was drinking beautifully. I guess a 5L bottle will age slower and perhaps you should email Abrie at Kanonkop for his suggestion.

      I'd really like to know how you transported a 5L bottle from the Cape to Sverige, and suggest that maybe you could visit the UK with it for us to share!!