Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1995

June 20, 2011
by Christian
in What I Drank Last Night
with 6 Comments

Worth the wait.

“Will be great drinking by 2000,” says the 1998 edition of Platter’s of the Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1995. Better to have taken your cue from the wine’s back label which suggests optimal drinking anytime from 2002 until 2011.

Over lunch yesterday, it showed intense red and black fruit, while the tannins which were obviously ripe to start with are now perfectly evolved so that each sip was almost unbearably sensuous. Powerful but  adroit, I suspect that it‘s reached full maturity but won’t go into real decline for  a good few years yet.

An excellent bottle and the more I drink Kanonkop, the more I’m convinced it is South Africa’s greatest property.  If rumours that Klein Constantia went for R220 million are true, what price would it fetch if it ever came to market?

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6 Comments

  1. KwispedoorJune 22, 2011 at 9:01 amReply

    Virus really manifests badly in certain wines, I agree, but still the best wines from virused vineyards are fantastic. I once scored a 1984 Henschke Hiill of Grace 19 points when tasted blind to name one of many examples – and that vineyard is vrot! Granted, it’s over 140 years old, which helps to keep sugars lower, but even their new vintages clock in at 14.5% – like I said: it’s more a question of choice than vineyard (they’ve been using the same vineyard for many decades). Just like the best wines from virus-free vineyards are seldom the 15% monsters. As in all walks of life, excellence is the domain of the few, not the majority – and in SA it’s just easier to ripen, ripen, ripen.

    I, for one, don’t mind a touch of green pyrazines in most Cabernets – it’s typical of the grape and different from the greenness derived from unripe fruit. However, most (not all – thank you Webersburg, et al) winemakers go into cardiac shock when they get any hint of green whatsoever.
    Yes, many wines with balanced alcohols show better with age, because their tannin and acid structures also require it. But then, just about all the great wines in the world require maturation to show their true worth – it’s the simple wines that don’t…

    I’ll agree that virus is one of our prime challenges, due to the sheer magnitude of the problem and the high cost to replace vineyards, not to mention the waiting period for vines to mature again. I simply suggest that winemakers’ maniacal fear of anything green and resignatory attitude towards high alcohols offers almost as many stumbling blocks. That article about Lammershoek is really quite telling, isn’t it? Respect and cudo’s to those titans that get it right already, whether they have old infected or young healthy vines.

  2. GrantJune 22, 2011 at 1:08 amReply

    My experience of drinking older SA wines made from vines that were largely virus infected is that the under-ripe/over-ripe characters often prevalent when these wines are young tend to become more savoury over time, esp in Cabernet based wines where the pushed to ripeness ‘green’ element moves more to dried herb/tobacco type character. This is far more agreeable, but still noticeable, and perhaps what the judges picked up in giving the Kanonkop 95 a bronze at the Trophy Show. It never quite becomes integrated ( except strangely, it seems, in older Pinotage, the 70’s in particular produced some superb wines from this grape) though, and for me the virus issue remains SA’s biggest challenge moving forward.

  3. KwispedoorJune 21, 2011 at 10:25 pmReply

    Thanks, Grant. Obviously leaf roll has a huge effect, but surely that necessitates harder work in the vineyard and cellar, not just an excuse to make alcoholic monsters? There are wineries that turn out superb wines at 14% alc. and below from relatively new vineyards, so I guess it’s simply a question that some are better than others. Then there are also wineries churning out high alcohol wines from virused vineyards (maybe not Cabernet as much as , say Pinotage, but still) – what’s their excuse?

    Virus aside, I think there’s a huge overripe pandemic that started with us getting our butts kicked in our first post-isolation “test” against Australia and New Zealand where many of our wines were deemed green and watery. Add to this a new (or newish) breed of journalists, tasters and competitions from all over, trumpeting mega-ripeness and big, showy wines plus impatient consumers. What we got was an overreaction from the production side. I can understand why Rijk’s makes wines of 14 to 15% alcohol in Tulbagh, but it’s sad to see Klein Constantia making cabernet at 15% + in Constantia and Lomond a shiraz (2008 Conebush Syrah) at 15% (I stand to be corrected, but I think that’s made from Elim grapes). There are many, many other examples.

    If I compare these wines to the class, expression and balance found in, for instance a Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1995 or Cordoba Crescendo 2003 they fall sadly short. If people can’t work harder and better in the vineyards and cellars, maybe they should import some mealy bugs into their vineyards? Then at least they have another excuse if the grapes don’t ripen properly.

    There’s also a lot of “everybody’s-doing-it-because-the-alternative-is-too-difficult-so-why-will-we-be-different” mentality going on. One of the best examples that it’s about decision-making, attitude and philosophy, rather than being powerless against the elements, is this article by Christian about what happened (practically instantly) at Lammershoek: http://www.whatidranklastnight.co.za/opinion-and-analysis/el-bandito-cortez-2009/

  4. GrantJune 21, 2011 at 1:26 pmReply

    Kwispy, the lower alcohols of yesteryear are primarily attributable to virus. It’s not a conspiracy on anyone’s part to make bolder wines to “appease” any critic, as is the suggestion in some circles.  In fact, if you talk to most SA winemakers they are as a rule trying to find ways to get grapes ripe later, with lower baumes. But you can’t mess with mother nature, and with healthier ( and younger) vines in the modern SA it is virtually impossible to harvest red grapes from such vines, phenolically ripe, that will produce a wine under 13% alc/vol without post harvest manipulation.

    Grant Dodd
    Haskell Vineyards

  5. Tim JamesJune 20, 2011 at 10:35 pmReply

    Not to mention that there was a significant component of virused fruit – I think the vineyard responsible was replaced after this vintage. The virus would have helped keep the alcohol level down of course.

  6. KwispedoorJune 20, 2011 at 5:44 pmReply

    I agree – it’s awesome, though it only managed to limp to a lowly 74-point bronze medal from the esteemed 2011 OMTWS judges…

    Less than 13% alcohol from a hot vintage: can there be any proper excuses for the 14.5% and higher alcohol levels that’s so common today? That’s rhetorical, by the way!

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