What I Drank Last Night
Good Booze. Good Food. Good Company.

Kanonkop 1997 et al.

Friday saw 11 older Cape Winemakers Guild Auction Wines presented at Jordan Winery Restaurant in Stellenbosch. It was to be an investigation of the age-worthiness of South African wine, a topic that attracts its fair share of controversy. I am inclined to think that when it comes to modern South African reds in particular, these are better drunk sooner rather than later, an opinion informed, at least in part, by WINE magazine’s annual review of reds 10 years after vintage where the majority do not seem to mature with benefit.

The wines were as follows :

Flight One
Flagstone Weather Girl 2006 (a blend of 52.5% Semillon and 47.5% Sauvignon Blanc)
Ataraxia Charodanny 2007

Kanonkop 1997

Kanonkop 1997

Flight Two
Kanonkop 1997 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot)
Grangehurst Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1997
Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2002
Graham Beck Shiraz Barrel Select 2002

Flight Three
Waterford Auciton Reserve 2003 (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Shiraz, 12% Mourvëdre, 10% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petiti Verdot, 2% Malbec
De Trafford Perspective 2003 (67% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot)
Jordan Sophia Auciton Reserve 2003 (61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc)
Le Riche Auction Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Boplaas Auction Reserve Port 2001 (50% Touriga Naçional, 30% Tinta Barocca, 20% Souzã0)

Some general observations: It is sometimes argued that the South African winelands are situated too close to the equator for vintage variation to be a significant factor in determining quality. This is clearly mistaken as a comparison of wines from the difficult 2002 (over-developed and out of balance) against those from the sublime 2003 (youthful and still gaining in complexity) shows. Which vintages are going to perform best is not always an easy call to make: early on warm 1998 was preferred to cool, wet 1997 when it came to Stellenbosch reds, but now the 1997s are looking much less tired.

Stylistic approach and method of vinification is also an issue. I found the Waterford Auction Reserve 2003 heavily extracted and dried out, while others liked it for its exotic flavour profile; conversely, I appreciated how technically correct the Jordan Sophia Auction Reserve 2003, while others criticised it for being safe and predictable.

Lastly, there really are no absolutes when it comes to wine. Two wines in the line-up that are not only surviving with age but are coming more complex and refined were the Le Riche Auction Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 and the Kanonkop 1997. 5 Stars, 18 points or more on the 20-point scale, 96 points or more on the 100-point scale, use whatever rating system you like. Moreover, while being of superlative quality, each remained true to its place of origin: Stellenbosch (and perhaps to their originators, Beyers Truter in the case of the Kanonkop and Etienne Le Riche is the case of the Le Riche).

Fired with enthusiasm, fellow tasting attendee and wine entrepreneur Jörg Pfuetzner and I decided it was time for the Judgement of Cape Town à la the 1976 Judgement of Paris which saw the wines of  California trump  those France and a consequent reassessment of what the Yanks were capable of. How does Kanonkop vs. Leovillle Les Cases, Vergelegen White vs. Domaine de Chevalier, Boekenhoutskloof Syrah vs. Chapoutier La Mordorée sound? It’s long overdue that SA’s best got the recognition they deserve.


  1. dionysus says:

    I feel like a small fish in the big pond passing comment alongside JBC and Greg a MW…but I do find this a very interesting debate. I agree with so much that has been said. I have had an interest in wine for a while now and the journey in search of those amazing wine moments is what makes it all so interesting. At the same time drinking so many youthful fruit bombs that are all so alike is just boring. You can hardly tell them apart. But older wines have so much more depth, character etc. The first thing I noticed when reading the line up of “older” wines is how young the wines were. 11 wines in total, 2 from the 90s and 9 from the 00s. Before reading CEs comments on the wines I would have bet a few Rand on Le Riche and the Granghurst showing well, 2 wineries that I consider make wines for the long haul. IF you take what JBC says about wine being a reflection of place, terroir, vintage then it stands to reason that some vintages are always going to be great, some good and some not so good. I don’t see a bad vintage as a bad thing if you belive in the concept of terroir. Marketing hype seems to trump every vintage as great or good. What I have experienced in my wine life is a journey, you start out just drinking the stuff, then you develope an interest, then you start drinking the good youthfull stuff, (like the CWG line up), you then start looking for the more developed aged wines, and then you get to a point your you start looking for the best vintages in amongst the older stuff. This is were I am at in my journey. I tasted a 1971 Alto Cab an Annadale this past weekend…it was like a genie in a bottle.

  2. Great running commentary from Jan “Boland” Coetzee on the older wines. Information “from the horses mouth” is always a pleasure to hear. Here in London at Handford Wines, we carry a large selection of top end super premium South African wines and regulary get to taste older vintages from Kanonkop, Warwick, Nederburg Auciton Wines, Meerlust, etc. I would agree that the 1980s are a bit hit and miss, as are some of the 1990s, though a recent 1986 Warwick Trilogy was superb (with many blind tasters confusing it for a St Julien from 1990!) The 2000s with the exception of 2002, have all been very good, though one could hardly call them “old”. Some of the recent surprises have been old bottles of 1996 Stellenbosch Cab. For me, this was the vintage in my wine training that reasserted the concept of New World vintage variation. Many 1996s are surely dead and burried, but wines picked later, after the rains, have aged spectaculary well. A little bit like some of the Northern & Southern Rhones and Languedoc reds from 2002 that were mostly dumped or drunk up early by all on release – being regarded as a wet dud vintage. A Cote Rotie 2002 from Saint Cosme drunk last week was super fresh, elegant and very fine indeed. South African wines definitely age very well. But, like all regions including Bordeaux, there are vintages to drink early and other vintages to keep! We are no different in SA. Also, a lot of consumers dont like / know / understand old wines as it is quite foreign for them to try them – or atleast the very good producers / CWG etc. Anyone had a bottle of Cordoba Crescendo 1995 recently?? I had one in February 2010 and I would be happy to pitch that against any premium 1995 red from Bordeaux, left or right bank. Well done Chris Keet! My bottle had of course been stored perfectly since purchase. This is the type of topic that got me into wine in the first place. Like hunting for hidden treasure! Happily, I have a cellar full of older SA treasures that i always try and share with UK constomers in an attempt to eductate them to the joys of aged South African reds! best regards, Greg Sherwood MW

  3. Jan Coetzee says:

    What I drank last night,

    I found your story quite interesting on your recent tastings of some of the CWG wines – non of them really old! We had a Cab tasting back to 1962 about 3 weeks ago – no doubt in my mind that none of the vintages in die 90′s and 80′s is as good as some of the 70′s and 60′s – but the 2000′s is changing the paradigm.

    There is no hesitation in my mind that 2003 is as good as 1978 or even better. 2005 and 2007 is challenging 2003! That means a 1 in 25 year vintage which I predict already in June 2003
    We have just released our 2003 Cab Sauv in June 2010 and will start selling the Kallista 2003 together with the 2005 Kallista later in the year!

    2002 is what it is because of 147 mm of rain (in Stellenbosch) in January 2002 – 1921 was the wettest January prior to 2002 with 65mm of rain.

    1997 was the coolest February up to date since 1965, the average temperature of February 1997 was 16.0 C (Night) 26.7 C (Day) with 1998 and 1999 the warmest since 1974 – 19.8 C (Night) and 31C (Day) average.

    Maybe I should remind you that a good vintage stays a good vintage and a better one always better. Wine is only about a sense of place – a mirror of the environment first and foremost. Good Stellenbosch Cab can challenge any wine in the world – it is Cab country!

    On your and Jorg’s 1976 idea, I need to remind you that Maison Drouhin put up his wines against the Californian lot and won hands down. Maybe you need to adjust your idea to particular varietals or something different.

    Best regards


  4. Interesting. I’m a big fan of Boekenhoutskloof Syrah too. I’ve tasted the Boekenhoutskloof 97 a couple of times in 04, 06 and 08 and it impressed but in May the 01 and 02 didn’t show so well – see here bit.ly/bxNUfB. Anyone got any thoughts on these wines in terms of peak drinking?

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