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Going Vertical: Kanonkop Pinotage From 1998 to 2009

What does a 1998 South African Pinotage taste like? Oddly enough, like a musty, saddle leather-driven Rioja—at least the bottling by Kanonkop.

This week, we tasted ten Kanonkop Pinotage bottlings spanning 11 years with winemaker Abrie Beeslaar. Kanonkop is a historic wine estate in the Stellenbosch region, run by the same family for four generations. They grow Pinotage (a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed in the 1920s), as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. But Pinotage and its attempt to overcome a negative stereotype in the eyes of the American consumer took precedent during the recent tasting led by Beeslaar. (That’s USQ’s Tom Smith tasting with Beeslaar above.) He noted that wine drinkers tend to judge the variety over the producer, when in fact, we should be judging the producer not the variety. And after tasting stellar examples, such as the 1998, the earthy and complex 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage and the juicy, red berry-focused 2009 Pinotage, his words hit a homerun.

We could bog you down with copious notes on each wine, but overall, the wines showed a variety of red wine descriptors, from tints of deep cherry to aromas of smoked meats to flavors reminiscent of classic Burgundies. The 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage, designed specifically for auction by winemakers invited to the guild, stood out with its 100 percent new oak aging, dark, earthy nose, and complex brown shoe leather and dark fruit notes on the palate. It seemed quite similar to the 1998, with its musty funk and still juicy fruit cocooned with strong earth and leather notes. One person even joked that it was like Chateau Musar, the infamously wine geek red wine blend from Lebanon. Yet even the young, but “will mature beautifully” 2009 had many fans, thanks to its powerful structure, red berry flavors, and balanced tannins. If we’re going to judge Pinotage, we’re going to rule in its favor, at least when we’re talking about Kanonkop. -Stephanie Cain

Get the 2009 Kanonkop Pinotage here.