It is not leaning against the slopes but resting on the foothills. Planted 67 years back by Paul Sauer, the original proprietor of Kanonkop, the farm’s old Pinotage vineyard does not share the glamorous vistas and dramatic mountain-hugging character of the estate’s other patches of vinous real estate.
The setting is flat and without spectacle or glamour, between a dam and farm-buildings and within earshot of the R44 road. But once a year the earth here thinks out loud, resulting in this vineyard’s meagre harvest of Pinotage grapes contributing to the making of one of the world’s greatest South African wines.
It is called the Black Label Pinotage, although 14 years since the crafting of that maiden vintage, it is not necessary to note the variety no more. Kanonkop Black Label says it all, a spectacular red wine made from a great vineyard, one that was planted a full 20 years before the farm pressed its first bottled wine.
Each year, the launch of the new vintage of Black Label is awaited with the kind of restless, butterfly-stomach anticipation as Christmas Eve, the latest Elvis Presley re-release and a tour by the British and Irish Lions. Each year, the wine delivers something differently magical that inspires awe on so many different levels.
The Black Label 2018 came to town last week, and I personally approached the wine with nervous trepidation. 2018 was a bugger of a vintage, the preceding five years of drought and heat surely having taken a toll on the vineyard, which was 65 years old at the time of harvest. Sophia Loren may have handled 65 well, but a vineyard planted on dryland at the southern tip of Africa exposed to the vicious elements… Perhaps not.
Yet, before the wine could attach itself to my lips, all emotions of sympathy compassion removed themselves, instantly. The heady, boisterous and suggestive aromas were seductive and playful, teasing in the wine’s wish to reassure one that despite the vagaries of nature, all was fine. Really.
The Black Label 2018 spent an extra year in the bottle after its 12 months in new wood, allowing the flesh to broaden along with the sinewy muscle and aromatic sun-kissed skin. Sniffing this wine, I was reminded of an Amarone, except that the concentration and density amassed in the Black Label had a thrilling Cape feral-ness: hot-rock and fynbos potpourri, with a touch of moist biltong.
My god, the experience on the mouth was wonderful. Mine is watering now just thinking about it.
Plush, satin and velvet come to mind, but not of the easy and comfortable and overtly-luxurious kind. The tannins have settled, making the experience broader and Rubenesque. Those familiar flavours of honeyed-prunes, damp autumn bark and sappy mulberries are pushed to the fore, gracefully balanced on rounded, muscled hips cloaked in fresh linen.
Like the great Black Label vintages – 2006, 2011 and 2016 – the wine shows an exotic edge of cloves and cardamom with a singular turn of white pepper.
Polished and complete, the greatness of the flavour profile is complemented by the fulfilment of texture and palate-weight, making way for the perfection of taste.
Rare. Expensive. Luxurious. But for me, decadence will always do.
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