Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Wine Travels: Cape Adventure Part 2 - Warwick and Kanonkop

If you missed Part 1 it can be read here...

Leaving Villiera it was just a quick fifteen minute drive to our next port of call at Warwick Estate.


Warwick is a wonderful estate with the classic white Dutch style architecture that is a prominent feature in South African wine country. Not only is it beautiful, but it is a winery that has had substantial female influence, the owner, Norma Ratcliffe was one of the first women to make wine in South Africa and so far is the only female chairperson of the Cape Winemakers Guild.

Although Norma has retired now there is still a strong female presence in the winery and the heritage and influence is reflected in the wine's labels and names.

Here, the tour started with a glass of chardonnay and a look round the winery itself, where fermentation was well under way with the harvest having not long ended.

Tasting in the Warwick barrel room
There was plenty of activity with workers cleaning one of the vats, hosing floors and much more that gave a fascinating look behind the scenes and seeing some of the day to day work in a winery as well as some different techniques at the oenologist’s disposal on show with oak in its various forms, different varieties of vat and so much else.

One interesting point was that their new Cap Classique was still hand riddled due to the production not yet being large enough to warrant gyropallets (riddling is the process of moving dead yeast particles into the neck of  the bottle for removal during the production of sparkling wine).

Warwick offer gourmet picnics in their picturesque grounds
We continued the tasting outside with the majority based around the wide range of reds (although they do produce whites, rose and recently introduced a Cap Classique) with the standout wines for me being The Blue Lady and Trilogy.

The Blue Lady is a single vineyard cabernet sauvignon that has had 28 months in oak (60% new oak) and although very young (being the 2012 vintage), it was showing terrific potential with black fruit, cedar, wonderful spice coupled with a long finish, great structure and ripe, but soft tannins.

Trilogy is a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon (49%) cabernet franc (34%) and merlot (17%) that like The Blue Lady has seen an extended period in oak (26 months) with 60% being first fill. This was quite different having a blend of both red and black fruit notes mixed with mocha and coffee, leather and cedar.

I have picked these two out as my absolute favourites, however, there were many other terrific wines that we tried such as their Old Bush Pinotage, the First Lady Cabernet, Three Cape Ladies, Pink Lady and we didn't get to sample any of the Professor Black's range as that sells out almost instantly.

These outstanding wines coupled with fantastic hospitality all made for a very memorable visit, especially when capped off with one of the winery’s gourmet picnics enjoyed out in the mid-afternoon sun.

Blue Lady is available from for £19.95 and Trilogy can be bought at Hennings Wine Merchants for £17.65


Finally and with very little time as the afternoon was getting old, we made a flying visit to Kanonkop which conveniently is practically opposite Warwick. Having jumped out of the car and successfully weaved in-between all the dogs happily greeting visitors we entered the tasting room.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to linger and take in all the wines and artefacts dotted around the tasting room as we had to get to a braai (barbeque) in the evening and as such only tried a few of the wines, The Estate Cabernet, Estate Pinotage and Paul Sauer. All were truly great wines, full bodied, round, with concentrated flavours and easy to drink relatively young, but with undeniable ageability.

Pinotage is described as a marmite with it really dividing opinion. Personally, I am a lover of this much maligned grape variety which for me often comes across as a really gamey and rustic pinot noir, but with more body and intensity.

Above the door of the tasting room at Kanonkop there is the quote that: "Pinotage is the juice extracted from women's tongues and lions' hearts. After having a sufficient quantity one can talk forever and fight the devil." As not the most the most persistent raconteur nor battler of Beelzebub this makes the wines even more appealing.

The wines of Kanonkop are amongst the best in Stellenbosch, if not South Africa generally, and are more readily available in the UK than those of Warwick or Villiera. They are on the more expensive end of the scale for South African wines, however, once you consider their place in terms of quality they are a real bargain and provide a lot more than their counterparts from Europe in the same price bracket.

Paul Sauer can be purchased at Majestic for £30 (£25 per bottle if you buy two), the Estate Cabernet is available at The Wine Society for £22 (or for £23.99)  and the Estate Pinotage can be bought at Majestic for £27.50 (£22.50 pb when you buy 2). However, Kanonkop's entry level pinotage Kadette is very reliable and a good introduction to the grape variety whilst being competitively priced and The Wine Society's Exhibition Pinotage from Kanonkop is £10.50 and terrific.

All in all the day was truly fantastic and very memorable to all of us. I cannot commend enough the wineries in their hospitality and confirm that all welcome the public making them terrific to visit if
you ever find yourself around the cape and with the thirst for wines at the forefront of your mind.

As an added bonus, Villiera offer 2-hour safaris in the wildlife reserve and at Warwick there are grape safaris where visitors are driven up into the vineyards to take in the various plots of grapes, taste them and get a feel of the different characters whilst they are compared to the 5 different large game in South Africa (lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhino).

An amazing experience that won’t soon be bested.

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