Two Signature Grapes from South Africa via Ken Forrester and Kanonkop Wineries

South Africa flagToday I have wines from the two signature grapes of South Africa; Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.  Chenin Blanc hailing from France but has flourished in South Africa. Pinotage, a red grape, was created in South Africa in the early 1920s, by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault. 
Kanonkop Wine Estate and Ken Forrester Vineyards are both located in the quality wine region known as Stellenbosch.  It is one of the oldest and most important wine-producing regions in South Africa.  I was privileged to have met and tasted wines with Ken Forrester here in Vancouver before COVID.  He is a quality producer of Chenin Blanc wines around the world.

About Ken Forrester Vineyards and Chenin Blanc

Karl MyWinePal with Ken Forrester

Karl MyWinePal with Ken Forrester

I wrote about Ken Forrester Vineyards in a previous article.  In part, I said “…Ken Forrester and his wife started their winery together with their young family;  Buying a large 38 ha plot of land in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, and working with farmers over 90 ha of scattered parcels.  Ken wanted to produce the best wine in the world and has been working with the Chenin Blanc grape to try to achieve that goal.  He is doing very well with Chenin Blanc and may be viewed as one of the Chenin experts in the world.

Ken Forrester grows all their fruit on the estate.  They farm organically with the thought toward social responsibility.  Not wanting to put chemicals on the vines which can ultimately be bad for the environment.  Ken feels that 80% of a wine’s quality comes from the vineyard, so he treats the vineyards very well.  When it is time for harvest he hires people to help hand harvest the grapes.  Fruit-driven wine is top of his mind, so he keeps oak contact to a minimum. All the Chenin Blanc wines are also fermented using indigenous yeasts…”  You can read my full article about Ken Forrester here.

Chenin Blanc is originally from the Loire Valley in France where it makes a wide range of wines from dry table, to sparkling, to sweet wines.  In South Africa, Chenin Blanc can have fresh fruit and delicate floral aromas and flavours of apple, melon, apricot, guava and pineapple, complemented with crisp acidity.  Oak ageing adds a richer mouth feel. One of it’s virtue that aging benefits this grape. The wine will deepen to a straw-gold, and have added flavours of honey and nuts.  As of 2020, South Africa has 17,103 ha of Chenin Blanc vines planted, with is more than the rest of the world combined! 

About Kanonkop Wine Estate and Pinotage

Kanonkop Wine Estate (Image courtesy Kanonkop Wine Estate)

Kanonkop Wine Estate (Image courtesy Kanonkop Wine Estate)

From the winery, “Kanonkop is a 4th generation family-owned wine estate, which has been handed down from generation to generation and is now in the hands of brothers Paul and Johann Krige…The estate was founded in 1929 but the first wines bearing the Kanonkop label were not produced until 1973…The name Kanonkop is derived from a hillock (kop) on the Simonsberg mountain above the wine estate from where, during the 17th and 18th centuries, a cannon (kanon) was fired to announce the arrival of sailing ships entering Table Bay…The roar of the cannon would be the signal to local farmers, who were waiting to make the 50-kilometer journey to the harbour, to load up their wagons with fresh fruit and vegetables to barter their produce…

…Kadette is the second label for Kanonkop Wine Estate, which produces more wines with grapes other than from their own vineyards, but still under careful inspection by the winery. The Pinotage is made from younger, approx 15 year old, bush vines. The wines spend 12 months in older French oak barrels. 50% of their own vineyards is planted with Pinotage.”

Pinotage, a home-grown cross of two French varieties, Pinot Noir and Cinsault, was created in 1925 at Stellenbosch University. The first wine was made in 1941 and as well the first commercial planting was established at Kanonkop Estate that same year. It typically produces deeply coloured red wines with smoky, bramble, and earthy flavors, sometimes with notes of banana.  There are currently three styles of Pinotage are being produced in South Africa:

  1. powerful and structured,
  2. fresh and medium-bodied, and
  3. “chocolate” Pinotage

My Wine Tasting Notes

Ken Forrester Vineyards Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019 (BC $21.99)

Appearance: A bright, deep golden colour.
Nose: Pronounced aged aromas showing toast, butterscotch, apples and apricots, plus a touch of petrol, and hints of sweet spices and honey behind these other aromas. Some lemon with air. Much more pineapple and lemon aromas with decanting and no petrol.
Palate: Dry, medium-plus body, round, with a waxy texture and higher acidity that leaves a light prickle.  Roasted apples and pears, butterscotch and toast, plus dried apricots flavours.  The wine does get lighter on the mid-palate.  With air, I also picked up some apple blossom. A little lighter-bodied with decanting and not as waxy a texture.  Softer mouthfeel, plus less apricot flavour.
Finish: A long length finishing with light toast, dried apricots, butterscotch and pineapple, and a hint of apple blossom. 
Decanting or not is OK.  If you decant the wine will be softer and you will get more pineapple aroma and flavour.

: 4 out of 5 stars4.5 out of 5 stars A quality wine deeply gold in colour.  A complex nose with toast, butterscotch apples, apricots, plus some sweet spices and honey.  Dry and round with a waxy texture and higher acidity.  Roasted apples and pears, plus apricot and butterscotch flavours.  Add pineapple aroma and flavour with decanting. 
Ken Forrester Vineyards Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019 and Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2018 with wines in glasses

Ken Forrester Vineyards Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019 and Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2018 with wines in glasses

Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2018 (BC $24.99)

Appearance: Almost opaque garnet with a significant ruby tint.
Nose: Medium intensity aromas with a mix of leather/earthy, plums, black cherries, oak and vanilla. About the same aromas with decanting.
Palate: Slightly off-dry, medium-bodied, soft and round with light, fine-grained tannins.  Black fruit, blackberries and black cherries, candied black fruit, plus a mix of vanilla and other sweet spices.   Leather and chocolate with air.  The tannins become a bit firmer with decanting, a little less candied fruit, and now a touch of cocoa toward the finish.
Finish: A medium length, a little shorter than I would prefer.  Light pepperiness, with ripe black cherry flavour. The length seems a bit longer with decanting.
I think a short decant helps this wine a bit.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars An almost opaque garnet & ruby colour.  Medium intensity nose with aromas of leather/earthiness, black cherries, oak and vanilla.  Medium body, slightly off-dry.  Round and soft mouthfeel.  Black fruit, black cherries and blackberries, and a mix of sweet spices on the palate.  A medium length.

Where Can I Buy These Wines?

You can purchase these wines at BC Liquor stores:

The Chenin Blanc is also available at Everything Wine:

  • Ken Forrester Vineyards Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2019

Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.