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Knorhoek Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 joins the ranks of the upper classes

By Greg Sherwood

A lot of people thought the 1855 Bordeaux Classification would greatly simplify the French quality wine industry and set standards and structures in concrete. The best vineyard sites, with the best terroir and the most consistent history of quality, nicely packaged and organised.

Well, unlike the French, who now have the ever increasing band of super seconds, and several annoyingly high quality Cru Bourgeois, that simply do not know their place, here in South Africa, there are still plenty of wine peerages waiting to be bestowed on new, truly fine wine producers.

This month (April 2000), one of these coal-to-diamond in 2 years (instead of 3 million) star producers was unearthed. With heavy weights Delheim and Muratie Estates among its neighbours, Knorhoek Wines certainly stands in good company.

Knorhoek Farm, family owned for generations, is better known for its scenic guesthouse and conference facilities than for fine wines. Primarily grape growers, selling off their crop to other reputable Stellenbosch producers, the 1997 vintage marked the turning point when owners Hansie and James Van Niekerk retained a 900 ton parcel of prime quality grapes for the vinification of Knorhoek’s maiden wines. With the use of the Kleine Zalze Winery’s cellars and wine-making team, 5000 cases of 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Sauvignon blanc were produced.

With the 1997 weather conditions likened to a French-style vintage due to the late ripening of red grapes, and subsequent harvesting lasting well into the month of May, Knorhoek managed to craft a Cabernet that exhibits great suppleness, luscious new world fruit and excellently balanced tannins. This wine, although drinkable now, will definitely require at least 6 to 8 years maturation before revealing its full hand. We’re betting on a royal flush!

Even upon its initial release late last year, Knorhoek’s Cabernet garnered 4 out of 5 stars in the ‘John Platter South African Wine Guide 2000’ edition, and more recently, was rated the top 1997 South African Cabernet Sauvignon tasted, by South Africa’s WINE magazine. Earning 4 stars out of 5, Knorhoek beat a veritable Who’s Who of well known local Cabernet producers, including the likes of Thelema, Rustenburg and Saxenburg.

The bad news is that due to the recent "rush" on the wine, what with all the local hype, farm stocks are low and there certainly seems little hope of this 1997 vintage reaching any mainstream tasters in the USA or Europe. However, we have it on good authority from owners Hansie and James, that the 1998 vintage will also be nothing to be sneezed at, including the Pinotage, that is thought to be even better than the 1997 vintage.

So, considering the above situation, we did the next best thing and tasted the wines ourselves and scored them for all those interested out there. (See Tasting Notes)


Title: Knorhoek Cabernet Sauvignon

Vintage: 1997

Blend: Pure Cabernet Sauvignon - 13.5% Alcohol.

Colour: Medium to full depth of colour with an opaque heart. Red cherry, ruby rim rounded out with pink youthful meniscus. Very slight graduation of colour among all the density. "Clean and attractive" was a comment. No sediment and good legs.

Nose: Open and fairly forthcoming nose, with no off odours. Vibrant floral dustiness leading you to rich red and black sour plums that open up and dominate secondary aromas. Sharp peppery spiciness and perfume again masking richer, denser fruit modestly hiding in the background. Complexity develops in glass, with wet tobacco, cigars, prunes, blackberries (rather than cassis) evident. Good intensity of aromas, but still incredibly tight. Not revealing its full hand! Perfume continues to develop along with hints of mintiness.

Palate: Rich, intense, dry entry, with nose following exactly on to palate. Some toasty, charred vanillas start to make themselves known. Soft, smooth juicy mid-palate, that holds its ground against the more tight and astringent entry and finish. Dense fruit, good acidity, warm mouthfeel (alcohol) with a lot of flavours and sensations in the front of the mouth. Good dry fruit tannins and earthiness. Mid palate continues to fill out and overwhelm. Well balanced wine now, but no gratuitous, "easy, lazy" fruit to be found. Sufficient well integrated wooding (new and used barriques – 220Ltr & 330Ltr). Tight black plums, tabacco, pepper spice, vanilla, mintiness and youthful astringency continue unabated on the lingering, dry, ripe tannin finish. Glimpses of elegance in such a youthful, complex wine.

Serving Suggestions: If you are going to drink it know, pop down to the local delicatessen for a well cured game bird, or else, a nice tender roast leg of (Karoo) lamb will suffice. Stir a bit of wine into the gravy, if you can spare it?

Tasters Comments: This wine inevitably falls into the category of a serious wine. No up front, here today, gone tomorrow, mock firmness, so common on "big" show wines of South Africa and Australia. Tasters thought wine would "under perform" if tasted in too broad and rushed array of typical show wines. It needs a little bit more time for reflection and analysis due to masked flavours and richness. Nice to see a pleasant perfume aroma that does not carry through to the palate as bitterness or "soapiness" (my pet hate). In some ways showing aspects of a Pinotage, but without the jamminess and boiled sweets characters. Esters coming through? Overall, the fruit is more of a feeling than a big, flavour taste sensation, and it is not allowed to dominate, yet. This is one for the fine wine connoisseur who will indulge the wine making style and wine makers, with a few more years of cellaring.

Score: 17 / 20 (Possibly 17, taking potential development into account).

Market Prediction: Hit, if you can get it, and if you are disciplined enough to let it age a few years! (Hit or Miss?)


Owners: Hansie and James Van Niekerk.

Winemaker: Hansie Van Niekerk, with the Kleine Zalze team.

Production: 900 tons, 5000 cases – 60% red, 40% white.

Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon: 1997, 1998, Pinotage 1997, 1998, Sauvignon Blanc 1998, 1999.

Address: P.O.Box 2, Koelenhof 7605, Western Cape, South Africa

Tel / Fax: -27-21-882 2627

Tastings: By appointment.

Directions: Coming from Strand / Somerset West direction, take R44 north, towards Paarl. Left turn before you get to Kromme Rhee Road. You’ll see signs for Delheim and Muratie wine farms, if you miss the Knorhoek sign.

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