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Eight Wise Men

This week there are many stories to tell. Having been offered a collection of 2002 Kanonkop Pinotage in eight different bottle sizes, we thought we’d have to start from the beginning in order to communicate the gravity of the situation.

Eight Wise Men

An Immigrant Grape

We’d firstly like to dispel any negative connotations one might have regarding the term ‘immigrant’; the majority of the world’s population being immigrants either voluntarily or involuntarily; and the fact that being an immigrant is never particularly easy, therefore why add to the woe? In fact when using it in reference to the Pinotage grape, the only real South African grape, it is used with a sense of pride. Mostly when immigrants survive in Africa it is due to a certain amount of grit, which they either HAD to begin with, or developed. Now the Prince of French varietals, the Pinot Noir, being a particularly finicky grape was ill-suited to our African climate and proved difficult to grow successfully. Subsequently, Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch introduced the Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes (we’re guessing in a somewhat unromantic manner)- the Cinsault being of hardier stuff and more willing to grow in our African soils. Together they created something truly unique, something that Perold almost forgot about.


It was a young lecturer, Charlie Niehaus, who remembered Perold’s experiment and rescued the seedlings from his overgrown garden before the university cleared the space. In the beginning Pinotage wasn’t well-received, a common response to immigrants. It was too hot, with faint tangs of acetone and rusty nails, but then they had forgotten, they still had the remnants of a French Prince to cater to. Through the years winemakers learnt to temper and accentuate the grape, none better so than Beyers Truter, formerly of Kanonkop and today, one of the founders of Beyerskloof. He seemed to understand the grape, in fact he was the first South African to be named International Winemaker of the Year in 1991 at the International Wine and Spirit Competition, for his quintessential South African wine. Today Beyers Truter is the Chairman of the Pinotage Association and is joined on the Committee by Kanonkop’s current winemaker, Abrie Beeslaar. Beeslaar himself having won the same IWSC award in both 2008 and 2015. Kanonkop is therefore the winery credited with the successful introduction and ongoing production of Pinotage, the point being that if you were to buy Pinotage, you’d buy Kanonkop. Since 1991 their wines have topped international awards lists, not least because of the winemaking but also because of the potential of the Pinotage grape to age. The very tannic nature of the Pinotage skin allows for intricate ageing which can produce various intriguing flavours such as banana and chocolate, which brings us to the next part of our story.

The Kings of Old

Rehoboam was an Israelite king, son of Solomon, grandson of David, ‘he who enlarges the people’. Jeroboam was the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel after Rehoboam’s kingdom became divided, “he pleads the people’s cause.” Methuselah was credited as the oldest man in the Bible, 969 years old, the grandfather of Noah, “his death shall bring judgment”. Salmanazar was the King of Assyria, there were six of them. Balthazar was one of the wise men, or the three kings who visited the baby Jesus on the night of his birth, bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh. Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest and most powerful of the Babylonian kings and credited with the construction of the hanging gardens of Babylon, “Nebo, protect the crown.” Melchoir was another of the three kings, the King of Persia, the one who brought the gold as a symbol of kingship. Solomon was the king of Israel and the son of David (and the father of Rehoboam, if you’re keeping up), he was said to be the wisest of kings though deeply flawed. Melchizedek, “the king of righteousness”, mostly described in association with the Messiah. And then there’s Goliath, the Philistine who was killed by a young David and his infamous slingshot. Now you might ask what do these Kings and Sinners have in common other than the obvious. As you know we like to dabble in the not-so-obvious, which begs the question why are all of these Biblical men credited with large format wine bottles? 

Big Bottles

For instance: Jeroboam is a 3 litre bottle, Rehoboam is 4.5 litres, a Bordeaux Jeroboam (no we don’t know where Bordeaux and Jeroboam intersect) is 5 litres, while an Imperial is 6 litres, Methuselah is also 6 litres but only used for Champagne or Sparkling wine, Salmanazar is 9 litres, Balthazar is 12 litres, Nebuchanezzar is 15 litres, Melchoir is 18 litres, Solomon is 20 litres, Sovereign 25 litres, Goliath 27 litres and Melchizedek 30 litres. If you want to get even more technical, which you KNOW we’re itching to do: you’ve got a Cylinder which is a 100ml used in Sauternes and Tokaji, a Chopine which is 250ml used in France, a half Clavelin which is 310 ml and used for vin Juane, a Tenth which is 378ml, a Jennie which is 500ml and used for Sweet Wine, a full Clavelin which is 620ml for Vin Juane, a litre which is used in the US (we’re not going to say what we want to say here) and a Marie Jeanne which is 2.25 litres. Marie Jeanne must have been a big girl. 

Big Bottle Wine

It is our humble opinion that the Biblical titles were selected because the Church initially controlled most of the vineyards in France, and that the names had to communicate the Biblical results these large format bottles had in the cellar…good Biblical, not apocalyptic Biblical. The thing about large format bottles is that they are perfect for ageing. This because it allows the wine to age slower, due to the thickness of the glass, the smaller amount of wine that is exposed to oxygen and sulfur dioxide right at the top of the bottle; as well as the fact that larger amounts of wine will temper any temperature variations, which also have an impact on the rate of ageing. It is often found that the same wine can have a distinctly different taste from a standard sized bottle to a Balthazar sized bottle. And something we invite you to test. Given Pinotage’s proclivity for ageing well and the fact that our current offering has already been cellared for 15 years, we’d be intrigued to gauge the influence these Eight Wise Men have had on an honest South African grape, you?

Published On: 03/02/2017

Daléne Fourie

Twitter @DaleneFourie

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