Tasting Hamilton Russell’s 2018 Releases – A Small Concentrated Vintage of Distinguished Power and Depth…

I recently caught up with my favourite Hemel-en-Aarde couple Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell in London while en route to Prowein. I always love tasting their new releases because you can rest assured that the quality of both their iconic Chardonnay and their Pinot Noir will be pushed higher every year, vintage permitting, as maestro winemaker Emul Ross spins his magic and learns to harness something extra from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley terroir of the winery.

According to Anthony, the 2017 releases were stylistically considered a very elegant vintage and the subsequent 2018s a very low yielding year primarily due to damaging winds at flowering. But they managed to achieve an impressive fruit intensity at low alcohols using their own propagated Hamilton Russell yeasts developed after 1993. The Chardonnay 2018 was bottled in late December 2018.

Tasting the new 2018 releases with Anthony Hamilton Russell and Steven Spurrier.

The Pinot Noir 2018 release shows a tantalising melange of dark Gevrey Chambertin styled fruit with the structural richness of the 2016 combined with the Chambolle Musigny elegance and purity of the Hamilton Russell 2017. But apparently the 2018 wine continues to divide local opinion. The wine was bottled in late January 2019 unfined and with only the very coarsest of filtration.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.2 Abv.

Chatting to Anthony before tasting the 2018, he warned there might still be a hint of reduction on this young white wine. But to be honest, I found it very fresh, pure and delightfully fragrant, though perhaps aromatically a little more restrained and mineral at the moment, showing more yellow citrus, lemon pastille and wet chalk rather than struck match reduction. There is still a very subtle juvenile lick of salted caramel and vanilla spice from the oak barrel ageing, but on the palate, this is where the real pedigree of this wine is revealed. An ultra tight, pinpoint textural finesse, plenty of core energy and a classically restrained Burgundian dry lemon and limestone finish. Wonderfully intense and focused but simultaneously a suave and supremely balanced Chardonnay from the Walker Bay. Give this wine another 6 months in bottle after release and then indulge at will.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Enjoying some fine red and white Burgundy with Olive and Anthony while exploring the nuances of the 2018 vintage in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.4 Abv.

Every new release reveals a vintage of Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir that is again purer, finer and more distinguished than the previous vintage. The 2018 is no exception showing a broody dark fruited nose with lashings of black cherry, black currant and salted black plums. At this young stage, the oak is incredibly well integrated allowing both the purity of black berry fruit and the limestone minerality to really shine through. On the palate, alluring hints of blueberry and mulberry dance a tightly choreographed routine supported by a well drilled accompaniment of mineral tannins finishing with a long, sappy, black bramble berry finish. This must surely rank as one of the finest young Pinot Noirs produced at the winery to date. Drink from 2020 until 2035+

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

A wine that divides opinion? Well, if the 2016 Pinot Noir can be considered more structured and Gevrey in style, the 2017s certainly earned an instant following with their feminine Chambolle styled elegance. For me, the 2018 Pinot is a dead ringer for a 1er Cru Nuits St Georges displaying depth and power, concentration and intensity of fruit with an artisanal workman-like Pinot Noir rusticity showing it’s hand. Classicists will be bowled over, novices might initially be slightly more challenged. Either way, the 2018 represents one of the highest quality “new era” Pinot Noir releases from the winery yet.

The Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African White Wines of the Year 2018…

What a fabulous year for South African wine it has been! Of course for many 2018 was extra special because a lot of people who may not normally go to South Africa regularly made the pilgrimage down to Cape Wine 2018 in September. Personally, I made four separate visits to South Africa this year including a mammoth 10 day mega session that covered both the Nederburg Auction and the entire week of the Cape Wine trade fair.

— 🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁 …. drum roll ….

So for 2018, my Top 10 South African White Wines of the Year are as follows:

Alheit Family Wines Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Sadie Family Wines Old Vines Series ‘T Voetpad 2017, Swartland – 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Lukas Van Loggerenberg Kameraderie Chenin Blanc 2017 – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Sadie Family Wines Palladius White Blend 2016, Swartland – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Alheit Family Wines Magnetic North Chenin Blanc 2017, Skurfberg – 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

David & Nadia Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc 2017, Swartland – 96+/100 GregSherwood MW

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Radicales Libres White Blend 2012, Swartland – 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Restless River Ava Maria Chardonnay 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Naude Family Wines Old Vines Semillon 2016, Western Cape – 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2015, Constantia – 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

A huge heartfelt congratulations to all the distinguished producers who made my Top 10 Whites this year. Merry Christmas! 🎄🍷

Coming up next before the New Year… the ultimate Fine Wine Safari Top 10 South African Red Wines of the Year 2018. Definitely not to be missed!

Exploring the Incredible New Californian Releases from the Highly Talented Paul Lato…

Paul Lato was born in Poland. He worked as a certified sommelier in one of Toronto’s most exclusive restaurants and only visited California for the first time in the early 1990s.  Jim Clendenen, the owner of ABC Winery and Clendenen Wines, was influential in finally getting Paul to pack up and move to California to take up a job at Bien Nacido Vineyards. But it was really only after a rave review after a chance encounter between Robert Parker and “the Polish sommelier making wine” that Paul’s stardom was truly sealed. 

Paul was recently in London to launch his famously sought after new releases of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah which are unsurprisingly highly allocated and difficult to secure. After reviewing a large selection of Paul’s incredible 2015 whites and reds, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to taste the new 2016 releases. The intensity, purity and freshness Paul manages to capture both in his whites and his reds is truly impressive.

These are definitely wines to seek out and find a home for in your cellar. They are not necessarily cheap, but then wines of this quality and precision never are, wherever they are produced. Paul’s wines were certainly some of the most exciting wines I tasted in 2017 and his new vintages look certain to continue his phenomenal run of form.

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2011, 14.5 Abv.

Opulent, hedonistic style showing evolved aromatics of stewed quince, honied waxy lemons, stem ginger, pear purée and apple spice. The palate is very creamy, supple and plush, spreading across the mouth with great concentration and intensity. Very youthful but absolutely delicious and great integrity.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2015, 13.9 Abv.

Rich opulent nose brimming with lemon confit, intense white citrus pith and tangerine peel. Incredibly finely integrated oak melting into a creamy, textural palate of pineapple and lemon pastille with a tender kiss of salted caramel. Wow. 

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Le Souvenir Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2016, 14.3 Abv.

Riper, youthful green melon fruits mingle with lemon blossom, notes of sweet Seville oranges and white citrus. Despite a higher Abv than the 2015, there plenty of is tension, glycerol texture and a lovely youthful woodspice finish. 

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato East of Eden Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, 14.5 Abv.

This last bottle of Paul’s first vintage of the Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay. Lovely exotic aromatics of apple pastille fruits, lemon bon bons and fresh buttered white toast. Palate is full and rich, plush and textured, showing excellent youthful crystalline purity, bright yellow citrus and the most delicious brioche and lemon biscuit finish. Very classy.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato East of Eden Pisoni Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, 14.3 Abv.

Very fine, floral, pin point aromatics with incredible purity and focus. White citrus, yellow citrus pastille and custard cream pastries. Palate shows impressive tension and vibrancy, energy and freshness all wrapped in a wave of intense concentration. Great length and power but with an incredible fruit ~ minerality equilibrium.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The skin contact Batana Malvasia Bianca 2016 from Paul Lato – one of the most exciting whites I tasted from anywhere in 2018!

Paul Lato Batana Larner Vineyard Malvasia Bianca 2016, 13.5 Abv.

Lifted exotic aromatic nose of pithy pear, baked apples, tangerine peel, marmalade, stem ginger and resinous sappy spice. Taut and fresh, mouth-wateringly vibrant and bright, brimming with cherry skin pith, crunchy quince, green apple and passion fruit sorbet. Profound purity, intensity and complexity. One of the most impressive wines I have tasted in a very long time.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Lancelot Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, 14.8 Abv.

Cool, dark, earthy broody nose of forest floor, sous bois and earthy red forest berries. 10 years old and beautifully youthful, showing a subtle lick of oak and savoury notes of peaches, red currant, loganberry and red plums. Fine minerality and complexity. Delicious now.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Suertes Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Maria Valley, 14.8 Abv.

Earthy red foresty nose with hedgerow spice, sappy red plum, pomegranate and blood oranges. Very plush and concentrated, piercing intensity and a long, fruit driven finish with crazy complexity, textural breadth and mineral nuance.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Suertes Solomon Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, Santa Maria Valley, 14.1 Abv.

Lifted perfumed nose of bramble berry, pomegranate, gun flint, graphite and black cherry spice. Beautifully fresh and pure, vibrant and intense with crystalline sappy red forest fruits, spice orange peel and macerated blood orange and graphite finish. Wow. Really beautiful, harmonious wine with artisanal character.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Atticus John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, 14.2 Abv.

Beautifully fragrant nose with a more piquant note. Plenty of cherry blossom, rose petals, lavender and sweet lilac depth that intermingles with sour red cherry, red apple and pomegranate spice. Palate is pithy and sleek, textured and spicy with classical Pinot Noir elegance, vibrantly fresh acids and a long, harmonious finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Cinematique Syrah Larner Vineyard Syrah 2008, 15 Abv.

Lovely deep, broody, savoury nose with almost Priorat style depth, bramble berry fruits, sweet red currant, freshly sliced bresaola and stewed earthy plums. There is a subtle kiss of oak, creamy foresty depth, a lovely smoky intricacy and a sweet toasty coffee bean finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2009, 15 Abv.

A wonderfully complex nose filled with wood smoke, charcoal embers, spicy black currant, cured meats and savoury graphite spice. Palate is cool and fleshy, piquant and exotic with black berry confit, coffee bean, espresso and a long, sappy, meaty, black olive finish. Drinking very well now.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Lato Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2014, 15.4 Abv

Darker, more taut mineral aromatics speak of this cooler Syrah vineyard. Quite saline and mineral with cassis, black berry, graphite and sea breeze nuances. Beautifully pure and creamy, textured and mineral, embroidered by bright acids and a real energy. Very impressive expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Lunch with Paul Lato and his wines at new 1 Star Michelin restaurant Hide by Ollie Dabbous.

Paul Lato with Hide Restaurant and Hedonism Wines owner Yevgeny Chichvarkin.

Allocations available in the UK through importer Tiger Vines.

Marc Kent and Gottfried Mocke Extending Their Winemaking Portfolio in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting the New Cap Maritime 2017 Releases…

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley seems to be a popular region for brand extensions. Producers like Wellington based Bosman Family Wines has recently branched out there and now so too has Franschhoek / Swartland based producer Boekenhoutskloof under the Cap Maritime label.

With no vineyards currently in the ground, viticulturist Rosa Kruger has been tasked with designing and planting the new Cap Maritime vineyards for Marc Kent and winemaker Gottfried Mocke, who will lease vineyards nearby until their own plantings come on stream. In the meantime, the 2017 and 2018 vintages have already been vinified at their Franschhoek winery, although there will be no brand association of Cap Maritime with the parent company, in a similar way to which Porseleinberg operates and is marketed separately.

Cap Maritime Chardonnay 2017, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5 Abv.

Making great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir come naturally to Gottfried Mocke and however successful he is at Boekenhoutskloof with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is Chardonnay specifically that shows off his true talents. The new release Cap Maritime Chardonnay is overtly mineral and stony with layers of limestone, crushed rocks and wet river pebble nuances melting into a melange of yellow citrus, white blossom, grape jelly, green melon preserve and the most sublte kiss of French oak spice. The palate displays a full plump mouthful with hints of ginger bread, grapefruit peel, wet chalk, green honeydew melon, pithy apple skins and a complex vanilla pod spice finish. Seamless and fresh with a harmonious texture from start to finish, this wine shows great refinement and would not look out of place standing amongst some of the finest young Pouilly Fuisses of Burgundy. Drink on release or cellar for 2 to 3+ years before opening.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Cap Maritime Pinot Noir 2017, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 14 Abv.

This 2017 release is a wonderfully classically proportioned Pinot Noir true to its terroir of the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Sensual and fleshy, sleek and beautifully perfumed, the aromatics are lifted and opulent, brimming with crushed maraschino cherries, pink musk, parma violets, dusty limestone and a sappy resinous complexity. There is none of the structural tannic frame as seen on many 2016 Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir wines but rather more elegant mineral laden red and black berry fruits that show delicious purity together with mouth watering acidity. I don’t think you would confuse this expression for Old World Burgundy, like you could for the Chardonnay, but there is nevertheless all the tell tail hallmarks of a very fine terroir combined with intelligent winemaking. Drink this on release and over the next 6 to 8 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Affordable and Accessible Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting the La Vierge The Affair 2016…

Everyone knows Pinot Noir is not an easy grape to cultivate to high quality standards and certainly it does not make for good cheap wine very easily… if at all! The grapes for the La Vierge The Affair Pinot Noir were harvested in six batches by hand for this delicious cuvee, enjoying cool early morning temperatures with vines yielding 2 to 4 tons/ha (13 – 26 hl/ha)… which is relatively meagre.

In the cellar, after overnight cold storage the grapes were sorted, destemmed and gently crushed into fermentation tanks. Cold maceration occurred for an average of 3 days until spontaneous fermentation begun. The wine was then fermented under controlled temperatures until dry. The skins were then lightly pressed and the wine racked into a selection of French oak barrels for 9 months ageing and maturation. The final blending occurred one month prior to bottling and the wine was allowed to develop further in bottle prior to release. The results are impressive for this heartbreak variety!

La Vierge lying just north of Hermanus in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

La Vierge The Affair Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

The Affair Pinot Noir 2016 is a refined, stylish Pinot Noir showcasing the love affair between the soft feminine side of Pinot Noir, being the lifted floral perfume, hints of potpourri and spice, the textural silkiness; and the masculine linear strength of the mineral tannins, hints of oak and brooding dark forest floor aromas. The palate is both silky and textured, displaying a lovely fleshy rondeur as well as soft, integrated tannins, crisp bright acids and impressive length. High quality cool climate Pinot Noir for an excellent price… the vinous holy grail! Drink now and over 5 to 8 years. 

(90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Recommended Retail Price in the UK £18.99pb

Another Bright Young Winemaker to Watch in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting Natasha Williams Signature Wines Chardonnay…

After many years of industry employers frowning upon winemakers and assistant winemakers doing their own creative side projects, it has thankfully now almost become the norm with employees free to experiment and let their creative juices flow while the employer not only retains the winemaker but undoubtedly benefits from the extra knowledge and creative inspiration spawned by these side projects.

The latest one on my radar is the highly talented Natasha Williams who by day works at the Bosman Winery’s Hemel-en-Aarde property but “after hours” makes some delicious Chardonnay under Natasha Williams Signature Wines. I recently acquired a sample of her new 2017 Chardonnay and what a cracker it is!

Produced from grapes originating in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, a specially selected high density (6667 vines per HA) block from the DeBos Farm was vinified to produce 1,060 bottles. Picked early in the morning, the grapes were trucked to the Lelienfontein Cellar in Wellington where they were basket pressed and the juice allowed to start a spontaneous natural yeast fermentation lasting 2 months with 50% in concrete tanks and 50% in older 300 litre French oak barrels. The wine spent 10 months on fine lees in 3rd and 4th fill barrels before being racked and aged a total of 16 months in French oak. (13 Abv., 3.31 pH, 5.84 TA, 2.2 RS).

Natasha Williams Chardonnay 2017, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

An attractive cooler climate expression of Chardonnay is always a vinous treat from South Africa. In the glass you can indulge in a wonderful bouquet of pithy lemon and lime peel, limestone minerality, dusty crushed gravel, white pepper and yellow grapefruit preserve with just the most subtle salted toffee vanilla oak kiss. On the palate, the wine is classically steely and linear as you’d expect but with an incredibly fine accompanying textural balance, waxy soap stone minerality, grated lemon rind, more limestone, caramelised green fig and succulent ripe honeydew melon notes on the finish. I love the purity, crystallinity and elegance that is ever present with the wine never straying too far into the reductive spectrum while retaining a wonderful sense of restraint. A very impressive solo debut from winemaker Natasha Williams.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Top Flight Chardonnay from Errazuriz’s Aconcagua Costa Estate – Tasting the Las Pizarras Chardonnay 2015…

In May 2018 I reviewed the delicious new 2017 Las Pizarras Chardonnay release, undoubtedly the most impressive Chardonnay I have ever tasted from Chile. This is a wine that redefines top flight Chardonnay quality from South America and joins a rarefied handful of wines including Catena’s White Stones and their White Bones cuvees from Argentina as stand out examples.

I recently got to taste the excellent 2015 Las Pizarras vintage again. Produced from vines grown on mostly Schist soils, this wine was aged for 9 months in French oak barrels and retains an incredibly restrained Burgundian expression. Indeed, it was this very wine that almost cracked the New World selection for the wines chosen to compete against Burgundy in the Great Blind Chardonnay Tasting 2018.

Las Pizarras Chardonnay 2015, Aconcagua Costa Valley, Chile

A crystalline bright straw canary yellow colour, the electricity is so evident in this superb wine. The nose is the most beguiling mix of liquid limestone, lime peel, lemon grass, wet slate and seductive orange blossom. Your palate is met with an incredible intensity, pithy citric lightning bolt that runs through your body. So delicious, fresh and pithy with the liquid minerality continuing to the finish. Just the right amount of complexing flinty struck match reduction guides you to a very happy place especially if you’re a Chardonnay connoisseur. A really incredible wine from Chile. Certainly a game changer. Drink now to 2030+

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood