After Five Superb Vintages of Pinot Noir Tesselaarsdal Prepares to Release Their Maiden Chardonnay 2019…

Of all the new start up wineries in South Africa over the past three or four years, one of my favourites has got to be Berene Saul’s Tesselaarsdal winery who’s wines are currently made at Hamilton Russell Vineyards in consultation with winemaker Emul Ross, from fruit contracted in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge ward of the Walker Bay Region.

Ever since I first tasted the first release of Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2015 in January 2016, I have been smitten by the wine’s reoccurring freshness, purity, and intensity, vintage after vintage.

So when I visited Berene and Emul for a flying visit in May 2019, I was thrilled to taste the component parts of the new maiden release Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay. Due to be bottled in early September, the pre-release samples I tasted back in May were most definitely super expressive and very exciting meriting a pre-release note and score.

Tasting with Berene Sauls and Emul Ross in May 2019.

Watch out for this new white addition to the Tesselaarsdal range as this wine is likely to sell out as quickly as its Pinot Noir sibling. Made from fruit sourced from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge from 12 year old vines, 3000 litres was produced from 5 tons of grapes or 600 cases of 6. A portion of the wine was aged in amphora and the rest in French oak barriques.

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Amphora Portion:
A bright and attractive nose of citrus blossom, acacia, sweet lemon grass and leesy spice with a fine dusty mineral note. Palate is super concentrated and lush but also shows a reluctant restraint. Plenty of creamy lemon pie, lemon peel, white toast and green apple purée. Again, very expressive but also deliciously classical and restrained.

Barrel Portion:
More expressive white citrus with melted honey on warm white toast, white citrus blossom and dusty vanilla spice. Palate is creamy, glycerol and rich with a fantastic textural mouthfeel, a harmonious balance and a lemon / lime acidity to add vibrant vigour. Together with the amphora portion, this should make for a very impressive glass of ‘old world’ styled classical cool climate Chardonnay.

(Wine Safari Score: 91-93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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.

Another Great Vintage Performance From Hamilton Russell Vineyards – Tasting the New Release Pinot Noir 2017…

Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ wines have been on fire the past three vintages with young talent Emul Ross at the winemaking helm. In early March I caught up with Walker Bay royalty, Anthony and Olive Hamilton-Russell to taste the new Chardonnay and Pinot Noir releases from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, one year later to the day precisely after tasting them in barrel with Anthony and Emul.

The 2017 harvest was back to normal timings after particularly early 2015 and 2016 harvests. The 2017 harvest was short with all fruit coming in before the end of February. Based on average temperatures, 2017 was a warm harvest at 0.53 centigrade above average. Rainfall was only 10mm below the long term average, so conditions could not be described as particularly dry. Yields were well under 35 hl/ha. The Pinot Noir was fermented in stainless steel and then barrel aged for 10 months with full malolactic fermentation in 37% new French oak, 35% second fill, and 28% third fill barrels.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, Abv 13.31

First tasted from barrel in March 2017, I was excited to get another look at this finished wine in bottle. Already very showy, perfumed and quite generous on the nose with layers of sun dried cranberries, strawberry confit, logan berry, pomegranate and earthy red plum notes wafting uninhibitedly out the glass. Beyond the pretty aromatics lurk seductive notes of peppermint crisp, dark chocolate and subtle vanilla pod and wood spice. The palate is equally seductive, vibrant and bright on the entry with the most mouth watering complexity of sweet cranberry, blood orange, caramelised red cherries and delicate cherry cola vermouth botanical nuances. Impressively elegant and balanced, this wine is only just starting to blossom. Surely destined to be a real beauty. Drink now to 2030+

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