Upfront and Showy – Tasting the New Release Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2019…

It seems almost every year one corner of the Cape winelands or another is touched by bush fires. As a hangover of the long regional drought, wildfires have taken their toll in the Western Cape just as they have in California. Sadly, 2019 was no different and during this harvest, fires managed to wreak havoc across the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

The large wildfires which burnt along the borders of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards estate on January 11th 2019, necessitated the rejecting of almost all the 2019 Pinot Noir grown on site as a result of minor but noticeable smoke taint to the fruit. However, Hamilton Russell were luckily able to harvest their full Chardonnay crop before any smoke damage occurred and produced another very impressive expression.

Extremely warm, hot weather in May, June and July 2019 lead to uneven bud break and resulted in a -44% reduction in yields. Overall the vintage temperature averages were cooler than in both 2017 and 2018 and final quality was high amongst harvested grapes.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.2 Abv.

This wine shows the true pretty, overt appeal of the 2019 vintage without any of the usual youthful reduction and broody mineral austerity. The aromatics are bright, pure and lifted, ultra expressive, offering up seductive notes of Spring flowers, lemon cordial, green apple, yellow grapefruit confit and honeydew melon pastille sweets. The palate mirrors the aromatic succulence and generous fruit forward concentration boasting hallmark notes of sweet citrus fruit intensity, crystalline purity, tangy acids and a fleshy, glycerol harmonious persistence. A little more showy fruit immediacy will surely see this vintage race off the shelves with new and old Hamilton Russell collectors alike. Total production 2812 x 12.

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

Triumph from Tragedy – Tasting the New Release Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2019…

It seems almost every year one corner of the Cape winelands or another is touched by bush fires. As a hangover of the long regional drought, wildfires have taken their toll in the Western Cape just as they have in California. Sadly, 2019 was no different and during this harvest, fires managed to wreak havoc across the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

The large wildfires which burnt along the borders of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards estate on January 11th 2019, necessitated the rejecting of almost all the 2019 Pinot Noir grown on site as a result of minor but noticeable smoke taint to the fruit.

In a testament to the true spirit of the wine trade, local neighbours rallied around Hamilton Russell to offer quality parcels of fruit from unaffected areas to allow a 2019 wine to be produced. Grapes came in from the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and were, for the first time ever, blended into a Hamilton Russell WO Walker Bay Pinot Noir cuvee by winemaker Emul Ross.

Those with a sharp eye will notice the subtle label change from Hamilton Russell Vineyards to merely Hamilton Russell together with a Walker Bay branded capsule over the closure. This is a fabulous wine that truly is a triumph forged out of tragedy. Anthony’s only worry is that consumers might enjoy the wine’s extra forward, showy opulence too much and demand more of the same next year. Nevertheless, this is definitely a deliciously pure Pinot Noir wine worth buying!

Tasting the new Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir with Anthony Hamilton Russell in London recently.

47% Ridge (Babylon / Creation)

37% Upper (Sumaridge)

16% Valley (Hamilton Russell)

Winemaking changes involved: Less skin contact; More gentle extraction; Inoculation with Hamilton Russell Sauvage wild yeast strain.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2019, WO Walker Bay, 13.5 Abv.

Having only been bottled a couple of months ago, this 2019 cuvee is wonderfully generous and opulent with layered aromatics of ripe blood oranges, bruleed wood spice, sun raisined red cherry, red bramble berries and subtle hints of pomegranate spice. The palate is perhaps more fleshy, supple and open than a normal Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir would be at this youthful stage in its life but it is certainly no less juicy, mouth watering and seductive. The bright fruit forward expression, however attractive, does perhaps obscure some of the usual structure and mineral restraint found on most vintages of Hamilton Russell new releases, however as Anthony commented, “it’s almost like we have just changed coopers or barrel toasting as the fruit quality is still exceptional.” There is fabulous earthy red berry fruit complexity bolstered by fine creamy tannins and soft, tangy acids that steer the wine to a long, glycerol, textured finish packed with oodles of sex appeal. This may be a once-off cuvee born out of tragedy but it is certainly a triumphant wine with great character and upfront appeal. Drink from release or cellar for 6 to 8+ years.

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

Tasting the Ultimate Unicorn Pinotage Reds from Emul Ross and Eben Sadie…

I’ve been involved with the activities of the Cape Wine Auction Charity on and off since it’s first auction seven years ago. In 2020, I was very privileged to be invited to be their Honorary Global Fine Wine Ambassador and attend this special event that helped raise over R17 million rand for 25 well deserving wine land children’s charities, but which also crucially, took the seven year total raised to over R100 million to date! (£5.1m)

A brace of Pinotage unicorn wines.

One of the lots sold at last years auction in 2019 was an uber rare lot comprising of two barrels worth of Pinotage, one made by Hamilton Russell winemaker Emul Ross from Ashbourne Winery fruit and the other made by Swartland rock star Eben Sadie with fruit from the same vineyard at Ashbourne. Each wine was vinified in their own home cellars without the two winemakers liaising or comparing notes. In fact, after harvest, the first time the two spoke together again was around two months later and neither tasted the others wine until the actual day of the auction.

Emul pointing to the thin wedge shaped vineyard that provided the grapes.

The two barrel auction lot was bottled and labelled and offered exclusively at the 2019 Cape Wine Auction, which in the end, after frenzied bidding, raised £1m Rand and was divided between four bidding parties, with each paying R250,000 for just over 150 bottles, or just under R2000 per bottle.

The Ashbourne barrel.

Man & Soil Ashbourne Pinotage 2018, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5 Abv.

Emul’s version obviously bears a great resemblance to the flagship Ashbourne Estate Pinotage that he also makes. Wonderfully bright, pure fruited and crunchy on the nose, one anticipates vibrancy and vigour to follow on the palate and you’re not disappointed. There are expressive notes of black and red cherry, damson plum, wet leaves and tart black bramble berry fruits. The palate shows incredible freshness and energy with tart crisp acids framing pure notes of raspberry, blueberry and mineral laden earthy black plum. The oak is almost imperceptible allowing the wine to confidently boast its finest fruit and mineral characteristics. Very impressive.

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

The Sadie Family barrel.

Man & Soil Sadie Family Wines Pinotage 2018, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5 Abv.

Incredibly, this wine shows an earthy musky Swartland perfume and fragrance that is certainly not just in my subconscious. There are seductive notes of fresh potpourri, crushed rose petals, Jasmin and Iris blossom melting into sun raisined cranberry, damson plum and pink musk complexity. The palate shows a softer, rounder, riper more generous fleshy accessibility that reaches all corners of the mouth and washes over the tastebuds in waves of sweet earthy savoury black plums, loganberry and earthy red currant complexity. Plush and seductive without lacking any structure, this wine exhibits all the fabulous Sadie X factor that has made his other wines so famous!

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

None of these bottles are commercially available and therefore register pretty high up on the ultimate unicorn wine list. The fact they are such high quality but also age worthy and made by two of South Africa’s best winemakers seals their legendary cult status. A real privilege to drink these two bottles with Emul and friends a few hundred meters from the vineyard itself!

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)