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)

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!

Creation Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2018 Knocks It Out The Park In Spectacular Style…

The impressive Creation Winery in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region of Walker Bay has established itself in a relatively short period of time as one of the quality benchmark producers for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in South Africa. Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest. Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focusing mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

This new release 2018 comes from a vintage for which many producers held only modest hopes of producing top quality wines. The fourth drought vintage in a row had really started to take its toll on the Cape and its vineyards. However, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to a great extent, was spared the worst of the heat and drought conditions experienced around the other wine regions.

Creation Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2018, 13.5 Abv.

Made from a 19 year old single vineyard and aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels before being blended together to spend another 6 months in stainless steel before bottling. The aromatics show subtle wood spice, crushed limestone minerality, boxwood, grilled nuts, biscuity lees and fabulous lemon peel zest notes. Such beautiful salinity adds to the linear tension in the mouth, accompanied by pithy orange citrus nuances, crystalline acids and a very precise nervy length. This really is a fabulously accomplished wine for the vintage!

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

Peter-Allan Finlayson Unveils Some of His New Releases from Crystallum and Gabrielskloof in London…

Maybe it’s because Peter-Allan is the third generation of wine farmers in the Cape or maybe it’s just because he is just very intelligent, but few wine brands have been managed as professionally as Crystallum in global markets since the first Sauvignon Blanc was bottled in 2007.

Now focusing solely on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Peter-Allan was recently in London to unveil some of his new creations. But the secret of Crystallum’s massive success in London can be attributed to a combination of factors that aspiring brand owners should take note of. Firstly, he has a committed and highly professional distributor in the UK with Liberty Wines; the quality of the entire range has remained impressively high from day one; the pricing has been very constant and conservative, rising only very modestly over the past 12-13 years; this price stability and quality has built the brand a strong on-trade restaurant / sommelier following in the fine dining establishments of London.

Add this all up and you have a brand that sells out within a few months of arriving adding further to the all round collectability of the entire range.

 

Gabrielskloof Elodie 2018 Chenin Blanc, WO Swartland

Fermented and aged in old oak barrels, this is just classic intense old bush vine Chenin Blanc from two vineyards of 43 and 45 years old made in a minimalist hands off style. Oozes class and character with aromatics of fynbos, crunchy yellow orchard fruits and wet straw with an intense palate of white peach, granitic mineral spice, toasted almonds and pithy dried orange peel. Lovely definition and length. This is up there with some of the best old vine Chenin Blancs in South Africa.

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

 

Crystallum Clayshales Chardonnay 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Another superb rendition of this single vineyard wine from Ridge fruit that perfectly captures the cool, crystalline lemon and lime pastille fruit characters of Chardonnay grown at higher altitude. There are lovely white blossom and honey suckle notes with the most subtle kiss of white toast, vanilla pod spice and white peach. Still very youthful, but already the 2019s have a very impressive fruit/acid balance and a wonderfully integrated, harmonious honeyed leesy finish.

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

 

Crystallum The Agnes Chardonnay 2019, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

A beautiful expressive blend of Hemel-en-Aarde and Overberg Chardonnay fruit. The nose displays a wonderful saline, briney, taut mineral expression with notes of lime peel, lemon rind, honeydew melon and white peach. Restrained and focused on the palate entry, this is a very grown up, classy, serious Agnes that shows incredible restraint, minerality and mouth watering green apple crunch on the finish. Wow! This is so, so delicious. Crystalline pure Crystallum at its best! Bravo Peter-Allan!

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

 

Crystallum Peter Max 2019, WO Western Cape, 14 Abv.

A blend of four vineyards, three from the Hemel-en-Aarde and one high altitude Elandskloof vineyard. The nose speaks of old world Pinot Noir with classical mineral restraint, black bramble berries and earthy black currant with sweet, freshly cut straw aromatics. The palate is wonderfully crystalline and pure underpinned by a mouth watering acidity, fabulous varietal intensity, crunchy red berry energy and the most harmonious silky sleek texture. Hard to imagine how you could make a better Pinot Noir at this price point.

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

Other wines tasted:

Crystallum Mabalel 2018 Pinot Noir – 94+/100 GSMW

Crystallum Whole Bunch 2018 Pinot Noir – 95/100 GSMW

Gabrielskloof Landscape Series Syrah On Sandstone 2017 – 96/100 GSMW

The wines were presented alongside an incredible tasting menu at newly opened Sam’s Riverside Restaurant, the new venue for the famous Sam’s Brasserie that used to be in Chiswick, West London. The food was truly outstanding and helped cap off a superb evening of fine dining and wine.

Peter-Allan with host and restaurant owner Sam Harrison.

Sam’s Riverside

1 Crisp Walk

Hammersmith

London

W6 9DN

Crystallum and Gabrielskloof are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines.

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)

The Fine Wine Safari’s South African Wine Stars at the London Wine Fair 2019…

There has been a lot of speculation over the years about the usefulness of the London Wine Fair. I for one am very pleased it moved back to its home in Olympia from Excel, Docklands a couple of years ago. But ultimately, if we want such an institution to succeed, the broader London / UK wine trade needs to support the Fair with its attendance and engagement.

Personally, I found the London Wine Fair 2019 the perfect opportunity to catch up with some of South Africa’s top producers and taste a huge swathe of new releases. By the looks of the below scores, consumers are in for a block busters year of new releases!

London Wine Fair 2019: Highlights…

Cap Maritime Pinot Noir 2017, 14 Abv. – 92/100 GSMW

Rich, creamy and textural. Plenty of foresty bramble berry spice and delicious, ponderous vanilla pod nuances.

Cap Maritime Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Rich, broad and concentrated. Freshness with glycerol mouthfeel. Class written all over it. One to watch in the coming years!

Reyneke Reserve SB 2016, 12.5 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Sweet & sour pineapple pastille, root veg, wet thatch and a long bruised yellow orchard fruit length. The complexity is beguiling!

Reyneke Reserve Syrah 2015, 14 Abv. – 93/100 GSMW

Sweet plummy black berry nose full of peppercorns, wood spice and meaty, blueberry, liquorice length. Young but super impressive.

Boekenhoutskloof Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, 14.5 Abv. – 93+/100 GSMW

Sweet caramelised lick of black berry, cassis and vanilla oak spice. Plush, opulent, finely honed. Classy, pure expression of Cabernet.

Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2016, 14 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Brûléed earth, black berry confit and sweet grilled herbs. Impressive concentration, sweet, suave texture and an intense cured meat and barbecue smoke finish. Delicious.

Kanonkop 2009 Pinotage – 92/100 GSMW

Cool, bright fresh tart acids, bramble berry, freshly cut cedar, suave texture, ripe but also quite a chiselled, vibrant expression.

Kanonkop Pinotage 2017, 14 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

Piquant and lifted with exotic red fruits, incense, coffee bean and dried potpourri. Oh the perfume! Mesmerising expression.

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 14 Abv. – 93+/100 GSMW

Bright, soft earthy violets, lavendar and freshly tilled earth overlaying savoury spicy black berry fruits. Powder fine tannins, bright acids and superb structure. Classical expression of this cooler vintage.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2016 – 95+/100 GSMW

Deep and broody full of sweet grilled herbs, cured meats, bloody meat and earthy red currants with bright cherry acids, chalky tannins and a classically dry, mineral finish with just a kiss of blueberry rock candy on the finish. Thoroughly distinguished expression of this South African benchmark classic.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2017 – 97/100 GSMW

Sweet perfumed black berry, incense, coffee bean and black and blue berry spice. Suave and ultra hedonistic, liquid luxury with very fine freshness, great concentration and a super fine, pinpoint long finish. A new world Grand Cru.

Bouchard Finlayson Crocadile’s Lair Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Super bright citrus lemon and lime cordial lift, concentrated sweet lemon pastille, green apple, chalky minerality and super crystalline purity. Classy Chardonnay!

De Morgenzon The Divas Chenin Blanc 2017, 14 Abv. – 97+/100 GSMW

Dusty, pithy crunchy yellow apricot, white peach and baked yellow apples in pastry. Lovely tension, bright acids, stony minerality and a fine linear finish. As serious as a £100 bottle of white wine should be.

Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay 2017, 13.5 Abv. – 94+/100 GSMW

Super lifted chalky lemon and lime complexity with sappy spice, apple cordial and lemon pastille. Lovely concentration, creamy depth and beautiful opulence. Very fine. Best since 2015.

Oldenburg Chardonnay 2018, Stellenbosch, 13.5 Abv. – 92+/100 GSMW

Dusty sweet lemon rock candy, wet chalk and spicy wet thatch. Cool, bright lemon cordial fruit, kiss of vanilla oak and a beautifully long, focused finish. Lovely.

Oldenburg CL Shiraz – Merlot 2017 – 90+/100 GSMW

Super lush and vibrant, mouth filling and rich with bright acidity, attractive sweet black fruits and an enticing savoury, caramelised, meaty edge. Really superb!

Oldenburg Rondekop Rhodium 2015, 14.5 Abv. – 94+/100 GSMW

Rich, opulent and deep with sweet wet tobacco, brûléed coffee bean, buttered brown toast and sweet black currant reduction. Suave, polished and fleshy, this is a very classy rendition of a Bordeaux blend with all the requisite chalky tannin grip, linear acids and a focused, pin point finish. The class of the vintage shines through without doubt!

Elgin Ridge Chaos White Blend 2017, 14 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

Rich and exotic with delicious sweet white peach, green plum and pineapple pastille. Round, fleshy and long. A whole lot of wine.

Newton-Johnson Albariño 2018, 13 Abv. – 94/100 GSMW

Deliciously fleshy and round, sweet yellow fruit, white peach, green apple, sweet herbs and citrus peel. Very juicy and individual. Just love this wine!

Savage Follow the Line 2017, 13 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

Soft pulped strawberry, raspberry pith, sweet cherry confit and an impressively tight, focused, pure finish. Profound expression without doubt.

Illimis Chenin Blanc 2016, 14.5 – 93+/100 GSMW

Creamy and glycerol with dried herbs, lemon biscuits and a vanilla pod finish. Impressive.

Stand Alone Gamay Noir 2018, 13 Abv. – 92+/100 GSMW

38 year old vine Gamay planted in 1981. 30% whole cluster layered in tank. Sweet candied red fruit, red cherry zip and a long red currant confit finish. Very juicy. A wine that wants to be noticed! (Fruit sourced from the Villiera farm)

Blank Bottle Little William Ceres Syrah 2018 – 92+/100 GSMW

Beautifully leafy, sappy, ripe and intense with exotic crushed raspberry, cranberry with a fine grained palate of dried guava roll, marzipan and juicy red fruits. A thoroughly amiable wine.

Oak Valley Groenlandberg Chardonnay 2018, 13.5 Abv. – 93/100 GSMW

White blossom, lemon rock candy, green melon Bon Bons and hints of spearmint. Cool, crystalline and pure fruited, this shows distinguished structure, impressive fruit concentration and a long intense finish.

Oak Valley Groenlandberg Pinot Noir 2018, 13.5 Abv. – 92+/100 GSMW

Rich expressive nose of brûléed bramble berry fruits, blood orange and pomegranate earthy red fruits. Sappy hedgerow spice, creamy concentration and pronounced finesse and harmony. Classy. Something very more’ish about this wine!

Tokara Directors Reserve 2016 White Blend, 14 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

70/30 Sauvignon – Semillon. Creamy and plush, super intense yellow citrus, super glycerol but fresh. Harmonious and elegant texture, this is a very smart blend. Very few vintages of this classy wine I have not fallen in love with.

Tokara Directors Reserve Red Blend 2015, 14.5 Abv. – 93/100 GSMW

71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Wonderfully suave, creamy and round, saline cassis, wood spice, sappy black berry and sweet tobacco. Another ultra luxurious expression.

Jordan Whole Nine Yards Chardonnay 2016, 13 Abv. – 93+/100 GSMW

Rich and textured, classically pure and punchy with orange blossom, vanilla oak spice and a honied brightness. Lovely classy expression.

Jordan Sophia Red Blend 2014, 14.5 Abv. – 93+/100 GSMW

Freshly rolled tobacco, sweet red currant, tannery hide and sweet bramble berry. Plush, classy and super polished texture. Very smart.

Lowerland Tolbos Tannat 2016, Prieska, 13.5 Abv. – 92/100 GSMW

Another Lukas Van Loggerenberg offering. Ultra plush and sensual, this is full of sappy red and black fruits, freshly cut hedge row and sweet bramble berry confit. Exotic but very fine craftsmanship indeed.

Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2017, 13.5 Abv. – 95/100 GSMW

Elgin with a dash of Stellenbosch Chenin. 12 months in amphora. Piquant, savoury Chenin Blanc expression with bruised orchard fruits, apple purée and super broad concentration of pineapple and apple pastille. Really very impressive indeed. One for collectors to seek out!

It’s Evolution Versus Revolution at Tesselaarsdal – Tasting the Third Release of their Elegant Pinot Noir…

The brand that is Tesselaarsdal was established in 2015 by long time employee Berene Sauls who started at Hamilton Russell as an au pair originally. With higher vinous aspirations and then valiant  support financially and emotionally from Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, Berene was cast adrift to fend for herself in the wide world of fine wine after her first release in 2015. Proudly, one of my claims to fame is that I was the first to taste the maiden release 2015 in January 2016 at breakfast, as you do in the trade, at Hamilton Russell when I was invited over to be the panel chair and guest speaker for the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration 2016.

As delicious as it was, the 2015 now starts to pale into insignificance along side newer releases like the 2017 and 2018 vintages. With the 2018 about to land in the UK, I took an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the 2017 that has had a nice amount of time to settle in storage.

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2017, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

A winemaking collaboration hand in hand with Emul Ross, the winemaker at Hamilton Russell, Tesselaarsdal 2017 is made from fruit 100% sourced from a vineyard leased from La Vierge in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge from totally unirrigated vineyards. A style of wine that always shows a little bit of sulky reduction early in its evolution, the 2017 seems to have blow most of this off and now starts to up the ante with notes of wild fraises de bois, red bramble berry fruits, freshly cut hedgerow and an interesting melange of sappy red berry fruits, limestone minerality and dried herb spice. On the palate there is a real luminescent brightness, crisp freshness, salinity, and purity of crunchy red berry fruits. Tannins are soft and supple, very elegant as you would expect from the sultry 2017 vintage in Hemel-en-Aarde making the wine very friendly, accessible and opulent already. Ultimately, what I love about this wine is its completeness, its textural harmony, its fruit intensity and of course its saline bite. Only the third vintage, this remains one of my favourite Pinot Noirs produced in South Africa.

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