Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, A Benchmark Wine In the South African Wine Industry – The 2017 Vintage Reviewed…

I recently caught up with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell to taste their new releases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So much has been written about 2017 as the third consecutive “drought savaged” vintage in South Africa. But in reality, Walker Bay and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley got off relatively unscathed, producing wines with great concentration, vigour and freshness. No doubt this will Be yet another fast selling vintage for this dynamic estate.

90% of the 2017 Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in 228 litre barriques for 9 months, 31% first fill, 33% second fill, 33% third fill and 3% fourth fill… 47% blonde, 40% medium, 10% medium long toast, with 4% aged in foudre, 5% stainless steel, and 1% in ceramic eggs. 1.4 g/l RS.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.16 Abv.

This wine was tasted from barrel in March 2017 and showed great potential with bright acidity accentuating the wine’s natural limestone minerality. After 9 months ageing in French oak barrels, the wine is still very primary on the nose, revealing notes of sweet lemon cordial, green honeydew melon, green pear, white blossom and waxy green apple skins. There is lovely nervy tension to the palate which is much tauter and leaner than the nose suggests. Framed by vibrant, steely acids, the white citrus and lemon butter flavours are concertina’d into a complex press of green apple pastilles, pithy green gauge fruits and a stony liquid minerality. Not revealing all its grandeur just yet, but undoubtedly serves as a grand road map to the full pleasures that await the drinker in 6 to 12 months time. A real triumph for the vintage and another benchmark Chardonnay from this winery. Drink now to 2030+

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

Masters of Their Terroir – Tasting the Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014…

Jean-Claude and Noël Ramonet are at the head of Domaine Ramonet, the iconic Burgundy producer that delivers exceptional quality wines year in, year out, with international demand insatiable. From lowly Aligote all the way up to Montrachet Grand Cru, the wines always show intense terroir minerality, a measure of restraint and a mouth watering, salty fresh acidity.

Produced in the commune of Pernand-Vergelesses in Cote de Beaune, where red and white wine styles are both permitted, the appellation production consists of a little more than half red wine, and slightly less than half white wine. In 2008, there were 135.32 hectares of vineyard surface in production in total for Pernand-Vergelesses wine at Village and Premier Cru level, corresponding to around 750,000 bottles, including almost 400,000 bottles of red wine and a little over 350,000 bottles of white wine.

In keeping with the exceptionally high quality standards of Domaine Ramonet, they too produce one of the most exceptional Pernand-Vergelesses whites from one of the most famous village level “lieu-dits” single vineyard sites, Les Belles Filles. In the great 2014 vintage, they made an absolute cracker of a wine that was able to rival the best Premier Crus sites for quality. Always sought after, these wines can and often do represent exceptional value for money when seen on restaurant or wine bar lists.

Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet Pernand-Vergelesses Les Belles Filles 2014, Burgundy, 13 Abv.

The 2014 Les Belles Filles starts off tight, taut and as linear as physically possible. Liquid rocks, limestone and dusty wet slate notes dominate the aromatics. A few minutes in the glass allows this wine to open its shoulders slightly, revealing a more complex array of white citrus zest, white blossom, crunchy green pears and a hint of hazelnut savoury spice. Although so youthful and tightly wound, you can already feel the wonderful textural weight that coats the palate and unfurls slowly in alternate layers of minerality and tart, saline pithy citrus fruits. Superbly focused and wonderfully precise for this ‘lesser’ Burgundy appellation wine, the finish packs plenty of punch with more liquid minerality, smokey struck match flinty citrus spice and a cool, clean waxy lemon cordial length. A wine that is initially very reticent, blossoms into a lean, complex, well honed, superbly made white Burgundy with fine nuanced complexity and good ageing potential. Drink from 2020 to 2030+.

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

Ridge Monte Bello: One of The World’s Most Legendary Red Wines – Tasting the New Release 2014…

In 1886, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the first Monte Bello vineyards were planted, and winery construction begun. A first vintage from the young vines followed in 1892. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the vineyard was not fully maintained; some vines survived into the late 30’s, but by the 1940s they were effectively abandoned. Eight acres of Cabernet Sauvignon were replanted in 1949. These were the source of the first Ridge Monte Bello (1962) and subsequent vintages until 1974 when younger blocks replanted in the 1960’s were considered for inclusion. Since then, the historic vineyards on the ridge have gradually been replanted.

Vintage 2014

Lack of winter rain affected both vines and cover crops, limiting available nutrients. Still, the vines carried a decent-size crop, which ripened in September. Fermentations progressed slowly; extraction was decided by careful tasting. Malolactic fermentations started in tank and finished by February. Merlot, which suffered in 2013, was strong in 2014. Petit Verdot remained challenged by drought.

Winemaking : Grapes were harvested between the 2nd and 24th of September. Fermentation on the native yeasts proceeded with grapes destemmed and 100% whole berries. Automated berry sorting was followed by hand sorting. Pressed at ten days with natural malolactic fermentation taking place. In 2014, nineteen of twenty-six Monte Bello parcels were selected for blending, after which the wine was aged in oak barrels: 100% new air-dried oak, 97% American oak, 2% French oak; 1% Hungarian oak, for 17 months.

Ridge Monte Bello 2014, Santa Cruz Mountains, California, 13.5 Abv.

Always exciting to taste a new vintage of Monte Bello. It is truly one of the world’s great icon wines that never disappoints. What is so wonderful about this wine is the ultra intelligent path it treads between new world opulence and old world classical restraint. In 2014, the Monte Bello is a delicious blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. There is a wonderful Cabernet laden nose of blueberry crumble, cassis, black plum, buttered brown toast and a piquant note of cedar wood spice, walnut skins, graphite and vanilla pod spice. The palate conveys such wonderful concentration and depth yet remains so elegantly poised, harmonious and finely balanced. A multi layered wine that is supremely seamless, revealing more saline black current, blue berries, black cherry , vanilla bean, salty liquorice hints and a very long, polished finish. Certainly a very well honed, muscular athlete that is a wonder to behold. The tannins will hold this beautiful wine in pole position for many years to come but should be good to start drinking in the next 2 to 3 years and over the next 30+ years.

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

Another Block Buster On the Way – Tasting the 2017 Meerlust Chardonnay with Owner Hannes Myburgh…

This 1756 wine estate has long been the pride and joy of South Africans since the 1970s and the corresponding love for this estate and its wines is practically ingrained in the South African psyche.

I’ve known both owner Hannes Myburgh and winemaker Chris Williams for a very long time so catching up with either of them in London is always a privilege. After a brief visit to Ireland, Hannes was straight back into the London trade to present a fantastic Rubicon Vertical in London, for which the write up is to follow soon.

But the Meerlust Chardonnay is a wine which has a following almost as passionate and loyal as that of the Rubicon. So today, given the opportunity, I dived straight in to review this new vintage classic.

Meerlust Chardonnay 2017, WO Stellenbosch, 13 Abv.

A very pale, faded apple core yellow, this is another wonderfully expressive Chardonnay from Chris Williams championing the “less is more” mantra with this restrained style. The nose is complex yet classically restrained revealing layers of smokey green Granny Smith apples, green pears, crunchy honeydew melon and a tantalising suggestion of struck match and dusty minerality. Lovely clarity, purity and focus throughout. Despite the lower 13 Abv, this wine is jam packed with intense flavours of sweet ripe lemons, lime cordial, honey suckle, toffee apple and green gauge fruits, embroidered and embellished with intense piercing fresh acids. Very polished and grown up, you can see instantly why this impressive wine remains a perennial consumer favourite. Another real beauty to drink from release and for 10+ years.

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

Another Superb Giuseppe Rinaldi Red Reviewed ~ Tasting the Barbera d’Alba 2016…

I visited the Gaja estate in Barbaresco just before harvest in 2016 and everything was looking set for another high quality harvest across Barolo and Barbaresco. So now it seems the consensus throughout the Piedmont region is that 2016 stands as a very promising and potentially exceptional high quality vintage.

Most producers in the region felt happy with the final results of the harvest season, reporting a crop both high in quality and quantity, with grapes possessing sugar concentration to rival the richness of 2015 but with greater structure and livelier acidity.

Giuseppe Rinaldi Barbera d’Alba 2016, 14 Abv.

This beautiful 2016 Barbera d’Alba from Giuseppe Rinaldi echoes the above sentiments and is evidence of another very good vintage. The nose is slightly exotic but very alluring. Plenty of black cherry coulis, wood smoke, hints of tar, sweet tobacco, black plum spice, oyster shell and salty cassis. Obviously very youthful still, however there is a silent confidence to this wine. The palate reveals ripe fruit and ample textured roundness but with perhaps a little more mineral grip and piquant tannins than the fleshier, riper 2015 expression. With such opulent bright black and red berry fruits bolstered by a mouth watering refreshing acidity, this wine impresses from start to finish. Wonderful depth and harmonious balance, you get to see the real ability of this great classical Piedmont estate to deliver iconic reds vintage after vintage. Barbera can really be a real thing of beauty when handled with serious intent. Drink now to 2028+.

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

Ground Breaking South African Bordeaux Blend ~ Rating the Epic 2015 MR de Compostella…

Mvemve Raats is a critically acclaimed collaboration between friends and winemakers Mzokhona Mvemve and Bruwer Raats. Bruwer is of course the owner and winemaker of Raats Family Wines, where he has earned a reputation for top notch Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Mzokhona Mvemve, the first Indaba Scholarship recipient, is a graduate of Stellenbosch University and one of South Africa’s first qualified black oenologists.

On Friday the 8th September, Bruwer Raats joined us to launch the 2015 vintage of the MR de Compostella. The grapes for this extremely limited production of MR are sourced from Stellenbosch, widely recognized as the Cape’s premier red wine-producing region, especially when it comes to Bordeaux style varieties. With the 2015 vintage currently being lauded in South Africa as possibly the best all-round vintage in South African viticultural history ever, the stage was perfectly set for Bruwer to perform his magic.

MR de Compostella 2015 Blend, WO Stellenbosch,14.5 Abv.

I have been one of Bruwer Raats’ biggest MR de Compostella followers in the UK market since the maiden 2004 vintage release, and we have tasted the MR pre-release every year together since then, discussing the wine’s blend and vintage complexities over a few bottles of MR and fine left bank claret. So after a great amount of anticipation, we got to taste the MR 2015 together last Friday. This is an absolutely gorgeous, coming of age wine. A blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec, the 2015 is genuinely a compelling wine with a classic nose more reminiscent of a fine, opulent Cru Classe Pauillac than a Stellenbosch Bordeaux blend. There are beautiful perfumed notes of assorted purple flowers and fresh violets that melt away to reveal ripe, intense notes of crème de cassis, blueberry crumble, cherry kirsch liquor and damson plum. The wine has gravitas, intensity and a room-silencing presence that is neither heavy nor overpowering. Like all MR vintages, it has impressive laser-like precision, a fine grained focus and an amazing fruit purity and concentration that is a hedonistic pleasure to experience. What extract, what fine piercing acids, what power, but all delivered in a sublimely harmonious chorus of black cassis fruits, blueberry confit and graphite spice. It is impossible to tire of this wine, with its palate freshness reigniting your senses continuously. More structured and intense than its riper, plumper predecessor 2014, the 2015 delivers more intensity, with tannic restraint and brooding classical Pauillac’esque depth. Drink this young if you will, but this MR is the closest Bruwer and Mvemve have come to perfection since they started this project in 2004. I expect the 2015 to be going strong in 30 to 40 years time and continuing to seduce connoisseurs  and collectors globally. 

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)