The Magical Wine Estate of Hamilton Russell Vineyards in Walker Bay – Tasting the New Releases With Anthony Hamilton Russell…

It must be a strange feeling to see your name on the label of a wine and know that in many respects, the “ownership” of that very name has almost passed to the nation as a whole as a cultural heritage icon. Hamilton Russell as a fine wine brand is so deeply integrated into the psyche of the South African nation it is almost impossible to imagine a local wine industry without it.


I, like almost every other South African wine trade professional, has grown up tasting, drinking and cellaring these wines for as long as I can remember. Visiting the Walker Bay estate above Hermanus to see Anthony and Olive is now more like a pilgrimage than a mere winery stop over. The wines are special, the personalities of the owners more so, and the beauty of the estate unsurpassed.


In March 2017 I paid another flying visit to taste the last of the lovely 2015s, the newly bottled 2016s, and a snapshot of barrels from the 2017 harvest. Within 30 minutes of arriving, knowing that I am a keen horse rider, Olive had me jodhpur’ed and booted up and on the back of Amstel, Anthony’s trusty steed, to do a quick hour long hack around the vineyards before obligatory sundowners of Bollinger Champagne, smoked salmon bellinis and Beluga caviar on the weathered sandstone cliffs overlooking Hermanus.


After a decade of heading up winemaking at HRV, in 2014 Hannes Storm decided to move on to his own Pinot Noir and Chardonnay projects and was replaced by Gottfried Mocke’s ex-assistant at Chamonix, Emul Ross. What a revelation this move has been and no one can deny the exciting new era of quality that Emul’s arrival has heralded, especially with regards to the HRV red wines.




Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde, Walker Bay, 13.5 Abv.

With the 2016 vintage came the lower yields wrought by the third year of intense drought in the Western Cape. But the grapes that were harvested yielded pristine musts and fermentation and aging proceeded as normal with the use of 5% whole bunch. The wine is very rich and intense on the nose, brimming with dried rose petals, lavender, cherry blossom and dried thyme and oregano herbs. The palate is super concentrated with sweet black cherry, graphite spice and grey slatey gravelly minerality. While this wine has more concentration than previous vintages, it also has restraint and dusty structured tannins that add a beautiful frame from which to hang the complex fruit adornments. There is a real gravitas, complexity and textured layers to this very ‘grown up’ wine. The finish is long and precise and just when you think the last word will be left on a mineral note, a burst of pithy juicy stony red cherry fruit kicks in to tantalise the palate. This is a great effort from winemaker Emul Ross and a killer wine that should age gracefully for 15+ years.

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



Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, 14.1 Abv.

There are a growing number of varietal Pinotage wines that are starting to turn heads. This is certainly one of them. With its roots and pedigree lying in a Pinot Noir psyche, this 14.1 Abv. expression is packed full of sweet dark black fruits and has multiple layers of complex licorice, sweet oak spice and star anise. This 21 year old vineyard was recently replanted but was the first Pinotage vineyard to be planted in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. There is real opulence interwoven with graphite, gravelly minerality on a palate that finishes with dry grippy tannins. This is a very impressive expression of Pinotage and takes the grape to a new level of quality.

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



Other notable wines tasted…

Ashbourne Pinotage – Cinsaut 2017 ~ Bright rose petal perfume and marzipan. Very pure and fine with lush fruits, wonderful intensity and an elegant, red fruited, peppery potpourri finish. Great potential here! (91-93/100)

Ashbourne 2016 Pinotage, Walker Bay, 13.6 Abv. ~ Dusty black plums and spicy black berry fruits waft from the glass. Seamless and round, mineral and tense. Complex notes of creme brûlée, cassis, blueberry and pithy cherries. Full, round, glycerol texture. Lovely mineral, graphite and cherry stone finish. Great expression, showing all the potential to equal the 2015. To be bottled mid-2017. (93-94+/100)


Ashbourne Sandstone 2010, 12 Abv. ~ 76% Sauvignon, 12% Chardonnay, 12% Semillon. Green pea, white chalk spice, yellow grapefruit nuances. Very complex, fleshy texture with attractive cassis leaf and boxwood notes on the finish. (92/100)


Ashbourne Sandstone 2015 ~ Rich, creamy, opulent expression. Round fleshy white citrus fruit concentration with fine freshness and a complex sake-like finish. So much umami! Lovely. (93+/100)

Building A New South African Legacy ~ The Iconic Wines of Peter-Allan Finlayson and Crystallum…

On my recent trip to the Cape in March, I paid an important visit to the Gabrielskloof Winery in the Bot River, home to not only the Gabrielskloof Wines but also Peter-Allan Finlayson’s Crystallum wines. 

As a supporter of Peter-Allan’s wines from the very beginning, I’ll never forget his big frame manning the small 1.5 meter long bar top counter at the Wines of South Africa tasting, displaying his 2007 white Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnays, and his 2008 Peter Max and Cuvee Cinema Pinot Noirs from the Walker Bay. I recognised the quality immediately and guided numerous potential importer / agents to his stand to taste with view to finding him an agent and UK importer. Liberty Wines were the lucky fellows in the end.


Fast forward to 2017, and I have just returned from tasting his 8th red vintage of Pinot Noir. Peter-Allan is building a true legacy indeed, just as his father did before him at Bouchard-Finlayson. But I loved reading Crystallum’s philosophy in their own words…

“We seek to produce classic wines in a new world context that reflect a traditional, age-old way of working coupled with the new world vineyards which we source our fruit from. The only varieties that we work with are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with multi vineyard blends and single vineyard wines making up the collection.” ~ Andrew and Peter-Allan Finlayson, the team behind Crystallum.

The Crystallum Pinot Noirs are fermented in small stainless steel tanks and aged in French oak sourced from a single Burgundian cooper. The barrels are stored in a straw bale cellar and left for circa 16 months before bottling.


Crystallum Mabalel Pinot Noir 2016, Elandskloof, 14 Abv.

This pretty wine shows spicy sappy lift from 10% whole bunch fermentation. The wine is bright, lifted, sweet fruited and attractively sappy showing cranberry, cherry fruits with cedary oak spice and a mineral, gravelly finish. There’s definitely a sweet quince exoticism, that’s quite tantalising, leading you to a super fresh, long, vibrant Pinot Noir finish. 

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


Crystallum Cuvee Cinema Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-En-Aarde Ridge, 14 Abv.

This is a beauty, made from Pinot clones 115 and 667. Again, like the Mabalel Cuvee, there are wonderful bright fleshy sweet cherry fruits with a thick underlay of wild forest strawberries, red musky perfume, dusty powdery tannins and textured fine grained grip. There is such alluring, elegant concentration and long fleshy finish of blood oranges and pomegranate vibrancy. Very classy indeed. Very impressive.

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


Such a wonderful visit and lunch at Gabrielskloof with Peter-Allan, joined by fellow Zoo Buscuit John Seccombe and Non biscuit Viking, Donovan Rall, who’s own new releases will be reviewed separately in the near future. Thanks chaps! 

California Day 2 – En Route to Sonoma – Tasting the Exclusive Range of Ram’s Gate Winery, Carneros…

A very interesting first visit in Carneros en route to Sonoma. Ram’s Gate Winery was built in 2011 but have been making wine since 2008. Using a dynamic fruit growing and sourcing philosophy, Ram’s Gate grow approximately 20% of their production and buy in contracted fruit for the remaining 80%. 


Ram’s Gate have embraced a fairly unique sales and marketing approach, selling almost all their wines to their “members” and a handful of restaurants in 7 states. None is sold to retailers. There is a very inventive marketing policy as the winery engages with its consumers and doesn’t “sell” wine but prefers to look at their sales policy as “placing wines.” Easy to do when demand outstrips supply.

Wine maker Luke Stanko trained in Canada but originally from Michigan

Wine maker Luke Stanko, runs the show and sincerely expounds his belief in minimalist intervention, terroir focused winemaking. With 12000 cases produced annually, Ram’s Gate is a winery that is rarely quoted by critics and almost never scored, but is most definitely a must visit spot on your way out of San Francisco to Napa. By appointment only, ring ahead to book one of their amazing food and wine matching tastings.

Amazing food and wine pairings

2013 Carneros Chardonnay
13.3 Abv. Only 510 cases of this wine is produced from Clone 4 and Clone 96.

Aged 11 months in one-third new French oak. Real lemon and lime sherbet nose with a subtle lick of butterscotch oak spice. Cool, plush soft textured, showing beautiful harmony, plump lemon fleshiness and cool crisp framing acids. Beautiful elegance with full malo breadth. 

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

The first winery heading out of San Francisco.

2014 Sangiacomo Green Acres Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

14.6 Abv. 263 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 40% new. Made from virused Wente Clone, the aromatics are dominated by green apple Bon bons and liquid grey slate dustiness. Plenty of classical restraint. The palate is where the peacock fans its tail. Rich, intense and ripe, there is textured depth and spicy intensity. Weight and power, with a lemon and green apple pie finish with subtle vanilla pod charisma. 

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

Looking South East to San Pablo Bay

2014 Hyde Vineyard Carneros Chardonnay

15.1 Abv. 793 Cases. Aged 11 months in 40% new French oak. A grand vineyard that shows fine complex aromatic finesse and notes of honey dew melon, cream soda, white peach, honeysuckle, green apple purée and leesy biscuit richness. Broad and powerful concentration, but rich, juicy acids and fine nuanced minerality. Real pedigree evident here.

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


2013 Carneros Pinot Noir

14.5 Abv. 2,122 cases, Aged 11 months in French oak, 45% new, only one parcel used stems. Very expressive nose bursts with cranberry, pomegranate, red cherry, blood orange and boxwood spice. Also lovely spicy, peppery notes, hedgerow and cinnamon spice. Such plush, seductive textural harmony, potpourri spice infused cherry confit and black berry compote. Very alluring, and inviting. 

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


2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 

14.9 Abv. 512 cases, Aged 11 months in 66% new French oak from Clone 777. Very lifted fragrant nose that’s thoroughly graceful and feminine. Intensely perfumed, there is rose water, violets, jasmine and and a complex earthy, forest berry note. Very reminiscent of Marlborough Pinot Noir, the seductive smokey nuances meld with blood orange, macerated cherries, and milk chocolate complexity. Very elegant, powdery tannins that are finely composed, and a real pleasure to drink. 

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


2014 Bush Crispo Vineyard Russian River Pinot Noir (Sole purchaser of this vineyard)

14.7 Abv. 513 cases, Aged 11 months in 50% new French oak from 115 and Pommard Clones. A more exotic, rich, expression with black berry and plum, mint chocolate and eucalyptus notes. Full, plump and generous, this is beautifully round, harmonious and textural. Plenty of spicy stewed plums, soft sweet tannins, and an opulent, harmonious bramble fruited finish. A real class act. 

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

Luke Stanko, Commercial Director and Proprietor



The Growing Grandeur of Nuits Saint Georges – Tasting Domaine Faiveley’s Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Porets Saint Georges 2011…

We all know that Nuits Saint Georges in the Cotes de Nuits possesses no Grand Crus vineyards. But with changing weather patterns and the influence of global warming, certain areas in Burgundy like Nuits Saint Georges as well as other “lesser” areas further south in the Chalonais, have seen massive advances in wine quality in the past 10 to 15 years. Today I had another encounter with Domaine Faiveley’s Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Les Porets Saint Georges 2011, one of the top 1er Crus in the village.


With Erwan Faiveley taking over the reigns at Domaine Faiveley from his father Francois in 2007, a new direction was set by the family with Bernard Hervé and winemaker Jérôme Flous helping to chart the route to future success. The 2011 harvest began on the 31st August and picking lasted for 9 days. By the time the “juice” was in the bottle, Domaine Faiveley were looking at one of their finest, most elegantly crafted vintages for many years.


Tasting Note: This Nuits 1er Cru has a very richly fruited, lifted, perfumed nose of dried flowers, rose petals, white blossoms, and pretty red cherry and cranberry coulis notes. The palate is supple and streamline, showing complex hints of sweet stalk spice, forest fruits, moderate mid-palate concentration and a very polished tannin profile. This is a very attractive wine with earthy bramble fruits, red plums, bright fresh acids and the most pronounced liquid minerality. A very classy wine that’s drinking superbly well at the moment but with plenty of life still ahead of it. Drink now to 2035+

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

 

Tasting Fine Marlborough Pinot Noir with the Kiwi Legend Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wines…

I first met Brian Bicknell way back in 2000 when he was still making the characterful wines of Seresin. I thought he was a real cool dude back then and certainly still think so today. So it was wonderful to catch up with Brian this afternoon to taste through his lovely Mahi wines. 


Brian is an ex-Roseworthy graduate and chose Marlborough to settle down in way back in 1996 after making wine all around the world for 15 years. His first Mahi vintages were in 2001, buying fruit from a dedicated group of growers. In 2006 Brian acquired the old Cellier Le Brun winery, finally giving Mahi wines a true home.


Working very naturally in a hands-off manner, Brian focuses on making wines that speak of their terroir and origin. Sourcing fruit from the same vineyards continuously, for many years, has also allowed his knowledge and understanding to grow with every vintage. All his single vineyard wines use wild yeast ferments while his estate wines are a combination of innoculated and wild yeast vinifications.


Tasting Note: Mahi Wines 2013 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, 13.5 Abv. – This wine shows very pretty black fruit aromatics and wonderfully lifted, fragrant perfume. Sweet roses, pink musk, red plums, black cherry and black currant notes waft out the glass intermingled with graphite, gravelly spice and pithy foresty bramble fruits. The palate is vibrant, slightly crunchy and fresh revealing sour plums, stewed cranberries and salty black berries with fine, spicy, savoury mineral tannins on the finish. Has all the hallmark elegance of fine Marlborough Pinot Noir with ample minerality and sappy choc spice oak complexity on the finish. A wine starting to show real promise at 4 years old. Drink or keep for another 5 to 8 years.

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

Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache 2014 ~ Stealing the Show at the New Release Tasting…

The 2014 La Tache has a beautifully sweet fruited, even opulent nose with a fine interplay between fruit, forest and fragrance. Red cherry, raisined cranberries, leafy sap and sweet confit notes abound, sprinkled with pink blossom perfume. Also the most pretty candied red fruits, chalky minerality and sappy stalk spice, so expertly and effortlessly melded so as to be inseparable. 


The palate is every bit as spellbinding as the nose suggests showing layered minerality and impressive tension. One starts to see why Aubert de Villane describes 2014 as a year of terroir and minerality. There’s an impressive core of red and black fruits and a tensile graphite finish. Such great depth and power, softly stated but clearly displayed like a badge of higher pedigree. This is a very serious, seductive La Tache that captures and combines the very finest elements of the vintage to produce the most impressive wine out of the 2014 Domaine de la Romanee Conti offerings. Plenty of hedonistic drinking enjoyment lie ahead for the lucky few who manage to put a few of these bottles in their cellar. 

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

Lismore Pinot Noir 2016 ~ A Cheeky Preview in London…

On Tuesday this week I met up with the lovely Samantha O’Keefe to taste through her impressive new Lismore releases. What a pleasant surprise to get a sneak peek at her newly bottled Lismore Pinot Noir 2016!


Made from a blend of 50% Stanford Pinot Noir and 50% Kaaimangat Pinot Noir fruit, all 115 clone, coming in at 13 Abv. Grapes were fermented in a 5000L tank with 10% whole bunch. The wine was then aged in a mix of older 225L barriques and new 500L barrels.


Tasting Note: This wine, despite being newly bottled, is fabulously vibrant and fresh with the most attractive sour cherry, sweet spice, cherry blossom nose. The fruits are so pure and crunchy and display wonderful mid palate tension and superb textural elegance. I love the pristine purity of the fruits, very much in the red berry spectrum with plenty of Cotes de Beaune nuances. The finish is focused, soft and linear with attractive strawberry fruit and foresty bramble berry notes, pointing to the Stanford influence. A wonderful vein of acidity is evident throughout, balanced by the weightier, fleshy Kaaimansgat fruit density. A truly impressive wine that definitely has Burgundy in its DNA. 

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