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)

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)

The New Kid On The Hemel-en-Aarde Block – Tasting The Bosman Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2016…

The area known as Hemel en Aarde falls under the appellation of Walker Bay and is divided into three wards: Hemel en Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley and Hemel en Aarde Ridge. The Bosman De Bos Estate is situated in the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley where their vineyards are planted between indigenous fynbos fields in close proximity to the ocean.

Here, suitable soil types combined with the cooling breezes from the Atlantic Ocean create wine growing conditions rivalling some of the greatest wine growing regions of the world. Still a newly established area with modestly aged vines, quality of the region’s wines can only increase incrementally as the vines mature further and winemaking knowhow is expanded.

With the elevated quality wines comes the corresponding premium prices, making it rare for more affordable offerings to be found especially using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But as this wine shows, they do exist and are worth the effort to track down and purchase.

Bosman Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, 13.93 Abv.

R/Sugar: 1.8g/l, TA: 5.9 g/l, pH: 3.35

An exciting Chardonnay that confirms that some premium wine areas of South Africa still offer excellent value for money. The aromatics of this 2016 are very grown up with plenty of dried citrus peel, wet straw and dusty limestone minerality flirting with smoky struck match reductive notes. The palate is tense and nervy, showing liquid minerality, crushed rocks, piquant lemon grass, bitter lemon and herby citrus spice. A wine with classical restraint, fine balance and great dynamic sophistication. In it’s youth, this is a superb food wine and certainly should appeal to all white Burgundy lovers. Drink now to 2024+

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

The Magnificence of Pinot Noir Exemplified by the Storm Brothers – Tasting Ernst Storm’s Californian Range…

The Storm brothers, Hannes, 41, and Ernst, 38, grew up in the Western Cape of South Africa, where as teens, they moved to Hermanus in the famed wine growing region of Walker Bay. Fast forward 2 decades and incredibly, both are established winemakers producing high quality, evocative, terroir focused wines.

While Walker Bay based Hannes Storms’ wines have been featured on the Fine Wine Safari before, this is my first encounter with brother Ernst’s exciting wines. Ernst’s career includes successful stints making wine in South Africa at Amani Winery and in the Sierra Foothills of California. He later settled down in California’s Santa Barbara County, where he was winemaker at Curtis Winery while slowly developing his own brand over the past 15 years. With ten vintages of his own wines now under his belt, he is now focusing on his own winemaking project full time.

Rooted in the hills of Santa Barbara County, Storm Wines emphasizes old world influences using new world winemaking techniques. The Mediterranean climate, diverse soils, and exciting new opportunities in this flourishing Central Coast wine region have combined to drive Ernst’s passion for producing his wines.

Ernst’s wines are authentically handcrafted using a combination of Old and New World winemaking techniques. From being present while picking the grapes in the early morning hours, to basket pressing, to only using gravity on the red wines. Fining and filtration is only utilised when absolutely necessary in the reds and occasionally on the whites, making sure the wines express the unique qualities of the fruit’s origin.

Notary Public White Wine Santa Ynez Valley 2014, 13.5 Abv

A Chenin Blanc / Chardonnay blend focusing on the $25-$30 in USA or £35 in the UK. Bright dusty granitic lemon line zesty nose, lime peel and white citrus. Almost Chablis like minerality and restraint. Stony, intense saline freshness, sleek fine boned cool climate texture and an attractive leanness and seductive, alluring pithy austerity.

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

Notary Public Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, 13 Abv. 

Sweet sour plum nose with intense fragrant lift with cassis and black currant leafy spice. Pretty cherry pith, pink musk and delicious cherry sherbet mineral pithy spice. Thoroughly delicious expression, such energy and focus, I really love the purity and textural focus. Real character, real class. (Interestingly, this expression really reminded me of Craig Wessels’ Hemel-en-Aarde expression of Cabernet at Restless River, in Walker Bay.)

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

The fruit for this wine is 100% from the famous John Sebastiano Vineyard and only 200 cases were produced using Clone/Rootstock: 44%-115/101-14 and 56% -667/101-14 grown on Marina sand and Chamise shaly loam soils.

Picked between 8/22/14 – 8/24/14, the grapes saw a 5-7 day cold soak with 12 days on the skins. Grapes were basket pressed before fermentation and aged in new tight grained French oak after fermentation with no fining or filtration used.

Storm John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 13.8 Abv. 

Savoury earthy bramble berry fruit nose showing quince, pomegranate, raisined cranberry, raspberry herbal tea infusions, and subtle sous bois and clove spice. Sweet fruited, opulent texture, dense and quite broad but retains a little more of a rustic, hearty, old world expression.

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

Produced from 100% Presqu’ile Vineyard fruit with only 220 cases produced from fruit grown on Clone/Rootstock: 667/own root on Marina sandy loam soils. 20% whole cluster used with a 6 day cold soak and 14 days on the skins. Wine was aged in 25% new French Oak for 10 months with ageing on lees, and no fining or filtration was utilised.

Storm Presqui’le Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Rita Hills, 13 Abv.

Restrained, shy spicy earthy nose with wet earth, blood orange, raisined cherries, and a sprinkling of mineral, crushed river pebble dust. A very elegant, sleek, fresh Pinot Noir style with electrically fresh acids, a suave fleshy mouth feel, notes of black tea and plenty of sophistication on a long, lingering bramble berry laced finish. Very classy.

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

Storm Slide Hill Vineyard Syrah 2014, Edna Valley, 14.1 Abv. 

Perfumed, lifted blueberry, black currant and savoury peppery meaty spice. Dusty, smokey charcoal, creamy oak, blueberry crumble, and then develops a seductive strawberry coulis complexity. Plush, lush, savoury and beautifully vibrant with an alluring saline vein, and tantalising seashore, maritime black fruited finish. Really impressive.

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

Wines imported into the UK by Tiger Vines.

Peter-Allan Finlayson and Crystallum Release Their First 100% Whole Bunch Pinot Noir…

When I visited Peter-Allan Finlayson last March at his cellar we tasted through all his delicious 2016 whites and reds before finishing off with something very special… his first 100% whole bunch Pinot Noir 2016 made from a tiny portion of the grapes from his famed Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge Cuvee Cinema vineyard.

Only 629 bottles of this impressive wine were produced.

Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Walker Bay, 14% Abv.

Quite a broody, almost opaque black cherry colour, this wine is certainly stand apart from Peter-Allan’s other Pinot Noirs. The aromatics are piercing, intensely lifted, and positively fill the room with notes of sappy black cherry, leafy black current, cigar ash, dusty minerality and a resinous, lapsang black tea pungency. The smokey fruit opulence is embellished by attractively fragrant notes of musk, pink stick candy and sugar dusted strawberry bon bons. The palate is beautifully relaxed and at ease, showing wonderful sappy, spicy, brambly red fruits, cherry herbal tea infusions, waxy ruby grapefruit skins, a hint of pleasantly piquant vermouth bitterness and a long, fleshy, creamy finish. There is more tension, sappy stalk spice and peppery textural notes than the other cuvees, but it is pulled off so expertly that one wonders why Peter-Allan does not make all his wines in this style. This is a slightly more sophisticated expression of Pinot Noir that will hold massive appeal for Burghounds and Pinotphiles. Enjoy this deliciously complex wine now with food, or age for another 10 to 12+ years. This is going to be a future unicorn wine for sure! Bury a few bottles away.

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

Lismore Pinot Noir Growing in Stature ~ Tasting the 2017 Vintage Pre-Release with Samantha O’Keefe…

It was almost a year ago that I tasted Samantha O’Keefe’s first vintage of Pinot Noir. Today I got a sneak preview of the follow up 2017 vintage. For someone who is only two vintages in with this heartbreak grape, the 2017 is a significant step up in both precision, quality and overall construction on the 2016.

Made from a blend of Elgin and Walker Bay fruit, the grapes were fermented in 5000 litre wooden fermenters with gentle pump overs twice a day. The wine was then aged in a mix of older 225L barriques and new 500L barrels for almost 12 months.

Lismore Pinot Noir 2017, WO Western Cape, 13.5 Abv.

Pale translucent ruby red, this new Pinot Noir was bottled in early January 2018 and already shows a nuanced complexity of red bramble berries, strawberry herbal tea, bright crystalline cranberry and cherry stone fruit. Moving from 15% to 30% whole bunch for the 2017, the palate instantly shows a more multi-textural, layered depth, resinous sappy grip, cherry skin spice, red berry flesh and a delicious mouth watering fresh acidity on the finish. The wine already possesses an attractive savoury strata and a beautiful red fruit intensity, suggesting this Pinot is a definite step up on the 2016 at this early point in its development. More confident and self assured in style, the Lismore Pinot Noir is certainly becoming a wine worth following with closer interest over the coming vintages. Drink from 2018 to 2028+.

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

The Next Big Thing In South African Wine? Tasting the New Release Lourens Family Wines Cinsault Based Red Blend…

Franco Lourens is the assistant winemaker at Alheit Family Wines in Walker Bay and another of his own label new releases is this superb red blend from fruit sourced around the Western Cape. Cinsault is already seducing journalists and consumers around the world with the likes of Sadie Family’s Pofadder, Naude Old Vine Cinsault and others. But the category is evolving fast and new Cinsault based red blends are now starting to steal the headlines.

Quality wines to turn heads recently include the Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Leeu Passant Cinsault – Cabernet Sauvignon Blend and Adam Mason’s Raised By Wolves School House Red Cinsault – Cabernet Sauvignon. And who could ignore the iconic cult wine Follow the Line from Duncan Savage!? Well here is another cracker to join the ranks. Using fruit sourced from unique vineyards across the Western Cape, the grapes underwent spontaneous fermentation with natural yeasts in open top fermenters without any additions of any sort. The wine was then aged in old French oak barrels for 9 months and bottled without acidification or fining.

Mono-varietal wines are often the styles to grab consumer attention as they are easier to pigeon hole and easier to understand. But with the South African category maturing nicely, you can expect to see more Cinsault based blends making headlines in 2018. This will certainly be one of them.

Lourens Family Wines Howard John 2016 Red Blend, WO Western Cape, 12.5 Abv.

A blend of 43% Cinsault from Darling and Stellenbosch, 43% Carignan from Wellington and 14% Grenache Noir from Bot River. The aromatics on the nose are incredibly intense and perfumed almost catching one unawares. Poured in a Zalto Burgundy glass, there are notes of lavender, marzipan, sweet red peppercorns but also violets and dried coriander seeds. While all very floral and lifted, there are also deeper, darker savoury notes of bresaola, cured meats, and red cherry spice. You just don’t know where the palate at 12.5 Abv is going to take you. This is a real joy-ride in the back seat of a high powered sports car. The palate is beautifully balanced and fresh, but shows impressive concentration of flavour. There are layers of sweet pithy red cherries, wild strawberry, sweet peppercorns, and raspberry ripple and the finish is rather enticing with pink stick candy and strawberry bon bons. Amazingly suave and harmonious for this type of red blend, with the varieties all pulling in the same synergistic direction. An absolutely delicious wine displaying very accomplished winemaking using high quality fruit. This wine is named after and dedicated to Franco Lourens’ father, Howard John Lourens. I imagine he must be very proud of this namesake from Franco. Drink now to 2026+

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