Hamilton Russell Vineyards Release an Impressively Sophisticated New 2020 Chardonnay…

Hamilton Russell Vineyards run under the watchful eye of Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are well established as one of the most respected Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers in South Africa. With their winery retaining an obsessive and loyal legion of drinkers and collectors only matched by the likes of fellow icon brands like Meerlust Rubicon or Kanonkop Paul Sauer, quality and consistency has always been the Hamilton Russell calling card.

With Emul Ross firmly in control of winemaking since the 2015 vintage, it is incredible to think that after 30+ years, this estate’s finest wines may lie in future vintages still to be born.

Winemaker Emul Ross and Anthony Hamilton Russell at the barrel cellar.

The 2020 vintage was a touch earlier than usual beginning in the first week of February and was also wetter than the previous few vintages. A standout feature of 2020 was however the exceptional phenolic ripeness at lower-than-normal alcohol levels which helped produce a wine that is taut, tight, minerally expressive and texturally very classical showing the usual Hemel-en-Aarde Valley cool climate length and complexity.

95% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in 228 litre Francois Freres French oak barrels before being aged for a total of 9 months in 24% new French oak with 5% aged in foudre.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 12.9% Abv.

3.45pH | 6.90 TA | 2.20 RS

If 2018 produced a super taut, reductive serious expression and 2019 showed a lusher, more forward, accessible opulence, then 2020 is perhaps a marriage of these two styles. This is a wine full of confidence and composure, brimming with taut white citrus pith, green pear and lime peel, bruised green apples, white blossom and a complexing saline oyster shell minerality. On the palate there is a feel of density, dry extract, concentration and a really precise harmonious balance with layers of green melon, sweet lime jelly, melted butter and a full glycerol finish with just the faintest hint of butterscotch, lime cordial and vanilla pod spice. Seemless and sleek, the layers just melt into each other leaving a sensation of utter completeness. What a truly fabulous wine, resplendent in its mellow classical restraint, intense concentration and harmonious length. A big high five for Emul Ross!! Drink on release and over the next 10-12+ years. (51,516 bottles produced)

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

Tasting The Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2019 – A Truly Characterful Expression…

We all know Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson make some of the prettiest and accomplished Pinot Noirs in South Africa. With their family heritage and know how engendered in them by their father Peter Finlayson, top Pinot and Chardonnay has always been part of their DNA.

But when it comes to their Whole Bunch Pinot Noir cuvee, this small production endeavour has always been a vehicle for experimentation. Some drinkers, like myself, have certainly become besotted with previous vintages like the 2016 and 2018, but equally, I do realise it can be quite a divisive wine stylistically. In my mind, it probably comes down to how much French Burgundy one drinks and also from which domaines, which will decide your proclivity.

The 2019 was fermented using only native yeasts in small open top vessels. 100% whole bunches were employed. The wine spent a total of six weeks on the skins after which it went into French and Hungarian oak barrels (25% new) for 11 months ageing.

Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.6% Abv.

pH 3.52 | TA 5.3 g/l | Total SO2 46 mg/l | RS 2.5 g/l | Only 1219 bottles

What a complex and intricate wine with aromatics that combine the best of the local terroir with fabulous whole bunch sapidity and minerality. Combine these notes with wild strawberry, cranberry, sun-dried cherry, bramble berry and sappy wood spice and you have the makings of a wonderful Pinot. The palate starts off a little raw, grippy and tight but with a little air quickly shows round supple notes of delicious black cherry, hoisin plum sauce, fresh fennel and spicy bramble berry fruits. The Whole Bunch has always been a bit of an outlier but wow, what an incredibly characterful wine. All the Whole Bunch wines normally need a bit of extra time to come around but in 2019, yet again, Peter-Allan knocks it out the park! Drink from 2022 to 2032+

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

The Crystallum wines are distributed in the UK by Liberty Wines.

Creation Estate’s New Release Emma Pinot Noir Battles it out for Supremacy with the New Art of Pinot Noir 2019 Cuvee…

The beautiful 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.

Every year there is a mega battle of wills and palates (and maybe egos?) as JC Martin fights it out with his daughter Emma to see who will take the spoils with the international critics for the best rated Creation Pinot Noir between the Emma Cuvee and the Art of Pinot Noir Cuvee from their Creation estate. I love the competitiveness and the resulting quality realised every vintage. Last year the 2018 Emma excelled and was clearly a more intense, complex, mesmerising expression on release. But 2019 was a different beast of a vintage offering up a lot more structure, tension, minerality and sapidity. So it was all to play for!

Game on! I recently tasted these two exceptional wines over two days and the results were as follows…

Creation Emma Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

A barrel selection by Emma – JC and Caroline’s 18+ year old daughter from the Art of Pinot Noir vineyard barrels. This is certainly a very serious glassful of premium Pinot Noir. Opened on Boxing Day 2020, it was taut and spicy showing some overt oak notes over savoury bramble berry fruits and hints of black plum and sous bois. But tasting this wine over two days really does it justice as not only is it super youthful, but it’s one of the most serious and luxurious expressions of Pinot Noir in South Africa. Day two and this wine blossoms with true Pinot Noir grandeur, unfurling layers of strawberry, cranberry, dusty limestone chalk, sappy stalky spice, red cherry pastille and an underlying structure of crunchy acids, graphite minerality and spicy polished tannins. This is definitely a keeper and will require a few years in the cellar to do it justice. Very impressive yet again.

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

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

Like the Emma, the aromatics of this young wine are a little disjointed straight after pulling the cork but allowed a bit of air and time, this wine also comes together impressively. The aromatics are markedly different with more sappy red berry, sour cranberry, sour plum and a savoury, earthy red berry core. There are complexing notes of crushed leaves, sous bois and sour cherry but on the palate the density and concentration is harmonious and polished, pithy and chalky merging with an irony, bloody, red berry tartness and a long, stony, brambly finish. Intense, captivating and thoroughly delicious. Give this 3-5 years before enjoying.

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

So the final verdict sees the Emma, the defending champion, retain the title of Best Creation Pinot with punch! But of course, they do say anything a man can do, a woman can do better!

Nothing More Fun Than the Second Time – Tasting the New Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020 Release…

Berene Sauls is a testament to hard work, belief, faith, and a simmering vision for greatness. I feel so utterly privileged to be one of the wine trade professionals who tasted her early vintages and identified her passion and vision.

But making a top Pinot Noir was never going to be enough for her so roll on the challenge of making a premium Chardonnay. The maiden 2019 was pretty impressive with its steely tension and crystalline purity. But of course it’s always the second release, the second album, that is always the hardest challenge. I recently tasted the second release from Berene and was suitably impressed!

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020, WO Hemel en Aarde Ridge

This is another accomplished Chardonnay from Tesselaarsdal that boasts a breath and depth of textural opulence making the maiden 2019 vintage look more like a chiselled Premier Cru Chablis in comparison. The 2020 nose boasts classic notes of spicy yellow citrus, green honeydew melon, white peach and a bold limestone mineral vein. The wine coats your mouth with a fine glycerol weight and delicious mouth-watering green apple pastille notes enlivened with pronounced tangy acids. Seamless and harmonious, Berene Sauls has created another attractive expression of premium Chardonnay that is ready to drink on release.

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

Creation Shifts Into Rhone Gear with the Release of Their New Grenache 2019 Red…

JC and Carolyn Martin, the owners of the Creation winery situated in the picturesque Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge region, are synonymous with the production of world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But slightly less well known is that they also produce a deliciously seductive Grenache red that is made from grapes harvested from mature, virus-free vines which allows them the opportunity to create a wine with greater fruit purity, focus and precision.

I recently sampled the wonderful new 2019 expression of this impressive wine and can confirm that there is definitely a new Rhone ranger in town. The traditional skin fermentation was followed by malolactic fermentation in barrels with around 2-3 rackings over circa 14 months maturation with just a rough filtration before bottling.

Creation Sumac Grenache 2019, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge

This bright and lively Grenache comes from another exceptional vintage across the country for both reds and whites, delivering impressively expressive aromatics, a surfeit structural tension, delicious fruit purity and the classic 2019 mineral backbone. Still youthful and full of vigour, the nose boasts hints of crushed rose petals, Chinese five spice, black currant liquor, juniper, black cherry and savoury black bramble berry nuances. The melted black liquorice and crème de cassis complexity mingles with notes of roasted earth, bruleed oak, black olive tapenade and freshly cracked black peppercorns. The palate shows an impressively fleshy weight, an intensity of salty black fruits, sleek fine grained tannins and finishes with a slightly raw, mineral youthfulness. While the mid-palate remains quite tightly wound and a little shy, this wine should grow into its skin with another 6 to 12 months of bottle ageing. Yet another cracking red wine from this leading light producer in the Walker Bay. Oh, and a better braai / barbeque red wine you’ll struggle to find!

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

Tasting the Exceptional Sumaridge Estate Chardonnay 2017 from the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley…

Owner Simon Turner and his wife Holly Bellingham bought the fine Sumaridge Estate in 2008 after having been lucky enough to enjoy a family holiday home in Hermanus for several years before that. I met Simon in London several times through his UK importer Sporting Wine Club and enjoyed many of his winery’s fine wines alongside some great sporting personalities in the International world of cricket and rugby.

Perhaps not one of the most famous of the Hemel-en-Aarde wineries, Sumaridge has slowly but surely risen to new heights in the last few years under wine maker Walter Prestorius who has utilised the exceptional terroir of the region to make some very exciting wines.

A typical feature of the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley in the Walker Bay region is the maritime fog that enters along the valley floor in the evening and exits in the early morning, just exactly where Chardonnay vineyards from Sumaridge are located. Along the banks of the On Rus river the soils are ancient decomposed granite loam with quartzite inclusions located on North West orientations from 180 to 196 metres above sea level approximately 8km from the cooling Atlantic Ocean.

Sumaridge Chardonnay 2017, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.5% Abv.

Another fantastic vintage in the Cape delivers a predictably expressive white wine. The aromatics show impressive richness of fruit and a fine focus with layers of brûléed lemon citrus, freshly baked baguette, creamy green melon confit and a hint of coconut and vanilla pod spice. Very inviting, this 2017 shows flesh and concentration, intensity and vibrant depth. The rich citrus density coats the palate and lingers long on the finish. What power, what persistence! With no shortage of ripeness, the final badge of success of this delicious wine is marked by its tangy acidity and mouthwatering freshness. A very fine, complete package that oozes Hemel-en-Aarde Valley pedigree. Drinking now but will evolve over the next 4-6 years.

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

Wines available in the UK from the Sporting Wine Club at http://www.sportingwineclub.com or from regional stockists.

Creation Wines Release Their Premium 2019 Reserve Chardonnay Packed Full of Tension and Electricity…

This excellent Reserve bottling from Carolyn and JC Martin of Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in Walker Bay is made with fruit from a beautiful south-facing 19-year-old Chardonnay block. 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.

Grown in a single vineyard, the Creation Reserve Chardonnay now ranks amongst the very finest cool climate Chardonnays produced in South Africa and most importantly, is building up a track record of quality and critical scores that most international premium Chardonnays from around the world would be envious of. In the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, at the opposite, higher end of the valley from producers like Hamilton Russell, Creation Wines saw intermittent rainfall in 2019 that produced many more weeds and gave them some problems with downy mildew, demanding four extra spray treatments which were successful in allowing Creation to produce some excellent fruit quality. Outstanding canopies and vigorous vine growth negated the need for any irrigation and a healthy crop size was recorded.

Creation Chardonnay Reserve 2019, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Abv. 13.4%

Lovers of fresh, electric, vibrant white wines from South Africa’s premium cool climate regions like the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge have been patiently awaiting new premium releases like this delicious Reserve Chardonnay from Creation. With an incredible quality track record over the past five years, the 2019 speaks so clearly of the vintage with crystalline zesty fresh glassy acids and a brazen liquid mineral frame. Aromatics are still restrained and taut with notes of lemon biscuits, dried herbs, incense, yellow citrus peel, green pear skins and defined mineral stony nuances. The 30% new French oak is classy and subtle acting as the complexing “salt and pepper” yin to the delicious white citrus fruit concentration yang. This is yet another beautifully crafted wine that will seduce Chardonnay drinkers around the world. Drink from 2021 to 2028+.

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

One From the Cellar – Tasting the Second Release of the Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2018…

I recently hosted a dinner with a couple of good friends where the theme was top Burgundy. Wines were tasted blind while we gave our assessment before revealing the labels and drinking the rest of the bottles with some lovely steaks. One of my clients sneaked the 2016 Crystallum Whole Bunch Pinot Noir into the line up and a I can honestly say, hand on heart, that we all thought it was a very good youthful Cotes de Nuits Burgundy red from a good grower at possibly village or premier cru quality level from 2015 or 2016. The grand reveal had us all fooled with the maiden release Crystallum Whole Bunch 2016 showing a beautiful intensity and a youthfully alluring power.

While I was slightly surprised to see Tim Atkin MW recently review the 2018 instead of the new 2019, he nevertheless scored the second release (there was no 2017) a mammoth 97/100 points. So as I am on the cusp of reviewing the 2019 in the coming days, I thought I would enjoy another bottle of the fabulous 2018 from my cellar to recalibrate my palate.

Crystallum Whole Bunch 2018 Pinot Noir, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 14.2% Abv.

The 2018 Whole Bunch Pinot Noir marks the second release of this initially experimental wine made from fruit sourced in the Cuvee Cinema vineyard in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and the Shaw’s Mountain Vineyard. Fermented using 100% of whole bunches, the result is possibly one of Peter-Allan’s most mesmerising creations yet. The aromatics show the best of both worlds with a delicious pure black and red berry fruit concentration, black currant compote, black cherry and red currant notes with subtle hedgerow and underbrush complexity together with the classic whole bunch nuances that offer extra sapidity and a stalky mineral spice. The whole bunch component definitely adds the extra magic that elevates this wine into the ranks of truly special New World Pinot Noirs that firmly tip their hats towards the masters of Burgundy. There is boldness and an extra confident swagger, opulence but also controlled mineral spicy restraint all packaged with an incredibly supple, seamless, harmonious tannin texture. You can drink this wine now but with the maiden 2016 still showing an incredibly youthful glow, it would be a shame not to bury some of these in the cellar for 8 to 10+ years.

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

Ps. I scored the Whole Bunch 2018 the same score on release back in January when I tasted the wine the first time with Peter-Allan.

https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2020/01/17/peter-allan-finlayson-unveils-some-of-his-new-releases-from-crystallum-and-gabrielskloof-in-london/

Fine Wine Safari New Release Notes – Tasting The Maiden Release Crystallum Litigo Pinot Noir 2019…

The Litigo Pinot Noir is an impressive new release for Peter-Allan and Andrew Finlayson after their Bona Fide cuvee was not made into a single vineyard wine but blended away into the very impressive Peter Max 2019. I can’t remember if I knew this fact or not earlier in the year when Peter-Allan hosted a new release tasting dinner in London on the banks of the Thames, but it certainly explains in hindsight the extra depth, precision and concentration evident on the Peter Max 2019!

The new Litigo Cuvee from the Overberg.

The maiden vintage Litigo is made from seven year old vines sourced from Crystallum’s very own Shaw’s Mountain Vineyard just outside the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The Litigo, meaning ‘discussion’ in legal terms, is a wine made in partnership with lawyer Eben van Wyk. Some cuvees come and go, such as the Paradisum Syrah from the Swartland, but I think this is certainly a wine to watch as the vines slowly notch up a little more age.

The wine was fermented using only native yeasts in stainless steel tanks using a 20% whole bunch component with the rest de-stemmed but left intact as whole berries. The wine spent a total of four weeks on the skins after which it went into French and Hungarian oak barrels (30% new) for 11 months before bottling.

Crystallum Litigo Pinot Noir 2019, WO Overberg, 13.6% Abv.

pH 3.60, 13.67% Abv., 5.0 g/l TA, Total sulphites 46 mg/l, Residual sugar 1.7 g/l.

When initially opened, the aromatics were rather broody and foresty, dominated by bramble berry fruits, red currants and wild strawberries. But chilling the bottle down ever so slightly and affording it a little more time to breath and open its shoulders, the wine really does blossom into something quite beautiful. The aromatics are slightly wild and spicy with notes of red cherries, strawberries and earthy mulberry notes embellished with hints of dried baking herbs. There is subtle spice nuances, an attractive violet and rose petal perfume but no real evidence of the 20% whole bunch component or any overt wood spice notes from the 30% new oak, just harmonious integration. The palate is impressively silky and sleek with beautifully pure refined tannins, a light to medium bodied mouthfeel weight and delicate, integrated earthy red berry and pomegranate fruit notes enlivened by soft fresh acids and a seamless finish. One can’t say this wine has the most mineral of profiles but certainly elegance and finesse are the order of the day. A really gentle, generous wine that speaks softly and is very amiable. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years. (Only 1,264 bottles were produced)

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

Creation Wines Shining a Light On Premium Chardonnay Production in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge…

I think it’s indisputable that only handful of producers in South Africa have well and truly cracked the winemaking code for producing top world class quality Chardonnay. So many commentators and consumers get confused between producers making good versus great expressions.

During some lockdown drinking, I thought I’d take the opportunity to revisit one of the wines I’ve found to consistently tick all the quality boxes when it comes to premium Chardonnay made in a style that is unquestionably world class.

Some of the accolades accrued by Creation’s Art of Chardonnay premium range.

Creation Wines are certainly one of the few South African wineries producing Chardonnay expressions that can be considered “next level” when tasted along side top international benchmarks from France, New Zealand, Australia or California. 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 focuses mainly on producing premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

Made from an 18 year old single vineyard but also from specific vines within the site that show the most balanced growth. This wine has a more complex, creamy, deep, broody nose with delicate leesy biscuit notes, green melon preserve, grapefruit zest, crunchy green pear and lemon cordial. Incredible subtlety, freshness, and a steely 3.3 pH highlights the super taut acidity, intense piercing mid-palate and a suave, stylish finish punctuated by an attractive vanilla pod and oak spice kiss. A very ‘Grand Vin’ Chardonnay indeed that deserves recognition. 4,600 bottles produced. Drink it now and over the next 15+ years.

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

For other top examples of South African Chardonnay, look no further than Kershaw Wines, Leeu Passant, Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Ataraxia, Restless River, Julien Schaal, Newton Johnson, Storm, Elgin Ridge, Paul Cluver, Crystallum, Bouchard Finlayson, De Morgenzon and Uva Mira. Buy all these wines with confidence.