An Embarrassment of Riches from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ~ Tasting Another Fine Chardonnay from Restless River…

It seems consumers are being spoilt rotten at the moment with all the amazing Chardonnays from both Elgin and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. If you follow my blog, you might be mistaken for thinking that’s almost all I drink! Well, I’ve been following Craig Wessels’ beautiful reds and whites for the past few years starting with purchases of his unique Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and his 2012 Chardonnay.


Craig’s latest release in the UK market, the Ava Marie Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 from the Upper Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, is another top notch crackerjack wine. Using 15% new oak, the grapes were harvested between the 27th of February and the 12th of March and barrel fermented after wholebunch pressing. The wine was left 8 months on its lees without battonage.


Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2014 Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa, 12.9 Abv.

Exotic, fragrant nose on this expressive wine. Shows salted caramel, lemon butter, toffee apple and hazelnut complexity. Wow, super complex nose. The palate does not disappoint either with intense caramelised white citrus fruits, creme brûlée, and nutty chalky complexity. Perhaps from a more difficult vintage but this is an extremely fine effort that is showing amazingly well. Most 2014 Walker Bay Chardonnays were probably sold out and drunk up long ago, but this elegant white is singing at the moment. Well done Craig Wessels!

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



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)

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2016 – Reviewing a South African Benchmark…

This time last year, I was sitting alongside my favourite Cape wine land royalty couple, Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell at the Cape Wine Auction 2016 hosted at Klein Constantia. Roll on another year and I’m pleased to hear that the Cape Wine Auction 2017 netted over R22 million rand to bring the running auction total to over R55 million raised to date, all destined to be spent on valuable wine land charities. 


So to toast this amazing success and remember my lovely friends Anthony and Olive, who’s Cape Wine Auction lots have themselves helped raise millions over the past years, I decided to crack my first bottle of Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2016 that has just hit the shores of the UK.


Chardonnay is rightly flying high again in the repertoire of global fine wine consumers. Unaffordable white Burgundy prices have forced consumers to look for substitutes further afield and South Africa’s finest examples from the likes of Hamilton Russell, Ataraxia, Storm, Restless River, Kershaw, Meerlust, Newton Johnson, Julien Schaal, Warwick and Jordan have made a lot of friends around the world.

Having recently enjoyed the thrilling 2016 Meerlust Chardonnay with Hannes Myburgh in London, I was startled at the high quality and comparable style with the highly regarded 2015 vintage wines. What would the 2016 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay hold in store?


Tasting Note: Coming from fruit grown on Low-vigour, stony, clay-rich, shale-derived soils, this 13.2 Abv Chardonnay has a beautiful lemon curd yellow colour and an opulent, fragrant nose of green honeydew melon, apple pastille sweets, pear purée, chalky limestone and subtle wood spice and dried mint leaf. There is a youthful confidence to the palate that is at once both broad, lush and textural, but also fresh, intense and focused with pithy lemon confit and grapefruit marmalade richness. The 35% new Francois Freres oaking melts seamlessly into the fruit’s purity and concentration. Classy, complex and thoroughly delicious, it could be the wine’s youthfulness or perhaps vintage character nuances, but the 2016 shows slightly more New World opulence and sweet Bon Bon / pastille fruited concentration than the more Burgundian 2015. Perhaps a sign of the 2016’s unusually early and short harvest? Though Anthony is quick to point out that the harvest cycle was very similar to 2015 and the wine is perhaps “more typical of the Hamilton Russell style”. Either way, the 2015 and 2016 will go down in the records as one of the winery’s most successful pair of quality Chardonnay vintages. 

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

Hemelrand Vine Garden ~ A Premium Alheit Family Wine for the Local South African Market…

We are spoilt in the UK. We often get the lions share of allocations of rare, small production, icon or boutique wines to the annoyance of the home market. The European and other international markets have been far quicker to accept and pay the premium prices these wines often command.


We all know the local SA home market has an inbuilt aversion to paying more than R150 (£8.99) a bottle for a white wine, and perhaps R250-R300 (£16.99) max for a bottle of red. As long as this mentality prevails, most of SA’s greatest wines will be exported to international markets. 

No point being sour grapes about this fact. It’s a reality that only the local consumers themselves can change. Though, in 2016, I have seen a glimmer of hope that buying behaviour is starting to change in the local market. 
Producers and distributors are working harder than ever on more innovative ways to get locals to part with their hard earned cash. Premium producers like Vilafonte have had great success with their exclusive wine members club, while De Toren has successfully carved out a successful premium on-trade niche for their Book XVII and Black Lion wines. Mullineux & Leeuw Family Wines have also been successful with their exclusive wine club micro-vinifications that help to cast an even broader halo over their entire range of fine wines. 

So it was with great interest that I learnt about Chris Alheit’s new 2015 single vineyard release earlier this year… with a small(ish) production of 5000 bottles primarily destined for the local South African market. 

Chris “Butch” Alheit with his 2016 new releases including the maiden Hemelrand Vine Garden

Inspired by great Mediterranean white wines such as Mas de Dumass Gassac, Le Soula, and Domaine de La Grange des Peres, the Hemelrand Vine Garden white is produced from a new “fifth-leaf” vineyard planted directly behind the Hemelrand cellar on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, situated at 360 meters above sea level, on gravelly clay, with Sandstone intrusions. The blend is comprised of 48% Roussanne, 27% Chenin, 22% Chardonnay and 3% Verdelho.


Tasting Note: A pale pineapple yellow, this white blend is laced with dusty white citrus minerality, limestone, grapefruit zest and wet chalk. There’s a real old world restraint permeating this wine. The palate is intense and concentrated, bursting with yellow citrus, white peach, pineapple pastille, salty lemon and a honied, Bon Bon finish. I was expecting this young wine to be a lot tighter and leaner, but once again, the 2015 vintage intensity and opulence clearly shines through. Add to that the Alheit blending skill, and you’re gifted a magical blend, seamlessly woven together, with a complex, slightly oily finish. Lovely now but will be even better in 2 to 3 years time. (Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)