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)