Hamilton Russell Vineyards is located in the cool maritime Walker Bay wine appellation in the beautiful Hemel en Aarde Valley just behind the old fishing village of Hermanus. The winery specializes in producing terroir driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – “Wines from South African soil with a Burgundian soul” – that are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the best in the New World.
Founder Tim Hamilton Russell purchased the underdeveloped 170 hectare property in 1975, not really knowing what grape varieties would ripen properly in this extreme spot a scant 3 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean, which was sourced by a constant wind and with a host of uncompromising soils.
Anthony Hamilton Russell, Tim’s son, took over in 1991 and has made Hamilton Russell Vineyards what it is today: a producer of world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. He registered Hamilton Russell Vineyards as an Estate, committing to work only with grapes from their terroir. He narrowed the range of grape varieties to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay only. He also stopped filtering the wine and began farming organically and fermenting with native yeasts, all of which has added a new level of intensity to the wines.
Anthony works with winemaker Hannes Storm in the cellar and viticulturist Johan Montgomery in the vineyard. Along with organic farming, low yields is another of the guiding principles at Hamilton Russell. Chardonnay is barrel fermented in a temperature controlled wine cellar. Pinot Noir is fermented with skins in open fermenters at warm temperature. As a principle, Hannes Storm makes the wine from each vineyard block separately, so that the particular style of each parcel is kept absolutely intact; blending takes place later, according to Hannes & Anthony’s vision.
Hamilton Russell Vineyards produces 15,000 cases of Pinot Noir and 20,000 cases of Chardonnay each year. The aforementioned small yields and intense worldwide demand keep these elegant, highly individual Estate grown wines in very short supply.
2013 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay, $30.00 (Approximate Price) – The 2013 Chardonnay from Hamilton Russell possesses the elegance, acidity, and balance that is reminiscent of a great white Burgundy… but it also exhibits the concentrated ripe juicy fruit of a New World Chardonnay. It is, quite literally, the best of both worlds. As wine critic Stephen Tanzer notes, it “Conveys a powerful impression of intensity without weight.” And that statement, I believe, is the key to this extraordinary wine.
There is some nutty, toasty oak here… but it is subtle, refined, understated, and backed by both the aforementioned crisp acidity and a strong vein of fresh minerality. The wine is rich and concentrated… yet, at the same time, bright and refreshing. There’s a taste of citrusy lime at the outset, but this soon opens up to a nice roundness and intensity at mid palate that continues through the long, lingering finish.
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate bestowed 92 points (100-point scale) on the 2013 Chardonnay; the Wine Spectator, 93 points. As a matter of fact, the Spectator has rated each of Hamilton Russell’s last twelve vintages of Chardonnay at 90 points or higher. And that certainly is a testimony to this Winery’s incredible consistency. Another plus is that this wine should cellar well and age gracefully. According to the critics, it will open up beautifully in the years to come and be at the top of its game through 2019.
I’m sure that to some wine lovers out there $30.00 per bottle may seem rather steep for a Chardonnay – even if it does remind you of a first-rate white Burgundy. But everything is relative – unless, of course, you happen to have a relative in the business… So please bear this in mind… Top-of-the-line white Burgundies from top producers can set you back $500.00 per bottle or more… and older vintages can run into the thousands.
Given the obvious quality of the 2013 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, and the fact that it should be thoroughly enjoyable through the next five years, are reasons enough to strike while the iron is hot…
2012 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir, $40.00 (Average Price) – Hamilton Russell Winery’s Pinot Noir is arguably South Africa’s finest. This is, of course, a matter of debate and of personal taste. What is absolutely certain, however, is that HR’s Pinot Noir is one of South Africa’s most consistent, high quality representations of this grape variety. The Wine Spectator, for example, recently bestowed a whopping 93 points (100-point scale), upon the 2012 vintage, describing it as “Alluring, with gorgeous toasted spice and cherry confiture aromas, backed by silky red currant, damson plum and cherry fruit flavors.”
Well… I’m not sure that your average wine lover really gives a damn about all those flowery descriptors. What he/she does care about is that the 2012 is beautifully bold, ripe, and aromatic… and it is also beguilingly complex and silky smooth on the palate. This wine, like HR’s 2013 Chardonnay noted above, is subtly Burgundian rather than forwardly New World in style.
The 2012 Pinot Noir is dry, medium- to full-bodied and, as one critic described it, “fantastically persistent.” In other words, it is not a “statement wine”; it doesn’t grab you right out of the box. Rather, it slowly wins you over with layer upon layer of class, elegance, and gently evolving nuances. Thanks to its ethereal tannins and sleek acidity, this is a wine that can be marvelously enjoyable at the present moment or cellared through to 2020. Marvelous at any time of the year, the 2012 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir will add a particularly warm and wonderful touch to your holiday table.
At an average price of $40.00 per bottle this vintage is not an inexpensive proposition. However, if you are a lover of Pinot Noir – as I am – it is most assuredly one of those “must have” wines. I have seen it on sale for as low as $28.00 or as inflated as $47.00. Total Wine is offering it for $39.99 (and don’t worry if you can’t obtain the 2012; the 2009 & 2010 are also highly rated). Your best bet is to google the 2012 vintage and see what come up.
Cheers & Happy Holidays!