Monday, August 3, 2015 our friends at Artisan Wine Depot invited us to a tasting of wines from Hamilton Russell Vineyards in South Africa. And, as a bonus, Anthony Hamilton Russell was pouring. We jumped at the chance.
Hamilton Russell produces two labels in addition to the obvious. Southern Right is named after the southern right whales that are often seen from the nearby coast. Ashbourne is the winery’s 279 acre estate, lending its name to the third label.
Hamilton Russell’s vineyards are at elevation and exposed to the westerly winds coming off Walker Bay. These are ideal conditions for pinot noir and chardonnay. Consistent with the cooler climate, alcohol levels are at the (previously) normal levels for California wines: 12.5% for the whites, 13.5% for the reds.
The winery and vineyards are located in the Walker Bay region of South Africa, on the west coast just north of the Cape of Good Hope. All their wines are made from grapes grown on their Hemel en Aarde Valley estate.
Hamilton Russell gets full marks for the amount of technical detail they supply. Here’s what they say about their 2014 chardonnay:
The 2014 Hamilton Russell chardonnay ($36) is very nice, with no detectable oak or malolactic. According to the technical sheet, the wine was only aged in new oak for 8.5 months. Lots of citrus and herbs on the nose followed by flavors of lemon and slate. While this wine is currently a touch too acid for our taste, a number of reviewers point out that Hamilton Russell chardonnays have a history of aging well. Buy some and let it sit for a few years.
Anthony’s 2009 Ashbourne “Sandstone” ($23) would qualify as a sauvignon blanc under California regulations. The sauvignon blanc grapes are blended with 12% chardonnay to take some of the edge off the palate. The wine has distinct grapefruit aromas lead to more grapefruit and a hint of herbs on the palate. If you get a chance to buy a bottle or two, take it.
Moving to the third label, the 2013 Southern Right pinotage ($28) has great mouth feel with hints of butterscotch, chocolate, and a hint of coffee. A hint of tannins creates a long, nice finish. The pinotage grape is a cross between pinot noir and cinsault created in South Africa. The idea was to create a more heat-tolerant grape that still maintained pinot noir characteristics. We’ve tasted some of these wines in the past and can say that Hamilton Russell has worked wonders with this grape. Anthony described it as a big wine appropriate for barbeque. We’ve tasted any number of California pinot noirs that are bigger, more tannic, and less quaffable than this gem.
The 2008 Ashbourne “Walker Bay Wine of Origin” red ($55) is an interesting blend of 67% cabernet sauvignon and 33% pinotage. Hamilton Russell has taken advantage of the more robust nature of the pinotage grapes to create a unique blend. Aromas of huckleberries, spice, and roses, with forest floor undertones lead to blackberry and strawberry with hints of smoke and pepper.
We were treated to a vertical of Hamilton Russell’s pinot noirs. Well, a two-year vertical including 2013 ($55) and 2014 ($55). These pinots are grown in gravel above a layer of clay, with no limestone. The wines are darker, more brooding, and are more subtle than pinot noir. The 2013 is juicy, is a little tight, and may need another year in the bottle. Aromas of cranberries and spice with a characteristic touch of eucalyptus. Flavors of strawberry and red raspberry lead to a surprising earthy finish. The 2014 is lighter, with aromas of blackberries and huckleberries followed by a red raspberry – bing cherry palate. Both wines have the fine-grained tension from tannins created when grapes grown in clay containing lots of iron and no limestone.
We’re pleased to discover Hamilton Russell and look forward to enjoying their many wines in the future.