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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


Founder Tim Hamilton Russell pioneered the Walker Bay, purchasing a virgin, 170 hectare property in 1975 after an exhaustive search to find a southerly location with a genuinely cool climate where he could grow Pinot Noir in particular. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first release, from the estate now owned and run by Tim's son, Anthony Hamilton Russell.

A shrewd businessman who seems to be constantly 'on message', Anthony stresses that Hemel-en-Aarde is an Area, not a Valley, the more recently planted Upper and Ridge appellations being carefully and diplomatically included at all times in his conversation. "The appellations are all maritime climates," he says, "with a huge variety of soils - lighter soils in the Upper Valley, with the soils in the Valley and Ridge appellations with higher shale and high clay content."

Having originally put Walker Bay on the wine map, I ask if the new appellations might be a confusing move for consumers. "Walker Bay is a big area - as big as Stellenbosch - and we hope these three newer appellations will eventually mean something to the consumer."

In the winery, Anthony is experimenting with the clay amphora similar to those seen in some other properties on this trip, his lined with clay from the property. They use natural yeasts found in the vineyard too, having identified and selected the most appropriate, and he cites early research on soils carried out in 1994 as important to the finesse of his wines today, with 16 different types of soil identified, the clay soils being "Very Burgundy-like."

the wines

UK agent is Hallgarten. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2008
A mix of blond barrels with no toast, through to medium toast. Beautifully Burgundian nose, with some fragrant notes to the nutty melon and apple fruit and a little mineral character. The palate has a lovely mouth-feel too, with a nicely sour lemon and apple quality. Very nice balanced wine with great length. 91/100.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2009
Very young, with quite a closed nose, but nice fragrance coming through with similar characters to the 2008. The Palate too has a lovely orangy burst of intense fruit and a lovely nuttiness in the finish. This has great promise and perhaps for me an even more shimmering quality that could see it nudge ahead in time. 91-92/100.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2007
30% new wood. 10 parcels of Pinot, several different clones. Beautifully delicate colour. Anthony says is in a dumb period and will re-emerge with gamy characters. Nice cherry and savoury briar notes, but yes, quite subtle. The palate is lovely, with really nice fruit that is fleshy but not soft, with a real backbone of tannin and good acidity. 92/100.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2008
Challenging vintage. Very low yields and declassified a lot of wine. More chocolate and brighter, more plump cherry and plum fruit. The oak seems more upfront, with char and toast. The fruit is very juicy and deliciously constrained by firm tannins and black plum tartness to the acidity. 92/100.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2009
Fairly buoyant spice and cherry fruit, with graphite hints and plenty of clove like spice. The palate has a really firm edge at present. The char of the tight-grained oak, the liquoricy grip of the tannins and tight acidity adding a very firm, juicy character to this young wine. Promising. 91-92/100.

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