We first encountered the wines of the South African producer Hamilton Russell back in 2007. At that time, we were very impressed with their mineral-driven Burgundian-like character, and brought home bottles for our cellar. We haven’t seen them around much since then, so when we got review samples of their latest efforts, including a bottle from their satellite project, Southern Right, we were quite excited to taste what they’ve been up to lately.
Hamilton Russell Vineyards is the southernmost wine estate in Africa and the closest to the sea. It is located in the cool, maritime Walker Bay appellation in a beautiful valley behind the old fishing village of Hermanus, and specializes in producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Southern Right’s focus is on Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc; it was founded by Anthony Hamilton Russell in 1994. The wines are named after the rare Southern Right whales, which frequent the cool South Atlantic Walker Bay, 3 kilometers from the vineyards. Southern Right makes a contribution to Southern Right whale conservation with proceeds from sales of their wines. We started our exploration of this trio with the Pinotage.
2008 Southern Right Pinotage Walker Bay, 13.5% alc., $27 SRP: Deeply, darkly colored, with smoky oak and black fruit on the nose that follows through accordingly on the palate. The fruit could be described as restrained and austere; some might say it lacks depth, and while I’m not sure that’s so, it does lack complexity. It seems to exhibit the “oak and mirrors” syndrome, with the wood dressing up the bone dry, one dimensional fruit. Full bodied and well structured for some years in the cellar, so maybe time will help; at least it doesn’t fit the “stinky” stereotype that too many attach to Pinotage. 100% barrel aging for 10.5 months, 100% Malolactic. 1st Fill 32%, 2nd Fill 52%, 3rd Fill 16%; 100% 228 liter French Oak Barrels: Alliers 65%, Other Tight Grain 35%; French Coopers: Francois Freres 58%, Mercurey 29%, Billon 7%, Ermitage 7%. Find this wine
Since our first taste of Hamilton Russell had been a Chardonnay, it only seemed right to move on to that next.
2009 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay Hemel-en-Aarde, 13% alc., $31.50 SRP: Clean, medium color; fairly ripe on entry, bone dry on the finish. Tart green apple, green bean, sweet pea and mineral flavors and aromas show excellent concentration and intensity; full bodied, but not heavy, with great acidity and length. I quite like this, but Kim isn’t so sure, saying that it has “a little too much of that canned pea thing going” for her. 100% barrel aging for 8 ½ months; 1st fill 33%, 2nd fill 32%, 3rd fill 35%. 100% 228 liter French Oak Barrels: Alliers 72%, Other Tight Grain 28%; French Coopers: Francois Freres 60%, Mercurey 28%, Dargaud and Jaegle 9%. Find this wine
Our final sample was the Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, and I must report that, after such fond memories of the previous model that we so enjoyed, this one is a big letdown.
2008 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir Hemel-en-Aarde, 13.3% alc., $44 SRP: Clean, light ruby in color; Kim hits it right on the nose when she describes this as “green;” there’s little depth of fruit, and that green character is the dominant attribute here, which is not a particularly attractive thing. Medium bodied and moderately structured, the wine is certainly drinkable and not horrible, but there’s just not much here to like either. Sorry to say, but neither of us bothered with a second glass of this one. 100% barrel aging for 10 months, 100% Malolactic. 1st fill 30%, 2nd fill 48%, 3rd fill 22%; 100% 228 litre French Oak Barrels: Alliers 75%, Other Tight Grain 25%; French Coopers: Francois Freres 54%, Mercurey 32%, Louis Latour 8%, Billon 6%. Find this wine
Hamilton Russell and Southern Right imported by Vineyard Brands, Inc., Birmingham, AL
Overall, a disappointing showing from these three. I want to say better things about the reds, but they don’t give me any reason to. Are they casualties of the ’08 vintage in Walker Bay? It would appear that that might be the case, based on this report.
Reporting from Day-twah,