01 August 2004

Anthony Hamilton Russell Excites!

Hamilton Russell Vineyard’s reputation is built on their Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnays. For more than 20 years they’ve been recognised not only as South African icons but among the best anywhere.

But owner Anthony Hamilton Russell is also passionate about Pinotage which he releases under the Southern Right label and he will shortly announce a new Pinotage label – Ashbourne. Anthony attended our February Pinotage tasting in Cape Town and invited me to visit his cellars to taste some of his wines.

Anthony is surprising young for a major winery owner, always impeccably dressed and intense where Pinotage is concerned. “I believe so much in the potential of the variety”, he stated, “and I just wish people would put more effort into making Pinotage. It’s unique to our country and adds to the world of wine.” I mentioned WINE magazines flirtation with Shiraz. Anthony was definite that “Shiraz is not the answer for South Africa! Anyone trying to put Pinotage on the map is more innovative than those trying to rip-off Australian Shiraz.”

Hamilton Russell Vineyard’s cellar is set among his vineyards on a cliff high overlooking the town of Hermanus in Walker Bay. Part of is sunk under ground and the upper floor has doors under the eave at each end to let air circulate. Unfortunately the thatched roof was made at too low an angle and the huge supporting logs are forcing the walls apart. Underground the air is cool, the walls stained with fungus and it could be a centuries old cave in France.

In 1998 Southern Right purchased a 113 hectare farm in Walker Bay. Anthony is convinced that Pinotage needs a cool climate for slow ripening to encourage fruit complexity and tannins, and performs best on clay soils. He has identified areas of stony clay-rich Bokkeveld shale soils on the farm to plant his Pinotage vineyards. He also sources grapes from four nearby vineyards previously planted as joint ventures with the farmers.

Southern Right’s first Pinotage was the 1995 vintage. Just 162 cases were made, and the aim is to increase production to an eventual target of 10,000 cases. 2003 vintage saw 6450 cases.

Southern Right 1995 13.18% Pinot Noir nose, deep black core, browning. Light
bodied, touch of kelp and iodine. The fruit for this wine came from Beaumont and
it was aged in new Alliers oak.

Southern Right 1997 12.42%
A musty brettanomyces nose which cleared leaving a soft and attractive wine, backed with sweet fruit, light bodied and elegant.

Southern Right 2002 14.34%
Bright red colour, warm coconut nose, soft bodied with light red-currant flavours.
Beautifully balanced. This has a WO Western Cape as some of the grapes were
bought in.

Southern Right 2003 13.69%
Bright clear ruby colour, soft full nose, surprisingly light, enjoyably easy drinking with a long lingering aftertaste and a backbone of tannins. WO Walker Bay, from Southern Right’s own and partner vineyards.

Ashbourne 2001 13.9% barrel sample
This comes the Bastenburg block. It’s a single vineyard Pinotage. It's not been racked and has a funky nose, high acids and flavours of cherry and a hint of iron, medium aftertaste, dried berries and tannins and a dry finish.

Anthony says his intention is to make a “quirky individual wine that some will like, but others won’t. It’s not enough to be pleasing; you have to have excite someone. Controversial wines do this”. Anthony is considering blending in a tiny – less than 2% - of Roobernet, a very new grape variety developed in South Africa by crossing the historic red-juiced Pontac and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bastenburg 2003 tank sample, not yet filtered
Exuberant purple red, immensely enjoyable quaffable wine with rich berry fruits, spicy rounded and soft, fruit tannins on the end. Anthony is looking for some “more complexity and refinement.” He doesn’t want it to go “overripe with excessive alcohol and wood.”

Anthony says Pinotage has all the quantities to make a world class wine, and world class wines are the only ones he’s interested in making.

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