02 February 2007

Ashbourne -- Same Same?

Anthony Hamilton Russell and Talita Engelbrecht of Hamilton Russell Vineyards (with a good book) Rarer than hens teeth, more tasted and talked about than drunk, 2007 sees a new vintage of Ashbourne released. The first was the 2001 vintage, now along comes 2004. Have I tasted it? Heck no -- none had arrived in the country in time for their recent UK agents tasting.

But South African food and wine writer JP Rossouw went to the Hamilton Russell Vineyards launch earlier this month. He writes in his blog "The 2004, to my palate, reminds me much more of pinotage, with more primary fruit. I would be surprised if this wine does as good a job of being the “fine wine without an obvious mother” that the 2001 was. Fuller fruit expression with more of pinotage’s ripe winegum notes open into a wine that is again very well-styled and age-worthy, but less mysterious. And perhaps this is a very good thing for the variety."

For JP, the 2001 " is a wine that you could secretly show in the company of Bordeaux blends – indeed few pick it as pinotage. This makes it something of a Pyrrhic victory for the variety. At once a wonderful wine and one that does not taste like any other pinotage, it presents little for the pinotage mainstream to cling to and is difficult to harness for the greater marketing of the grape."

Which again raises the question, what is Pinotage supposed to taste like? Far too many people first tasted Pinotage as an old fashioned nail-varnish and bitter monstrosity, and that is what they think the variety is. When you can get them to taste a decently made wine they say, well OK, but it doesn't taste like Pinotage.

Read the Dallas Post review of Fort Ross Pinotage and ask yourself if you'd guess the wine in question was Pinotage just by reading the review on its own. Why don't California and New Zealand Pinotages suffer from bitterness and nail varnish flavours?

Asbourne is a project by Anthony Hamilton Russell who firmly believes in Pinotage and the wine is unusual in that it doesn't name a grape variety. Anthony wants people to judge the wine on its merits.

JP remarks on a stylistic difference between the 2001 and 2004 Ashbournes, and I wonder if this old news item holds the answer. "An impressive flagship Ashbourne 2001 is made from 100% Pinotage from HRV’s Bastenburg vineyard. But grapes will be sourced from Southern Right’s site from the 2004 vintage." (Kim Maxwell writing on www.wine.co.za)

*and frequently Ashbourne is kept under the table and poured only for the great and good.

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