In the first of a series of very special offers, our drinks editor Jonathan Ray here describes our recent Spectator Winemaker Lunch with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russel, as we offer a small parcel of very keenly-priced 2017 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, arguably the finest in all South Africa.
It was a very jolly (and really quite thirsty) bunch of 20 or so readers who gathered together in the Balcon Restaurant of the Sofitel London St. James Hotel a few weeks ago, there to enjoy one of our fabled Spectator Winemaker Lunches.
Hosted by Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell from South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, near Hermanus in Walker Bay, the lunch was so heavily oversubscribed that we abandoned our usual venue – the Spectator boardroom – and were made more than welcome by the staff at the Balcon, who kindly tucked us out of harm’s way in a delightful semi-private room at one end of the restaurant.
Lunch was pretty darn good, too, with a starter of scallop and avocado mousseline with lobster and brioche; a main course of rare breed pork tenderloin, celeriac gratin, slaw and mustard jus followed by plates of English and French cheeses served with quince jelly.
As for the wines, well, they were stunning. We started with an aperitif of 2017 Ashbourne Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay named after Anthony’s great, great grandfather Lord Ashbourne, Lord Chancellor of Ireland in the 1880s. Ashbourne is the neighbouring estate to Hamilton Russell, established by Anthony in 1996 largely in order to produce the best possible Pinotage. This excellent white is now made there too. It’s light, fresh and vibrant, made from 80 per cent Sauvignon and 20 per cent un-oaked Chardonnay, and designed for quaffing rather than agonising over and deconstructing and does the job perfectly.
The Ashbourne red is far more serious and proved to all around the table that Pinotage – a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault once notorious for tasting of nothing better than burnt rubber gumboots – is now to be taken very seriously indeed. We enjoyed the 2015 Ashbourne between courses and every bottle was drained. It was fresh and elegant with a fine minerality and a touch of savoury meatiness behind the rich, ripe fruit with no hint of rubber, burnt or otherwise. In fact, it tasted more like a fine old red burgundy than anything else and – crikey – it was good! Only 2,500 bottles were made and canny collectors have already got their eyes on it.
The stars of the show, though, were the Hamilton Russell Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from the 2016 and 2017 vintages. Indeed, we lucky souls round the table were the very first to sample the 2017s which have only just been released on to the market.
The Chardonnays epitomise all that is elegant and stylish about this grape. 2016 was a hot and an early ripening vintage although any extra heat here is always tempered by breezes of the nearby South Atlantic. 2017 was slightly wetter and more humid. Both wines are complex, finely constructed and beautifully restrained. Largely barrel-fermented and then aged in new and used oak for 9 months, the wines have delicate whispers of butter and vanilla but not so much as to mask the ripe, citrusy, white stone fruit and mineral core. Lovers of fine white burgundy will lap them up.
The Pinot Noirs, too, are astoundingly fine and I’ve not had better from anywhere else in South Africa. Anthony HR makes famously ‘Burgundian’ Pinots but that’s not to say that they are simple imitations. There is a definite sense of place to these wines and the only place they could come from is the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley, one of the sweetest of sweet spots for this capricious grape variety.
Both vintages exhibit extraordinary sophistication. They boast excellent bramble/cherry fruit but with a savoury backbone and hint of spice along with that Hamilton Russell hallmark of restraint and complexity.
Our guests stayed long in to the afternoon, firing questions at both Anthony and Olive and emptying every bottle that was put in front of them. It was late by the time we served the inimitable 2014 Vin de Constance, not one of Anthony’s but one that he’s delighted to wax lyrical about, so fine a wine is it, generally agreed to be one of the greatest sweet wines of the world.
It was late when we finally resorted to flicking the lights, and those readers who didn’t head for the bar headed out into London’s St. James’s with the broadest of grins on their faces.
So fine are the newly released 2017 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay and 2017 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir that I twisted the arms of both Anthony Hamilton Russell and Laura Taylor of our partners Private Cellar and somehow managed to secure ten cases (of 6 bottles) of both wines and am utterly delighted to offer them here to Spectator readers at a ridiculously modest price.
2017 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay: £25.95 a bottle (down from an RRP of £29.50)
2017 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir: £31.95 a bottle (down from an RRP of £35.50)
There is a minimum order of one case (of 6 bottles) and delivery is FREE to the UK mainland England and Wales.
This really is an unrivalled opportunity to get your hands of the very best that South Africa has to offer and I urge you to order promptly by telephoning Laura Taylor of Private Cellar directly on 01353 977 997. This offer will close on 3rd August but hurry, as we don’t expect the exclusive ten cases of both wines to remain available for that long.
This really is an unrivalled opportunity to get your hands of the very best that South Africa has to offer and I urge you to order promptly.