2019 Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa
In particularly challenging vintages there is an outside chance that a winery can make truly remarkable wines. Some estates find it impossible to step up, but others, in the face of adversity, have the confidence, experience and sometimes luck to make the inspired decisions that result in remarkable outcomes.
In 2019, Hamilton Russell managed to swerve potentially catastrophic damage from smoke taint caused by a massive fire in January. An unusually warm May, June and July affected chardonnay dormancy and the resulting bud break was extremely uneven. In addition, the vintage was cooler than 2017 and 2018. Rainfall was lower than average, too, but during harvest, frequent showers caused sustained high humidity. HR’s organic treatments proved highly effective against the threat of mildew. They also picked the day before the skies opened, too.
While the chardonnay crop was 44% down, this is the most remarkable HR chardonnay I have ever tasted. With stunning depth and juiciness, plush, but controlled oak and serious length, this is a phenomenal creation. There is exquisite balance here, too, and all of this class and luxury sits atop stiletto-sharp acidity and a restrained 13.2% alcohol level. Pound for pound, this wine is in contention for Chardonnay of the Year. “Against all odds” is a recurring theme for this terrific winery.
Matthew Jukes is a winner of the International Wine & Spirit Competition’s Communicator of the Year (matthewjukes.com)