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Dublin, Ireland
Hi, I'm Dermot Nolan, and I became a Master of Wine (MW) in 1997, and resigned from the Institute of Masters of Wine in 2023 after being an MW for exactly 26 years. I opened a wine shop in DĂșn Laoghaire, Ireland, called The Wine Library, which closed in 2018, and this is my personal wine blog. I will do my utmost to be fair and responsible in my posts – please read my Who Pays article in re the ethics of wine trips and writing. I have worked in wine education, retail, and consultancy since 1990. I was a Director of the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) from 2008 to 2014 and was also a member of the Events Committee, founder of the Trips Committee, and member of the Governance Committee. Having had problems with potentially libellous comments from unidentifiable posters, I now require that if you post a comment, you must identify yourself properly or it won't be published. Please note that I do not review products or services on request so kindly don't ask. I value my independence and I believe my readers (few that they may be) do so also.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Heaven on earth...

Well, it's been a long time since I attended a wine tasting so how nice that the first was the Pembroke Wine's showing of Hamilton Russell wines from Hemel-en-Aarde in South Africa (pictured above on the 2004 IMW trip). With both Anthony and Olive in attendance, this promised to be an excellent way to get back into the tasting game.

The occasion did not disappoint. Anthony and Olive are very informative about the wines and their philosophy, and they had a very good selection to show. There were six wines to taste, three white and red each, with an interesting set of contrasts.

The tasting order was the Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2021, then the Ashbourne Sandstone 2021, followed by the Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2021, then the Southern Right Pinotage 2021, Ashbourne Pinotage 2019, and finally the Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2021.

The Ashbourne range is new-ish to me, and proved very interesting. The white is a sauvignon-dominat blend with both chardonnay and semillon, while the red is straight pinotage, both with a proportion made in amphora. Although I had tasted the 2001 Pinotage on the 2004 Institute of Masters of Wine trip, it's not that well-known and I was grateful for this chance to try.

The white has a lovely roundness from the chardonnay and semillon elements, but with a zinginess from the sauvignon. It is well-made, and has the possibility to age nicely. The use of amphorae in fermentation has also added a touch of roundness on the palate and the wine would, I feel, match many cuisines, especially Asian.

The pinotage was very good - all French oak (Francois Freres, naturally), mainly large format - with a remarkable degree of finesse. Quite a tight style, without being firm. Given that  pinotage is “made with women’s tongues and lions’ hearts – when you drink a glass, you can speak for hours and fight the devil” (at least according to the Pinotage Association) this wine has a degree of elegance that would not be found astray at a top Bordeaux tasting. 

The Southern Right is, I should think, well-known, and the wines were both good. The pinotage was closer in style to mainstream pinotage with dark, sour cherries and a richness on the palate, the white with that classic lifted sauvignon style. Both well-made, and with summer in the offing excellent choices with barbeques in mind.

Of course the Hamilton Russell wines are extremely well-known, with a reputation for very high quality wines, and this pair were ideal. The white has crisped up a lot since I last tasted and while I think comparing every chardonnay or pinot to Burgundy is both lazy and patronising, I'm stuck in my ways, so think a cross between top Aloxe and good Puligny. Zippy to start, but with a clean linear style - top-notch white that requires high-class food.

The red was, however, a true revelation. With the demise, eventually, of the old BK5 clone the style has changed but this wine has a level of depth and elegance I never expected from a South African pinot. It tasted like a top Morey, still closed on the nose (only just bottled) but with a remarkably elegant palate with supple, rich berry fruits balancing a very fine-grained tannin structure. This is a superb wine, and with it's white partner, has made me rethink my generally critical views on these varieties in South Africa.
Of course, being made by a family with over 40 years' experience, and a clear quality-oriented philosophy, from vineyards in a special location with excellent soil helps, but there is no doubt that these wines are very, very good and well worth seeking out. Heaven on earth indeed!

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