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SA go to country for affordable fine wine

South Africa has become the go to country for affordable fine wine, according to one of the country’s top Pinot Noir producers.

Anthony Hamilton Russell

Speaking to db at a dinner in London last week to celebrate his alliance with UK importer Mentzendorff, Anthony Hamilton Russell of Hamilton Russell Vineyards in the Walker Bay said:“South Africa has finally become the place to cherry pick fine wines at the top end that represent exceptional value for money, which you can’t find in California or New Zealand.

“We’re not trying to make Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, we’re trying to create the best expression of Hamilton Russell, which happens to be through Chardonnay and Pinot.”

Addressing the estate’s new partnership with Mentzendoff, Hamilton-Russell said: “You don’t make wine to make money. We don’t want to sell more wines, we want to sell wine better. Mentzendorff is the perfect fit for us. Selling our wines through them is like putting our children up for adoption.”

Hamilton Russell was the first estate in South Africa to plant Chardonnay, with Hamilton-Russell admitting during the dinner that his first Chardonnay clone was sent through the post.

“Just because we’ve been in the game for a long time doesn’t mean that we’re old fashioned. We’re not resting on our laurels and are constantly trying to improve,” he said.

Comparing the 2014 and 2015 vintages in South Africa, he described the former as “particularly cool”, resulting in wines that were “more tight, austere and European” in style.

“The Pinots were more Cote de Beaune in 2014 when we’re usually Nuits St Georges in style. They were more red fruited and Volnay meets Pommard,” he said.

“This year is the reverse, the wines are higher in alcohol and ripened rapidly. You’d get 14% alcohol when you were expecting 13%,” he added.

During the dinner he also urged people not to bash Pinotage just for the sake of it.

“It’s trendy to trash Pinotage but I think it’s our duty to do something with the grape, if not it’s like pulling out all the Sangiovese in Tuscany.

“In the past we chased the old Australian model of making super-ripe examples with low PH levels and ended up making hot wines with high yields and a strong oak element.

“I think Pinotage has extraordinary potential in the right hands. We’re trying to encourage young winemakers to experiment with the grape and do something great with it by achieving more purity of fruit,” he said.

“You’ve got to keep an open mind about Pinotage – it’s an easy target. People in the know believe in it. If the wines aren’t good you need to blame the producer not the variety,” he added.

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