For the past 29 years, Anthony Hamilton Russell has overseen wine production on his family estate in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Taking the reins from his father in 1991, he narrowed the focus to pinot noir and chardonnay believing they were the best grapes to grow in the South African region whose name translates to "Heaven and Earth.”
History has proven that hunch to be correct, although Hamilton Russell produces equally compelling sauvignon blanc and pinotage on neighbouring properties. The winery has just released one of its most successful pinot noirs to date. I was fortunate to taste it during a recent visit to the winery in September and am happy to see it in the lineup for this weekend’s LCBO Vintages release.
The 2,438-case production of the 2018 pinot is the lowest since 2011. Wet and cool weather in November and December reduced yields in the vineyard. A warmer than average February, combined with very low yields and small berries yielded a riper more opulent expression of pinot in 2018 compared with the more elegant and polished 2017 vintage.
Hamilton Russell believes the new pinot fits nicely into the Hemel-en-Aarde's classic profile, which he describes as “Burgundian with a taste of South African sunshine.” It's a terrific, age-worthy pinot noir that stands out with this collection of 11 splurge-worthy wines that truly deliver.
If you have a special occasion coming up, are looking to wow an audience or simply want to take advantage of the ready supply of big-ticket bottles available leading up to the festive season, these are worthy of the investment.
Catena Alta Historic Rows Malbec 2016 (Argentina)
The Catena family set their sights on making wines from Argentina as celebrated and collected as bottles from any fashionable wine region you’d care to mention. This stylish and enjoyable reserve tier malbec shows that dream has come to fruition. Modern and elegant, this offers the fragrance and fruit that makes malbec from Mendoza’s high-altitude vineyards truly inspiring. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta and British Columbia, $52.99 in Nova Scotia.
CheckMate Artisanal Winery Fool’s Mate Chardonnay 2014 (Canada)
Fool’s Mate is a blend of the various Okanagan vineyards winemaker Phil McGahan works with to create an impressive portfolio of single-vineyard chardonnays at CheckMate. The house style is always rich and rewarding, these are full-bodied barrel-fermented chardonnays to be sure, with plenty of tropical fruit and toasty oak shining through in the 2014 vintage. Available direct through checkmatewinery.com
Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018 (South Africa)
With a ripe core of fruit framed by attractive earth and spice notes to add interest and complexity, the Hamilton Russell 2018 pinot noir is truly impressive. It’s enjoyable in its relative youth, but promises to evolve nicely in bottle should you have patience and a cellar. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in British Columbia and Alberta.
Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Brut Rosé Champagne (France)
Produced from 100-per-cent pinot noir, this is one of the best-selling rosé Champagnes in the world and rightfully so – that strawberries and cream character is easy to appreciate. More importantly, Laurent-Perrier cuvée rosé has improved over the years, with more texture and verve than ever. Available at the above price in Ontario, $99.75 in Quebec, various prices in Alberta and British Columbia.
Le Clos Jordanne 2017 Le Grand Clos Chardonnay (Canada)
The return of Le Clos Jordanne is certainly one of the good news stories of 2019. This exciting chardonnay shows there’s more than nostalgia at work behind the scenes to make these wines special. Made in a rich and refreshing style, this boasts attractive oak-derived character alongside bright citrus notes. It’s drinking nicely now and promises to develop well over the next four to six years. Available at the above price in Ontario and Quebec or online via leclosjordanne.com
Le Clos Jordanne 2017 Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir (Canada)
More open, integrated and fragrant than how I remember Le Grand Clos pinot at this early stage, this is an expressive and enjoyable pinot, with layers of fruit, spice and earthy notes. The core of red fruit, smooth texture and fine tannins promises good ageability, but you need not wait to enjoy this expressive and generous Niagara pinot. Available at the above price in Ontario and Quebec or online via leclosjordanne.com
Marchese Antinori Tenuta Tignanello Riserva Chianti Classico 2015 (Italy)
Like Cher, Beyoncé or Madonna, the mononymous Tuscan red wine tignanello enjoys incredible name recognition. It’s long been a darling of collectors and connoisseurs, which has seen prices escalate to more than $100 a bottle. I’m equally impressed with this stellar Chianti Classico Riserva that comes from the same estate and delivers an expressive sangiovese blend marked with intense floral and savoury aromas and flavours. Available in Ontario at the above price, $48.51 in Nova Scotia.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Extra Brut Champagne 2012 (France)
Grand Vintage is only released in selected years, with the 2009 vintage being the latest release. It’s always made in a ripe and flavourful style, with the refreshing character one expects from capitol-C Champagne. The result is a rich and rewarding sparkling wine with mass appeal. Available at the above price in Ontario, $91.25 in Quebec.
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2017 (Australia)
Penfolds Bin 389 always strikes me as an incredibly successful and satisfying style, showing the wisdom of combining shiraz and cabernet to create the quintessential Australian blend. The cool and wet 2017 growing season in Australia, however, didn’t make for a classic expression of this collectible wine. This is more elegant and fragrant, but with the depth and intensity one expects from the house style. Drink now to 2030. Available in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba at the above price.
Phantom Creek Estates Becker Vineyard Cuvée 2016 (Canada)
Phantom Creek is one to watch in the Okanagan Valley. The new winery announced its top-quality ambition by buying up some of the best vineyards in the region, including its namesake, Phantom Creek and the Becker Vineyard, which inspired this ripe and aromatic red blend. This blend of merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon is nicely integrated and long, with a ripe core of fruit, impressive structure and persistent finish. An exciting debut. Available direct through phantomcreekestates.com
Trapiche Terroir Series Malbec Finca Orellana 2014 (Argentina)
Ripe and powerful, this heavyweight malbec from Trapiche is made in a distinctively flavourful and full-bodied style. Produced with grapes from a specially selected vineyard in the La Consulta region, this boasts an intense mix of dark fruit and spicy oak aromas and flavours. Drink now to 2024. Available in Ontario.
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