Saturday, February 18, 2012

In search of South African Pinot Noir

As a resident of Oregon and lover of our Pinot Noir's, I wanted to see if I could discover a great Pinot Noir in South Africa.  I was told by quite a few people that Hamilton Russell in Hermanus (East Coast of South Africa) was the best.  The drive from Somerset West is approximately 1 hour along the coast.  This was our view the majority of the way there.

Had to take this picture for Bear.

The tasting room
We arrived in the tasting room and there was a woman cleaning the floors.  We were the only people there.  The wine hostess was in the kitchen, I walked over and asked her where do we do the wine tastings and she pointed to the table (no chairs) and said "There."  Not a great start.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay
I am not a fan of Chardonnay.  There is only one that I enjoy and that is Jan Marc from Portland, Oregon.  He set quite a high bar for me, so everything else is pretty over powering or too insipid.  

This is the description of the wine from the website:

A tight, minerally wine with classic Hamilton Russell Vineyards length and complexity. Unusually prominent pear and lime fruit aromas and flavours are brought beautifully into focus by a tight line of bright natural acid and a long, dry minerality. An elegant, yet textured and intense wine with a strong personality of both place and vintage.

The only thing I agree with in their description is that this wine was truly tight.  So tight everything puckered, and I mean, everything.  My cousin agreed with me and I should have probably taken a second sip, but I was still dealing with the pucker issue. The cost of the Chardonnay at the current exchange rate is $38.25. 

Next up was the Pinot Noir.  We were excited to try South Africa's best.  The wine hostess poured the wine and left us to our own devices. 

Hamilton Russell 2010 Pinot Noir
The tasting notes on their website are as follows:

Our low-vigour, stony, clay-rich soil, cool maritime mesoclimate, naturally tiny yields of under 30 hl/ha and our philosophy of expressing our terroir in our wines – give rise to a certain tightness, tannin line and elevated length to balance the richness and generosity of our Pinot noir. Our Pinot noir is not overtly fruity, soft and “sweet” and it generally shows hints of that alluring savoury “primal” character along with a dark, spicy, complex primary fruit perfume.

The 'primal' character is the only thing I agree with.  I think I tasted the same funk when some one served me elk and told me they made the best!  This was a huge disappointment.  I have tasted better Pinot Noir's at Trader Joes.

Mango looking stones at the end of the vines.
As we left the winery we wondered if we had made the wrong decision in driving out all this way for what turned out to be incredibly disappointing wine.  I am sure that there are people out there that will disagree with me, but I think I do know the difference between a great Pinot Noir and an inferior one. 

We drove out the driveway and turned right.  Our day was about to get better.


  1. "If at first you don't succeed..." Right?

  2. At least we get to benefit from your research!

  3. At least we get to see the pretty pics, too!

  4. Puckered or not, you can still type.

  5. Guess you'll just have to keep trying wineries until you find that perfect Pinot. Of course, keep posting pics and reviews so we can live through you and enjoy.

  6. If you hadn't tasted it you would be none the wiser at least you know 'never again' now.

  7. I love it that you're on the hunt for Pinot Noir but wondering, if that's not what South Africa does best, what other fabulous varietals are available?


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