Hamilton Russell and the King of Cool

Of all the features I find most impressive in a wine, cool is king. Not the wine’s physical temperature, although this is, too, a very important aspect of the vinous offering. It is the coolness of temperament, the confidently calm manner in which the wine harnesses its components into one seamless expression of character, charm and taste.

Just as cool was a defining feature of the late great Steve McQueen and still, after 40 years, lies behind the genius of pop-rock legend Paul Weller, all my best, favourite and most memorable wines had a cool swagger. A grace in tone, an assertive note of style and presence, all bringing great beauty to the senses of those the wine permits to feast upon it.

Steve McQueen, King of Cool, tasting wine.

Talk cool and wine, and one could not be blamed for thinking of things white. Suave Sauvignon Blanc. Churlish, cocky Chardonnay. Calm-weighted Chenin Blanc. And yes, many great white wines are cool, although it is a character not exclusive to these wines of lighter shade and lower drinking temperature.

Á current example of such a cool white that passed my lips of late is the 2020 Chardonnay from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a producer that is itself the embodiment of cool. From the style and intellectual snappiness of its owner Anthony Hamilton Russell, to the maritime climate of those vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde, Hamilton Russell Vineyards is to cool what cleavage is to Marilyn Monroe.

But the wine says it all. It says you must have something exceptionally cool about you to release a relatively young Chardonnay. One for no crystal ball is needed, nor a bout of rigorous bone-throwing to the forefathers to foresee this wine is destined for greatness.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2020 resulted from a wet 2019 winter, with over 800mm of rain. The 2020 summer was cool, with pre-harvest temperatures of December, January and February maxing-out at 25°C. Harvested end-February, the grapes were taken to cellar where winemaker Emul Ross managed their growing from infantile raw fruit to one of those complete wines that is made from the great grape that is Chardonnay.

The wine spent nine months in tight-grain French wood, a selection of fills one to four.

Upon procuring the bottle, I was not going to let it lie down. It was chilled, decanted to draw air for an hour before the drinker approached the Chardonnay with the anticipation of a youthful caracal stalking its first guinea-fowl.

On the nose, the wine offers fresh Cape lemon peel, loquat and dew-damp sage with a slight hit of fennel. Of course, the approach and attack on the palate is balletic in grace and elegance, presenting an initial cocky citrussy zest and sherbet-tainted exuberance. Sliding onto the mid-palate as easily as an eel slips through meadows green and lush, this Chardonnay asserts itself with a very likeable combination of the classic meeting a wild wilderness coastline of a land down way south. The classic lies in those notes of broad white lilies, perching on a shrine in the cavernous expanse of a Byzantine church where silence hangs in great pools. Churned butter, wallowing in its briny thin milk, coats the mouth which takes off on a journey of Key lime, grilled hazelnuts and a smack of the wild sour-figs growing on wind-swept dunes, the ones in aforementioned wilderness.

The coolness is tasty and tangible. All the notes are in tune. The body is fresh, lithe and clean. Those aromas are singing sweetly, and the flavours dressed sharply, from head to toe. Looking sharp. Ready to move and being moved. Because it’s wine time, which is always cool.

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