Yes, there are the ABC wine drinkers of America - "Anything But Chardonnay". And their club was probably worth forming back in the day given the prolific amount of lackluster Chard on the market, practically flowing with splinters from over-oaking. Before I "officially" became part of the wine world (professionally) I may have even been an "unofficial" member.... What I learned quickly is there is a lot of juice on the market. Some of it is good. Some is ok. Some of it is just plain undrinkable. And, of course, everything in between and beyond! It is not right to discriminate against a grape - or even a style - entirely. You have to be on the lookout for the exception to the rule, the producer who is going above and beyond to let the grape's natural fruit flavors emerge, or the terroir shine through. We've said it time and again: wine making is both an art and a science.
Hamilton Russell Vineyards is the diamond in the rough. Arguably they have a few advantages working for them. They are a South African winery - one of the Southern most in fact, located on the Cape of Good Hope in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley appellation. South Africa also has it's own unique terroir - vineyard site to vineyard site, of course, but also in broader terms than, say California. South Africa's location and aspect on the globe, let alone its unique soil types, maritime influence and the like, will bring to bear additional nuance to a wine you might otherwise think you've "tried". The Russell family is savvy, too, focusing their efforts exclusively on producing exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
I had no extraordinary cause to pop the cork on the 2007 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay (which retails for about $26) other than the end to a gorgeous weekend, and the start of a tremendously delicious meal. I served up a plate of grilled pineapple and veggies - summer squash, zucchini, plumb tomatoes, vidalia onions, and snow peas - dressed in a touch of garlic and a soy/honey marinade. I threw in a helping of grilled shrimp, seasoned with a touch of red pepper and Old Bay spice.
Enter the Hamilton Russell Chard, a gorgeous wine that happily continues to change and evolve at first sip, with food, and again after you've finished your plate. As you continue to retaste it, various components tackle your tastebuds. The flavors? Imagine a bowl of apricots, a ring of freshly cut pineapple, and juicy, ripe pear slices all squeezed with lemon juice and then tossed with a great helping of taught minerality. Its backbone of minerality is most intriguing, almost forcing you to question whether you had in fact opened the Chard. But then its satisfyingly rich texture brings you back home again - you know all too well Chard is more of a sultry, curvy broad, like Joan from Mad Men. And this wine is absolutely that.
Most memorably, the Hamilton Russell was an absolutely stunning complement to my meal. It proved to be The Perfect Pairing, as the wine and the food both showed even BETTER when partnered up. We all strive for such an experience; yet it is a rare treat when a wine and a dish don't just go well together, but each gets better in the company of the other.
This one really is one to behold - and one that's so dynamic even my description leaves room for you to add your own insights. This wine is that good - and that good at defying "the odds".
What wine made you a believer in the "exceptions to the rule" caveat?