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Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration 2018: General observations

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The creation of the three new wards within the Hemel-en-Aarde area which occurred in 2009 thus differentiating it from the much larger district of Walker Bay was derided at the time on the basis that there were simply not enough  consumers, local or international, who would care about such fine distinctions.

The fifth annual Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration having run its course over the past weekend, it is starting to look like a moment of rare inspiration on the part of those stakeholders who lobbied so hard for the promulgation of three separate wards – the Valley, Upper Valley and Ridge.

What the inhabitants of the three wards have done is to claim extra attention to terroir, this, I suspect, already allowing them to  achieve reputational price premiums which should only increase as the distinctiveness between the three separate wards becomes clearer over the years, decades and centuries to follow.

But which ward is set to be most hallowed, the Valley with its high clay content soils, the Upper Valley with its more granitic soils or the Ridge with its elevated altitude (the vineyards 300m above sea level on average compared to the Valley at 40m)?

Guests at the Celebration were treated to 15 wines from the 2016 vintage, three from the Valley, six from the Upper Valley and six from the Ridge and ward differences in this somewhat challenging year (generally hot but rain affected in January) did seem to be clearer than before, the wines of the Valley showing particular structure, those of the Upper Valley greater apparent fruit while those of the Ridge stylistically somewhere in between.

Hannes Storm is the only producer to work across all three wards and comparing his wines is insightful:

Storm Vrede Pinot Noir 2016 – Hemel en Aarde Valley
Dark fruit, earth, undergrowth and a hint of reduction on the nose. The palate is rich and relatively broad with a good line of acidity and quite firm tannins. A gently savoury, slight peppery finish.

Editor’s rating: 89/100.

Storm Ignis Pinot Noir 2016 – Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley
Red cherry and wild strawberry plus a definite herbal note. Sweet ‘n sour  on the palate – spikey acidity and fine tannins making for a somewhat awkward glass of wine.

Editor’s rating: 87/100.

Storm Ridge Pinot Noir 2016
From on high.

Storm  Ridge Pinot Noir 2016 – Hemel en Aarde Ridge
A shy but enticing nose with notes of dark cherry, flowers and herbs.  Dense fruit, fresh acidity and lovely tannin structure.  Well balanced with a long, dry finish.

Editor’s rating: 93/100.

Other stand-out wines:
Ataraxia 2016 – 90/100
Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak 2016 – 90/100
Creation Art of Pinot Noir 106 – 92/100
Domaine des Dieux Josephine 2016 – 91/100
Hamilton Russell Vineyards 2016 – 90/100
Newton Johnson Seadragon 2016 – 93/100

Find our South African wine ratings database here.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Another perspective on Hannes Storm’s pinots, if I may – though I have to confess that I haven’t tried the 2016s (I wasn’t at the Pinot Celebration this year) – but I’m fairly confident that they will have some similarities with recent vintages.

    I had the great privilege of tussling with the 2014s and 2015 Storms for the Platter Guide. I put it that way (“tussling”!) because of all the wines I tasted in both years, most certainly of all the pinots, these were perhaps the most difficult to approach and understand. With the 2014s, after 3 days of repeatedly trying the wines and taking voluminous notes, I gave up for a week and then started on the second bottles. Then I felt I was starting to understand them, and the terroir-based differences between them, notably in terms of structure.

    With the 2015s I found it a bit easier, having had that previous experience, but I would still say that these are always immensely difficult wines to approach in their youth. They are much less immediately gratifying than some other first rate Hemel-en-Aarde pinots, like Newton Johnson and Crystallum, or showier, oakier wines like Creation’s Art version. They need careful probing to understand their excellence in infancy, but ten years – and more – is going to reveal that excellence, I am confident.

    Not having sampled this vintage, I can’t really quibble with Christian’s scores (which seem generally rather ungenerous for all the pinots he mentions, certainly compared with his scores for a particular style of syrah). But I’d like to suggest to winelovers that, unless something dreadful has happened to the 2016s, they shouldn’t buy Storm pinots unless they are willing and able to put them away for an absolute minimum of 5 years. After that, though, I reckon they’ll start to show some magnificence.

  2. Hi Tim, I am a big fan of Hannes Storm’s wines and tend to score them relatively high. That said, I got the sense that the winemakers felt that 2016 was not quite as easy as 2015 and this seemed to show in the wines. Regarding the Ignis 2016 in particular, Hannes related that the block he works with is planted to four clones and rather small in size, compelling him to pick only once and I think the result is a wine which shows uneven ripeness, far more so than was the case in 2015, the resulting wine being a wine I liked very much scoring it 93/100. On a more abstract level, I quite like the idea that vintage variation will be more of an issue the more minutely you define your terroir.

    I also think that while the improvement curve for local Pinot Noir is now steeply upwards, we are coming off a low base and Shiraz/Syrah especially from the Swartland might simply give better results more easily.

  3. I tasted most of the 2016 in March 2017 in SA and again in Oct 17 at New Wave Tasting. Of all the top Pinots in SA, Hannes Storm’s wines need to be aged. The 2012 and 2013 are barely drinking yet. With the level of tension and structure he achieves, the wines demand it.

    I think Christian you are running scared here and I can’t relate to your incredibly low scores for these 2016s. Structure, tension, restraint on our wine’s is a good thing that should be rewarded not slapped down with 87 point levels.

    Tasting a lot of 2015 along side the 2016s last year, producers were almost apologetic for the restraint, minerality, fruit backward nature of their 2016s. This confused me and I told them so. Opulance is not everything, especially on young wines.

    Maybe South Africa should launch more En-primeur style tastings to show that young awkward wines can blossom into sparkly glossy gems if you know what look out for.

    Based on your scores, I’d be confused as a consumer as they almost suggest skipping this vintage and either looking for more 2015s or waiting for 2017s?

    • Hi Greg, As ever, I’m cautious not to over-score. While the BF Galpin Peak 2015 is rated 5 Stars (95+ on the 100-point scale) in the current edition of Platter’s, I think the 2016 is better as many also seemed to at this year’s Celebration – do we have a 100-pointer on our hands? With respect to all at BF, probably not.

  4. Hi Christian

    I find your scores curious. The Hemel & Aarde produces arguably the best Pinot in South Africa and according to you, the best we can do is 93 points? Compared to what? You very rarely rate international wines on your platform, so that clearly isn’t the comparison. So how do you get to these low scores? By comparing them to Swartland syrah? Or to Stellenbosch cab? That’s definitely not apples and apples.

    I’ve seen before that you score the lighter red wine styles rather low compared to the fuller bodied varieties and blends. So you clearly have a proclivity for structure, fruit and body. Why bother then with reviewing the styles and varieties that have freshness and lightness of touch when you very rarely have anything good to say about them? Don’t you think you do more harm than good then?

    • Hi Mike,
      I would argue that 93/100 is not a low score and anybody contending that it is, falls into the score devaluation trap.

      I would concede that 87/100 for the Ignis is low-ish but there is general consensus that 2016 was a difficult vintage and for me, it shows in this wine.

      In any event, if we start scoring SA Pinot is 95-plus, then smart Burgundy Grand Cru would need to score well over 100. That’s not cultural cringe but rather an acknowledgement that SA Pinot is still a work in progress. See the results of the SA vs Rest of World Pinot Noir tasting that took place last year: http://winemag.co.za/sa-vs-rest-of-world-pinot-noir-tasting/

      More generally, my problem is not with “light” wines but rather with wines that in attempting to be elegant , forfeit complexity. I don’t think I favour more full-bodied reds over lighter styles and have, for instance, argued for some time now that SA Cab is often overdone and needs to show more restraint if the category is not going to fall (further) into decline.

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