Ashbourne Sandstone Hemel-en-Aarde Valley 2009
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Ashbourne was founded in 1996 by Anthony Hamilton Russell and is located on a beautiful 160 acre property in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley on the eastern border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards. Today the range consists of three wines: Pinotage, Pinotage-Cinsault, and Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay. Pinotage was the first Ashbourne wine released in 2001, grown on extremely clay-rich, stony soils, well suited to nursing a high level of refinement and classic styling out of Pinotage. Five years later, the first Ashbourne Sandstone wine was released. This wine was grown on quartzitic sandstone soils, which emphasize the nervous energy and minerality of Sauvignon Blanc. By releasing the Ashbourne Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay in 2012, the estate drew from its Ashbourne quality research and two decades of experience working with blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to create a wine for people with fine wine palates at a price which enables them to drink it regularly. The 2017 release of an unwooded Ashbourne Pinotage-Cinsault blend from old vines saw Ashbourne take a step out of its home terroir into the warmer Swartland, where lower acids and higher pH levels combine with the lighter, ancient, decomposed granite soils to afford an ease of structure and mouthfeel enabling a fresh, pure, early release wine with marked aromatic and flavor complexity without excessive weight.
With an important wine renaissance in full swing, impressive red and white bargains abound in South Africa. The country has a particularly long and rich history with winemaking, especially considering its status as part of the “New World.” In the mid-17th century, the lusciously sweet dessert wines of Constantia were highly prized by the European aristocracy. Since then, the South African wine industry has experienced some setbacks due to the phylloxera infestation of the late 1800s and political difficulties throughout the following century.
Today, however, South Africa is increasingly responsible for high-demand, high-quality wines—a blessing to put the country back on the international wine map. Wine production is mainly situated around Cape Town, where the climate is generally warm to hot. But the Benguela Current from Antarctica provides brisk ocean breezes necessary for steady ripening of grapes. Similarly, cooler, high-elevation vineyard sites throughout South Africa offer similar, favorable growing conditions.
South Africa’s wine zones are divided into region, then smaller districts and finally wards, but the country’s wine styles are differentiated more by grape variety than by region. Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is the country’s “signature” grape, responsible for red-fruit-driven, spicy, earthy reds. When Pinotage is blended with other red varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Pinot Noir (all commonly vinified alone as well), it is often labeled as a “Cape Blend.” Chenin Blanc (locally known as “Steen”) dominates white wine production, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc following close behind.
With hundreds of white grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended white wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used in white wine blends, but in the New World, experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to enhance balance or create complexity, lending different layers of flavors and aromas. For example, a variety that creates a soft and full-bodied white wine blend, like Chardonnay, would do well combined with one that is more fragrant and naturally high in acidity. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.