Big Bottles are sexy: Interview with Anthony Hamilton Russell

Monday, 31 December, 2012
Harry Haddon
Big bottle formats are sexy. There is nothing quite like popping the cork on a double magnum of Champagne, or pulling the cork on a Jeroboam of Pinot Noir.
There's just something about holding a large format bottle; it feels important, it feels right. I'd prefer it if all wine was in magnum. Not only would it look better, but it would save me the effort of always having to open that second bottle.

So I am particularly looking forward to this year's Big Bottle Festival by Fine Wine Events. All the wines poured at the Champagne tasting, dinner, and walk-around tasting will come from large format bottles. One of the wines which I am particularly looking forward to at the Friday night dinner is a three litre 2001 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards is one of the country's best known estates and is recognised for for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs the world over. Hamilton Russell Pinot Noirs are known for their structured styling and dense fruit concentration. They are no happy-go-lucky strawberry-pop Pinot Noirs. No, no, no. Hamilton Russell Pinots need time to evolve and develop. They reward patience. They demand it. Which is why the chance to taste a 2001 from Jéroboam is particularly exciting.

I caught up briefly with Anthony Hamilton Russell to find out a little bit more about what he thinks of large bottle formats, and to find out more about the three litre 2001 that will be popped open at the Big Bottle Festival.

Harry: Anthony, how many large bottle formats do you bottle?

Anthony: We routinely bottle 100 Magnums each of our Pinot noir and Chardonnay for enthusiasts and collectors and for use at home on special occasions. In the past we bottled a few - usually 25 - three litre bottles and from time to time a handful of five litre bottles.

H: What's your opinion of large bottle formats in general?

A: We really like them from an emotional point of view. They somehow put the focus on the wine (where it should be!) and lend a wonderful sense of occasion to a meal. From a financial point of view they are less successful. They are harder to close and label, harder to store, harder to transport - and for this reason harder to sell.

H: How have the larger formats you have bottled aged?

A: Our experience has been very good. Our larger bottles have aged particularly well, and are often a little more fruit expressive too. Hand bottling may play a role. Large format bottles are generally transported less, handled with care and well-cellared. This shows.

H: Tell us about the three litre Pinot noir 2001

A: This is one of only 25 bottles and one of only three remaining. 2001 was a great vintage. Big, rich, structured and savoury - very much not a New World Pinot noir stylistically. The wine won the Trophy for best Pinot noir at the 2003 International Wine and Spirits Competition.

H: What do think of the Big Bottle Festival?

A: It is a lovely idea and a lot of fun. The exclusive use of large format bottles inevitably gives the event a real fine wine feel. It is often the best wines and often the best vintages one finds in larger format bottles - and they have usually been kept a good while in a good cellar.

We know that the 2001 has been aged properly in Anthony's cellar so it should be just right for drinking.

The Big Bottle Festival takes place between 24 and 25 August this year. If you would like to get a glass or two of this very rare Pinot in your belly, more information on the festival can be found at www.bigbottle.co.za. Tickets to the events can be purchased at Web Tickets.
Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell presenting their best bottles at the 2011 Big Bottle Festival
Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell presenting their best bottles at the 2011 Big Bottle Festival

more news