UK wine writer Andrew Jefford recently made the observation that “In wine aesthetics, nothing is more dangerous than wine tasting unsupported by corroborative drinking.” I thought of this while consuming what turned out to be a superlative bottle of Mulderbosch Barrel Femented Chardonnay 2005 with fried hake, chips and peas for Sunday lunch.
Regardless of vintage, Mulderbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay has never failed to be arresting. While winemaker Mike Dobrovic was at the Stellenbosch cellar (he left at the end of last year for Havana Hills in Philadelphia), it was his particular take on what a top-end Chardonnay should look like, and he used to give it just about the full treatment: natural fermentation, lots of new oak although no malo. A trademark of the wine was that it has a high residual sugar as the natural yeasts never managed to ferment completely dry – the 2005, for instance, has a RS of 8.1 g/l (according to the Mulderbosch website), putting it well into off-dry territory.
Over the course of its history, the wine has been highly acclaimed but its stylistics are increasingly not in keeping with the mood of the times that sees both critics and consumers demanding that Chardonnay be of greater elegance and finesse. At this year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, the 2007 vintage got a score of 88/100 and a silver medal, and what else can this be other than a message that the wine is good but no longer great?
In a blind line-up, Mulderbosch Barrel Fermented is going to be eye-catching and it’s easy to fixate on one or other obvious aspect of the wine, be it sweetnes or oak-derived character, and treat it as a shortcoming. However, it’s the kind of wine that when drinking it with lunch, you realise how consummately well made it is, the different components playing off against each other to good advantage. What was especially remarkable was how youthful the wine appeared, the sugar no doubt playing some preservative role and hence good reason to tolerate it.