Tim James: On the Mullineux single terroir wines
By Christian Eedes, 4 September 2017
The currently available Mullineux 2015 Syrah is surely – and I’m not the only one of this opinion – the best ever of this label. Incidentally, the first Mullineux Syrah (made at Reyneke, where Chris and Andrea were at the time making the wines) was 2008, which means that they could now offer a ten-year vertical: one more bit of testimony as to how the Cape wine revolution is solidly entrenching itself.
So I was particularly keen to taste the single terroir reds from that fine vintage (the splendid whites have been around for a while), and was really pleased when Chris and Andrea invited me to come and try them and the 2016 whites a few weeks back, on my way out to a quintessential Swartland wine occasion – the annual Beat my Wors competition, where winemakers and a few others bring along their home-made sausages to be braaied, and then solemnly judged. (The sausage offered by me and my pal Wesley – who did 95% of the work – got a special mention for presentation, may I mention, and was also delicious).
At 9.30 am, then, we were in the tasting room on the Mullineux’s Roundstone farm on the Riebeekberg, with a lovely wintry view across to the Paardeberg, and to Table Mountain beyond that. An interesting twist to the experience is that we had two glasses of each wine: one from a freshly opened bottle, one from a bottle opened the previous day. In nearly all cases the older-opened wines were more open and expressive, though not having lost anything in the way of freshness or nuance. There’s a lesson there for how to treat serious wines like this when tasted so young.
The 2016 chenins first. Mullineux Granite Chenin Blanc 2016, off two parcels of Paardeberg vines, is floral, citric (“more pith than zest” Andrea pointed out) and aromatic; bright and fresh, with a stony elegance. The Quartz version is now subnamed Leliefontein, from the farm in the Kasteelberg foothills where it comes from; it’s broader, more showy, spicy and fruity than Granite, with a lemony-sour acidity. More obviously typical Swartland chenin, perhaps, in its comparative richness and flavour profile. Both of these are very fine wines that deserve a good few years relaxation in bottle.
There were three single terroir reds made in 2015. The Granite (from Jakkalsfontein farm on the Paardeberg) I found particularly wonderful and to my taste, in its magical blending of austerity and luxuriousness, starting with a delicate perfume – it was 100% whole-bunch ferment (some foot-stomping to release initial juice). No obvious primary fruit character, but a fresh, sweet succulence over the integrated firmly gentle tannins that are the glory of fine Swartland reds. A long, dry finish.
The Schist Syrah 2015 is off the home farm, with Roundstone as a sub-name. It’s immediately seductive, with such purity of fruit (spicy, though) that I could have happily carried on just sniffing it for ages. It’s a brooding, generous wine, predictably weightier and showing rather more grainy tannin than the Granite; of similar quality.
Andrea and Chris work differently in the different vineyards; it’s clear that (whatever the scientists say) different soils do, or can, give different fruit profiles and structures, but it’s also certain that they need to be handled individually to bring out their best. It’s not just a matter of waiting to see what happens. The soils are interacting with the viticulturist and the winemaker – with the wine, essentially.
The challenge with the iron-rich soils west of Malmesbury, that give the grapes for the Iron Syrah, is to preserve freshness. I must say that, compared with the other two, there is nonetheless a slight lack of freshness here, but with a plushness to compensate. The Iron Syrah assertively offers perfumed notes of blood and rust. The density of texture is great (and I can see how useful it must be in a blend), the sweetness of the fruit is ingratiating (ditto), but for me this is the least appealing of all the Mullineux single terroir wines. Though I can understand its attraction for some – after all, the 2014 blended Syrah had quite a bit of this character and many liked that wine much more than I did.
But what a grand set of wines. It was the Mullineux who started the current small fashion in the Cape for specifically highlighting and celebrating the roles of different soils in wine, and they still lead the way. These are nuances to please more than geeks – but unfortunately you must be either fanatical or rich to indulge, as they’re all now approaching R1000 per bottle locally; due for release soon.
- Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.