Mullineux Schist Syrah vertical

By , 27 June 2023



Chris Mullineux shows the Schist Syrah 2010 – 2021.

SA’s top cellars that make better red wine than white are the exception rather than the rule. The stand-out wines in the Old Vine Series from Sadie Family Wines tend to be the whites – Mev. Kirsten, Skurfberg and ‘T Voetpad ahead of anything else; Chris “Butch” Alheit only makes white wines; David Sadie is hell-bent on making a great Grenache but for now it’s the Single Vineyard examples of Chenin Blanc that capture the imagination. Tokara’s Director’s Reserve White is arguably more remarkable than any of the Stellenbosch property’s reds; Klein Constantia, it’s iconic sweet wine aside, specialises in Sauvignon Blanc; Duncan Savage seems equally adept with both white and red but it was, of course, the Sauvignon Blanc and the Sauv-Sem blend called Isliedh at Cape Point Vineyards that he initially made his reputation. It was Donovan Rall’s white blend that first caught the attention even if he’s making fine Syrah now and Thorne & Daughters is very much focused on white, the portfolio consisting of various top versions – you get my point…

There are counterexamples. Kanonkop, SA’s most likely contender to “First Growth” status, is a red-wine only producer. Boekenhoutskloof has various reds and just one white (even if it’s probably the old-vine Franschhoek Semillon that is most celebrated in recent times); Raats has championed both Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc but I would argue it is the Cape Bordeaux known as MR de Compostella that is this cellar’s greatest achievement. Reenen Borman is making fantastic Syrah under both the Boschkloof and Sons of Sugarland labels and all the greater Hemel-en-Aarde producers would probably like to think that their reputations rest more on their Pinot Noir than their Chardonnay (although industry doyenne Jancis Robinson begs to differ writing recently “I would argue, however, that Hemel is currently better at Chardonnay than Pinot Noir” – see here).

There are a few, well-documented reasons why top-end SA white wines tend to be better than reds. Leaf roll virus, which adversely affects red grapes much more than white grapes, and to the extent that vine age facilitates wine greatness, there are a lot more old white wine vineyards than red. South Africa’s relatively hot climate adversely affects reds more than whites, the latter are often grown in cool climate regions and picked early before the worst of the summer heat. As for winemaking, there is still the impression that producers are simply more proficient when it comes to whites than reds – whites get a sensitive handling, while reds get the Full Monty. 

One cellar that I think that I think can truly lay claim to making reds at least as good as its whites, if not better, is Mullineux of Swartland. Somewhat ironically, collectors tend to want to spend more on red and mature it for longer – what to recommend? A recent vertical of Single Terroir Schist Syrah from maiden vintage 2010 to yet-to-be released 2021 proved a revelation. 

The Schist Syrah is grown on the property called Roundstone on the slopes of the Kasteelberg, and where the cellar is situated.  Planted in 2000, the Mullineuxs have been working intimately with this vineyard since 2005 and it is the reason that they purchased the property – they achieved a very high-quality result from the get-go as this tasting was to prove (winemaking has hardly changed over the period in question – typically 100% whole-bunch fermentation, maturation lasting 12 – 15 months in 500-litre barrels, 50% new).

While I have misgivings about the longevity of modern-era SA red, these wines were collectively very strong, the older examples showing plenty of interest and little decay while the younger ones appear to show the benefit of more experience and greater clarity of vision among the winemaking team (although it must be said that the drought of 2016 – 2018 obviously posed its challenges).

Tasting notes and ratings as follows:

Rating: 98
Just a hint of reduction before potpourri, lavender, fynbos, red and black berries, olive, clove and pepper. The palate has pure fruit, fresh acidity and powdery tannins. Concentrated and direct with lovely poise and focus. Alc: 13.5%.

Rating: 95
Original rating: 96 (August 2022)
Red berries, rose, fresh herbs and white pepper on the nose. The palate is relatively light-bodied with vibrant acidity and fine tannins – appears quite open already. Alcoho: 13.34%.

Rating: 96
Original rating: 97 (September 2021)
Red and black berries, fynbos and cured meat on the nose while the palate is medium bodied with bright acidity and firm tannins. Plenty of flavour, the finish intensely savoury. Alc: 13.5%.

Rating: 95
Original rating: 98 (September 2020)
The third drought vintage. Red and black berries, fynbos, earth and pepper. Broad and already quite mellow with moderate acidity and gently savoury finish. Very pleasing but perhaps a vintage for earlier drinking? Alc: 13%.

Rating: 93
Original rating: 96 (September 2019)
The second drought vintage. Red and black berries, floral perfume and fynbos. Rich and round with an appealing sweetness and smooth tannins. Alc: 14.5% (the highest to date) and the resulting wine is undeniably opulent.

Rating: 94
Original rating: 96 (September 2018)
The first drought vintage. The nose shows red and black berries but also prune and cured meat plus pepper. Rich and broad with fine tannins and a gently savoury finish, difficult growing conditions well handled. Alc: 13.5%.

Rating: 98
Original rating: 96 (September 2017)
Enticing aromatics of red and black berries, floral perfume and cure meat while the palate has great fruit definition, a snappy line of acidity and fine tannins. Well balanced with lovely weight and texture. No hurry to drink this. Alc: 13.5%.

Rating: 95
Original rating: 95 (September 2016)
Red and black berries, fynbos and pepper. Rich and round with moderate acidity and smooth tannins – drinking very well but should offer reward for at least another five years. Alc: 13.5%.

Rating: 96
Original rating: 96 (September 2015)
Red and black berries, olive tapenade and pepper on the nose while the fruit is still very much intact on the palate. Layers of flavour, the finish gently savoury. Alc: 13.5%.

Rating: 97
Not previously tasted.
A top note of potpourri before red and black berries, earth and pepper. The palate shows great focus – excellent fruit concentration and vibrant acidity before a finish that’s long and dry. Still very youthful. Alc: 13.5%

Rating: 92
Not previously tasted.
Red and black berries but also some meaty, leather-like notes. The palate now appears a little lean, the fruit starting to fade, the tannins still quite hard. By no means done but the least convincing of the line-up. Alc: 13.7%.

Rating: 95
Original rating: 96 (March 2015)
Red and black berries, meat stock and fynbos. Round and layered, the tannins resolving nicely, the finish long. Growing old gracefully and a great advertisement for the benefits of maturing wine for a significant period. Alc: 13.5%.


3 comment(s)

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    Gareth | 28 June 2023

    Dieter, I recently had a constantia Glen Five 2009 and 2011. Both drinking beautifully.

    Dieter Gugelmann | 28 June 2023

    Dear Keith, I completely agree with you that serious South African wines should not be drunk too early.
    I’m currently drinking Kaapzicht 1947 vintage 2017 (white), Constantia Glen Five 2012, De Wetshof Thibault 2013, Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2013 (all red) and so on. Simply wonderful wines.

    Keith Prothero | 27 June 2023

    The Granite ages just as well. Have been drinking both the Schist and Granite 2010,2011 and 2012 recently and think all three will improve over next few years .
    But then my view is that most wine, both red and white is drunk far too young !!

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