Tim James: Mullineux signature wines in youth and older

By , 25 March 2024

Chris and Andrea Mullineux.

When it comes to public double-acts in the great South African wine show, unexciting competence is the general rule. Exceptions include Paul Jordaan and Eben Sadie collaborating quite nicely in presenting their new releases each year, but it’s always clear who’s the front half of the horse. Married couples, however important their collaboration might be in vineyard and winery, tend to dissolve into talkative men and patiently smiling and supportive women when they’re (supposedly) jointly presenting their wines.

So what a good thing there’s the Mullineux performance. Andrea and Chris do it superbly – again last week at a Cape Town pre-release tasting of their latest “singature wines” – tossing the presentation ball from one to another, never letting it fall or do other than glitter. This somehow allows the two personalities to come through and keeps things lively – these earnest wine talks are occasionally quite tedious.

In fact, I think the Mullineux duo are pretty conscious of their performative skill: at this recent event there was even something of an apology at their being a little rustry, having just emerged from the non-public exigencies of a compressed harvest at the Mullineux and Leeu Passant cellars (on the Roundstone home farm in the Swartland and the Leeu Estate in Franschhoek, respectively). Any lack of recent practice didn’t evidence itself here, however. Incidentally, talking of their teamwork, it doesn’t happen much in the cellar during harvest (as opposed to during maturation and blending) – Chris says he’s not really allowed in, and is anyway probably too busy managing the complicated logistics involved in picking so many widely-spread vineyards.

Part of the Mulineux presentation success, apart from a lot of practice – I don’t think any private winery puts so much effort into this sort of thing – is the intelligence and expertise on offer, the inherent interest of what’s being said (beyond their telling us how lovely their wines are, which is a failing that very few winemakers ever manage to wean themselves off, and is almost forgiveable). I never come away from events like this without having learnt stuff, and without jotting down notes like “Andrea: The best way to get freshness in wine is by there being a lack of stress in the vines.”

If there was a theme in this year’s presentation, which included five- and ten-year old bottlings of each wine, it was continuity in the cellar and developments in the vineyards. No change in the winemaking regimes really, apart from more varieties coming into the White, and a move to larger maturation vessels. And in the vineyards, continuous hard work to take the farming to the next level. Roundstone is on the verge of organic certification – in fact, of regenerative organic certification, a category I must find out more about. With a lot of dubious claims swirling around the wine world, the Mullineux think it important to be able to unquestionably back up explanations of their farming.

It really helps appreciate the young wines having some older wines to give them context (obviously perfectly stored, which helps). We started with the older chenin-based Old Vines White. The 2014 has to be an exception to my “rule” that Cape whites are best before much more than five years have past. This was still fresh, the acidity fairly prominent (as it generally is in this wine), but plenty of developed flavour that reached beyond the floral, pretty fruitiness to be found on the 2023. And in fact in the drought-year 2019, which was my favourite of the three and perhaps gave support for my rule. There’s an element of dry austerity (with a phenolic edge to the wine) as well as some lovely sweet fruit – verdelho joining the party to give its limey acidity. The perfume is most beguiling. No hurry, but I don’t thing anyone would regret opening this bottle now or in a few years.

The new release 2023 now has semillon gris, clairette, grenache blanc, viognier and verdelho added to the 60% chenin base. Beautifully balanced and grippy, brightly fresh, with youthful charm that definitely deserves five year or more in bottle to develop the harmony and complexity. (BTW, see here for Christian Eedes’s notes from January on the younger vintages.)

With the Syrah, we started with the youngest wine, the 2021. How good it is to be able to release wines with a bit of maturity on them – I remember the Mullineux 15 years ago having to release the Syrah at scarcely a year, because they needed income to buy the next load of bottles and corks. As always, but perhaps even more finely than ever, the 2021 is ripe but elegant, very pure-fruited (some Swartland dried herbs and fynbos as well), with a tannic structure that is both firm and yielding and already integrated into the velvety suaveness. A really smart, polished wine that’s also vivacious and exciting.

Those tannins were also still very present on the forcefully structured 2017, which was drinking well. But in this case I much preferred the 10-year old. I would guess that this 2012 is pretty much where I would want it and might not gain from further keeping. It’s beautifully developed, perhaps more in structure than flavour though there’s some savoury depth of character as well as echoes of more primary red fruit, with well-resolved tannins. Really good stuff.

As for the Straw Wine, it’s just so beguiling and delicious that it’s hard to take notes. The 2013 is still fresh and grippy, intense, vibrant and elegant. I thought it also younger-seeming than the 2018, where the marmaladey notes that come with bottle age were more prominent, and the whole was a touch more unctuous, thought still with some zestiness. Moving on to the 2023 (still from old-vine chenin grown on the grantic slopes of the Paardeberg), did reveal the usefulness, in fact, of keeping this wine a few year. The infant is undeniably gorgeous – I didn’t spit any of these three, with a more piercing freshness amd lashings of clean fruit (apricots, glacé pineapple, I thought, amongst others) – but there is a simplicity that will gain complexity and depth in a few years.

The Mullineux double-act, impressive as it is, would not be worth mentioning if the wines were not so splendid.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing 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.


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