Tim James: Mullineux wines over time and in an international context

By , 4 April 2022



I’ve been putting some effort into Mullineux wines recently – if effort is really the word for an exercise that’s given pleasure and satisfaction. It began when I prepared for the launch of the latest Mullineux releases by opening a bottle of Andrea M’s Cape Winemakers Guild Trifecta Syrah 2013 – a whole-bunch, cofermented pressing from iron, schist and granite vineyards. Perfumed and lovely, it was the best older Mullineux red I’d had, somehow reminiscent of a good bordeaux with its fine tannin and air of sculpted precision; drinking well, with room to go.

The Cape Town launch of the three “signature” wines was exciting. Chenin-based white blends are perhaps the single greatest gift of the Cape to the modern world of wine – along with an authentically new and excellent conception of chenin to rank alongside the style native to the vineyards of the Loire. Mullineux Old Vines White is now established as among the handful of blends at the head of the category, and the 2021 is no exception. (See Christian’s review for details of this and the other new releases.)You almost don’t realise its richness at first, so subtle and satisfactory is the balance. At lunch last week, after our tasting of the new wines, the Mullineuxs paired the light-feeling and grippy 2016 with an excellent example of Loire chenin, which emphasised its warm, sunny origins (not to its detriment at all). Incidentally, the white Châteauneuf-du-Pape which was also in the line-up was a decent warm-country wine, but, like Rhône whites generally, not a patch on the Old Vines White in terms of structure, balance or finesse (though good red Châteauneufs always have much to teach the Cape in terms of combining power with freshness).

The Mullineux Syrah 2019 struck me as perhaps the best to date of this wine – I especially loved the perfumed notes of lily (combining florality with a herbal note). It’s dry and grippy, intense but refined, with typically dense but rounded and malleable Swartland tannins. All this and more at 13.5% alcohol, which is for me the perfect level for the warm Swartland. Some vintages have gone up to 14.5%, but on the whole 13.5% seems to be what the Mullineux aesthetic aims at.

Jamet Côte-Rôtie 2017 vs Mullineux Syrah 2017 vs Chave L’Hermitage 2017.

You’d have thought it would also be enough for the northern Rhône, the spiritual home for this great variety, but the two famous examples we had at lunch with the Mullineux 2017 were, as checked by a local laboratory, 14.5% (Jamet Côte-Rôtie 2017) and 14.9% (Chave Hermitage 2017) respectively. The Jamet I thought a really splendid and balanced wine, the Chave a bit too “New Worldish”, ironically, alongside the Mullineux…. (I’ve had quite a bit of experience of Chave over the years – mostly thanks to some verticals put on by Angela Lloyd – and have not been much impressed by this hugely pricey and famous syrah since it took on a riper persona under a new generation of the Chave family this century.) I didn’t think the 2017 Mullineux quite as good as the 2019, but it bore up well in illustrious company, at a comparatively minuscule price.  

However, however – the best northern Rhône syrahs have an excellent record of maturing in bottle, and that can’t be said for Cape versions. Of course the newer-wave wines have not yet had sufficient time to prove themselves, and generally come off younger vineyards. I was not particularly impressed by older Mullineux Syrah at the vertical in late 2019, though even the oldest, going back to 2008, were drinking decently enough. So, the day after the latest release, I opened my second-last bottle of 2011 and had a similar impression. The tannin was not quite harmonious, the fruit a little dull: it was alive, in moderate health even, but not very cheerful – even a touch sullen.

Although there are undoubted exceptions, some Boekenhoutskloofs for example, generally, for a blanket recommendation for good Cape syrah, I’d suggest only up to ten years – until proven otherwise (getting time to try some older Porseleinbergs, perhaps). That lovely Trifecta 2013 might do the trick. And I do think the the latest 2019 Syrah might well reach at least a decade in some style. Chris and Andrea are now working with increasingly older, better managed vineyards and that should be significant.

My suspicion that it is perhaps a vineyard thing has literally just now been boosted, in fact. I ruminatively got up from my keyboard to open a bottle of another decade-plus Mullineux syrah – the Granite 2010, from the first release of the single-terroir range, the best pickings kept back from the blend. I’m glad I did, for it is excellent, greatly superior to the 2011 blend (just as the Trifecta 2013 shows unquestionably better than the standard blends of that period); and I don’t think the vintage difference accounts for much. The Granite 2010 is fresh and lively, perfumed with violet and lily, light-footed and complexly elegant, long-lingering; unmistakeable as mature syrah and that of the highest order. I’m not sure how many more years I would gamble on, but right now it is a first-class wine.

There remains to report on something else with unbounded enthusiasm. I am not, on the whole, a great fan of straw wines when compared with noble rot dessert wines made on the Sauternes or German models. But the Mullineux Straw Wine 2021 is just lovely. Lifted, delicate and fresh, focused and lightly insistent. It always has been a fine wine – we also sampled the maiden 2008 and that was still excellent, though not as delightful as the younger wine and I’m not sure it had actually gained much from its time in (half-)bottle. I believe that, in an era when dessert wines are not wildly popular anywhere, this wine does very well, locally and internationally. And so it should.

  • 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.


2 comment(s)

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    GillesP | 4 April 2022

    Only would perhaps argue that comparing a Chenin led blend (which is indeed remarkable) with a Chateauneuf or an Hermitage blanc is maybe not the best choice the very different profile in taste and grapes. Not sure if you have tried the Hermitage blanc from JL Chave or the Hermitage and St Joseph blanc from Chave selection, but I think these are absolutely splendid wines which can age gracefully

    GillesP | 4 April 2022

    Thank you Tim for this excellent article. I think all you said is spot on.

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