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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2013.


adam mason Driving into the Mulderbosch estate for the first time in 10 years, "I don't remember this approach road," was a casual thought, and not surprising as a decade had passed. But in fact the extraordinary explanation is that in the last year Mulderbosch has moved lock, stock and barrel from the other side of Stellenbosch. Keen to expand, new owner Charles Banks bought an old established farm and the entire operation, vineyards and cellars, relocated. Winemaker Adam Mason, on-board only since 2011 likens the Mulderbosch story to Chapoutier - somehow the image was of a boutique operation making very small volumes of wine, but in fact the output was of very high and increasing volumes, so a wholesale move was the solution.

In fact, the original Mulderbosch property was 20 hectares and the new site has 50ha planted and a brand new cellar. "The big difference is the way it is managed now," says Adam, "There's a much better structure of contracted growers too. Our rosé, for example, is all grown specifically for rosé and as we make a million bottles we need a real structured programme and tight controls to maintain the quality."

Charles Banks is the American former co-owner of Screaming Eagle and current owner of not only Mulderbosch but Fable Vineyards from Tulbagh and Mayacamas in the Napa Valley amongst others. Adam says "Charles' global wine business, Terroir Selections, bought Mulderbosch thinking that with the correct marketing and investment it had a big potential in the US." At present the biggest export market for Mulderbosch is Sweden who take 50% of exports, but from now on the focus will be much more on US.

In terms of winemaking, this is a farm focused on white wines. Only 9k from the ocean, conditions are favourable. All ferments start wild, though Adam likes to finish with inoculated yeast, just to make sure the wines ferment to dryness. "Most of the interesting aromas and flavours are developed early in ferment, so the wines benefit almost entirely from the wild yeast".

the wines

Mulderbosch is imported into the UK by armit. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Mulderbosch, The Faithful Hound 2010, South Africa
14%. All five Bordeaux grapes, though the blend changes from year to year. Adam would like to see PV and Malbec expand. 54% CS. Solid and chunky, a little rustic too. On the palate, sweet and solid fruit, lots of cedary spice, lots of richness on the palate - quite sweet, full and generous fruit, the tannins are spicy and really quite ripe, but the wine is big and fleshy in style. Good concentration and a mouth-filling chewy style. 89

Mulderbosch, The Faithful Hound 2009, South Africa
13.5%. 46% CS, more PV in this vintage. Cedar, a certain dustiness, the fruit dry and a little more pure black fruit focus. I think there's an extra intensity to the juiciness of the fruit on the palate, with a background of chocolate and plummy depth, but I like the tang of the plum skins and cherry skins from the acidity and tight but quite smooth and ripe tannins. Good freshness here, and I like the slightly better energy. 90-91.

Mulderbosch, Barrel Ferment Chardonnay 2008, South Africa
12.5% Served blind, three vintage represented 2008 - 2010, all from same vineyard block and currently being offered as a set. Bungs left in barrels and rolled, and no malolactic. 100% barrel ferment and 50% new, from a slightly virused vineyard. Beautifully nutty and vanillin, but a really nice nectarine ripeness and sweetness to the fruit, with preserved lemon, fat juiciness. The nutty apple character there too, and delicious precision and nutty, nut husk dryness to the finish. Lovely. 91-92

Mulderbosch, Barrel Ferment Chardonnay 2010, South Africa
12.5% Darker, much more integrated oak and more subdued in character. Fine, light sesame seed notes. The palate is much less primary, much more integrated oak here (surely less I would have guessed), with a firm, juicy spine of lemon pith acidity. Drinking really nicely, the creamy, nutty oak supporting. 90

Mulderbosch, Barrel Ferment Chardonnay 2009, South Africa
13.5% Middle. Again much more subdued aromatically, with that sesame nuttiness again, and a hint of honeyed richness and intensity here that was not quite in the middle wine. Lovely concentration and light layering of honey over the lime and fat lemon, just hints of tropical. Very nice length here, the acidity fresh and lemon tangy. Delightful and refined stuff. 93.

Mulderbosch, Chardonnay 2011, South Africa
13.5% This is 40% barrel fermented, 50% of it new, nice gentle sesame seed note, a touch of honey, really very attractive nose. A touch of lemon and touch of floral lift, the palate is obviously a little more dilute, but has lovely balance and precision, a taut apple quality. 88

Mulderbosch, Chardonnay 2012, South Africa
13.5% Very fresh, very zippy, the oak seems much more background, with just that oatmeal and almond hint. Delicious, juicy and ripe apple and pear, hinting at the Ogen melon, more exotic juiciness, but lovely balance and a little more concentration than the 2011, dry but deliciously pure and tastes like a lot of wine for the money (100R for this locally, 200 for the barrel ferment). 89

Mulderbosch, Chenin Blanc 2011, South Africa
13.5% Adam says focus for the Chenin is old vineyards - more than 30 years and almost exclusively dry farmed bush vines. A range of soils from sandy, to shale, to decomposed granite. 20% barrel ferment, half of it new. Very tight, appley aromatics, plenty of lemon pith dryness and zest, the oak adding just the merest hint of creamy oatmeal, and a nuance of guava on the palate too. A little honeyed weight, plenty of fruit but bone dry in the finish (4g/l). A nice style adding some richness, but not OTT. 88

Mulderbosch, Chenin Blanc 2012, South Africa
13.5%. Grassier on the nose, more soft green herbal quality coming through. The dry, leafy quality carries through, with delicious Chenin apple dryness, concentrated hints of guava, but then and a touch lemon zest lifting the acidity in the finish. 88-89

Mulderbosch, Sauvignon Blanc 2011, South Africa
All tank ferment, Elgin and Stellenbosch fruit. There seems to be a little richness to this, a little creaminess, but the direct, gently tropical but fresh aromas. Very fresh, very dry, a big pithy grapefruit and lemon pith acidity, but has that little touch of fat about it. Quite long, and beautifully balanced. 89-90

Mulderbosch, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, South Africa
Bought from all across South Africa, but focused entirely on cool climates, Darling, Elgin, Elim. Much leafier and has more pungent thiol character, but that is still composed, relatively restrained. The palate has more fireworks too - a blast of more tropical and plenty of fresh, pungent green and citrus freshness. 88

Mulderbosch, Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2012, South Africa
Touches of the other Bordeaux varieties too. Harvested quite early, good natural acid 6g/l and leaves 6g/l. A lovely strawberry ripeness suggested here. No pyrozene character through canopy management. Lots of juicy fresh red fruit, and the touch of RS just rounds out and flatter the finish, deliciously shippable. 87

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