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Tasting notes from South Africa

text and photographs © 2010 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on South Africa 2010.


Born and raised in Johannesburg, Chris Mullineux says he "got a big break," when Swartland pioneer Eben Sadie put him in touch with the newly established Tullbagh Mountain Vineyards when Chris was still finishing his final year of study to become a winemaker. The gamble paid off handsomely, as Chris quickly established a reputation, putting Tullbagh on the map with their Syrah in particular.

With the help of backers, Chris and his Californian wife Andrea, who shares winemaking duties, struck out on their own in 2007. They have just three wines, a Chenin-based white made from 40-year-old vines plus little bits of various Mediterranean varieties including Viognier, Grenache and Clairette. Their red is a Syrah, the fruit coming from a mixture of vineyards, with very different soils that give different textures and aromas. On the Riebeek Mountain, shale and slate dominates, (so even white varieties are quite phenolic, according to Chris). On the Paarl side of the valley, granitic soils give more mineral and aromatic wines.
   sa-mullineux (28K)

The third wine echoes another of the success stories from their time at Tullbagh Mountain, with dessert wine. In this case it is a straw wine made mostly from Chenin Blanc, and which sold out almost immediately on release.

Though all vineyard and winery duties are shared, Chris says he is happiest out in the vineyard where all picking decisions are done entirely on the flavours in the fruit, and not on analysis of sugar and acid numbers. Andrea meanwhile is particularly pleased by their new cellar in the town of Riebeek-Castel, a lovely, simple and functional space with stainless steel and large wooden foudres, as well as smaller barriques amongst the equipment.

the wines

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2008 Mullineux White Blend
Only French oak, all barrel-fermented in old wood - fourth and fifth wine - only natural winemaking with no added yeasts, enzymes or tannins. Minimal herbicides or pesticides, and all farming naturally: a bit of a theme in the region with Lammershoek and Scali in organic conversion. Nutty nose, very clean, with notes of seeds and nuts and a clean apple fruitiness. The palate has a phenolic richness and grip, with fabulous weight and sense of balance and precision. Pithy, lemon and orange acidity and a great sense of minerality running through. 91/100 £12.95.

2009 Mullineux White Blend
Similar, tight, nutty nose, but more appley with some fresh green apple and a Cox's Pippin nuttiness. The palate has fine poise and elegance, and real freshness. There's a lovely clarity and freshness in the finish, with delightful definition. 91/100.

2008 Mullineux Syrah
Only around 10% new wood. Lovely cool-climate Syrah, with beautiful garrigue aromas, lots of smokiness and earth, very good, ripe, rich red fruit beneath. The palate has really nice texture, coating the palate with a smooth chocolate and berry fruit, a touch of leather and tobacco, but not rustic. A lovely earthiness and richness to the tannins too, playing against that sweet fruit and structure. 93/100. £14.95

2008 Mullineux Straw Wine
Dried over a period of three weeks, whilst sugar and acidity both rise. Lovely complex tea and orange nose, with lots of tobacco and nuttiness. Fine, sweet palate, with terrific purity that shimmers with lemon and honey and a real barley sugar richness. 93/100.

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