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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.

TULBAGH MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS

TMV is a truly ground-breaking project, that cleverly used social media with a lively blog to tell the story of its conception and creation over several years, long before the first grapes were harvested. This built interest amongst wine lovers early on, and thankfully, the wines turned out to be every bit as special as this terroir, literally on the Tulbagh mountainside, far to the north of Stellenbosch.

The farm is privately owned by Englishmen Jason Scott and George Austin, and extends to 180 hectares, but only 16 of those are planted to vine. Sharing the land are 150 head of sheep, which are mainly used to provide manure and to keep the cover crops in trim on this certified organic vineyard. There's a holistic, ecological ethos that permeates this remote place - raptors are encouraged to nest in order to scare off grape-nibbling birds, though as we stood on the winery terrace we watched a troop of baboons happily picking their way through the last of the Mourvèdre high on the mountain. "I guess they are entitled to it," said viticulturist Paul Nichols, "It was their home long before it was ours." Though far rarer visitors, cheetahs have also been spotted using the reservoir come duck pond at the heart of the vineyard.    sa-tullbagh-ducks (44K)

sa-tullbagh (49K)    TMV is an extraordinary and remote place, needing a four-wheel drive to reach it along miles of bumpy track, and scorching hot on my March visit when the thermometer read well over 40 in the shade. Planted with both irrigated and unirrigated bush vines, and with fermentation using only wild yeasts found in the vineyard, there's a literally hands on approach to the winemaking in small tubs and vats.

Another winemaking couple has taken over from Chris and Andrea Mullineux here, as Paul Nichols works in partnership with his wife Rebecca Tanner. As with the Mullineux's there's a blurring of the roles they share in vineyards and cellar. Many biodynamic practices are employed in the vineyards, the owner's original vision being carried through by Paul and Rebecca - who met in Australia whilst Rebecca was making wine with ultra-organic devotee, Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines. The couple's involvement with TMV is total: they also tend the sheep and all of the 180 hectares. It seems the new team at the helm here are a very safe pair - or two pairs - of hands.

the wines

TMV's importers include Richards Walford and The Wine Society, but see all stockists on wine-searcher.

2008 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard White
Old vine Chenin, Chardonnay and Rhône varietals. Quite a big, toasty oak nose, with a lovely clarity of fruit coming through. The finish is a little too sweet for me (over 7g/l sugar) but Rebecca says it will have less next year. Powerful, decisive concentration. 89/100

2009 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard White
Leesy, broad nose with less oak influence and very fine, powerful wines, quite a lot of solids content during ferment and barrel ageing. Fantastic tangy and rich. 90/100

2007 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard 'Raptor Post'
Made from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre, all estate fruit. Deep sweet, plum and damson jam fruit , the little briar and olive notes are lovely. Palate is big and juicy, with lots of chunky fruit, but a certain elegance too. 89/100

2006 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Shiraz Mourvèdre
Huge spice and chocolate nose, with a thick bramble fruit richness and depth. Super ripe and concentrated. 91/100

2005 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Syrah Mourvèdre
Around 80% Syrah. Deep, powerful, meaty nose, with masses of dusty, rich, bramble fruit. Pepper, clove and spice, the palate also chewy, savoury and grippy. Robust, but with a refined finish too. 92/100. £14, The Wine Society

2007 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Swartland Syrah Mourvèdre
Very sweet, ripe, rich fruit. Lots of chocolate and plummy blue-black richness. Big and plush, a very ripe and chocolaty style, the tannins grippy and giving this a liquorice edge, playing against that super sweet fruit. 92/100. £14, Waitrose.

2006 Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Theta Syrah
Big, robust wine with a touch of bacon fat and wood smoke, and lots of very spicy, deep-set black fruit. There's great chocolaty richness here, with fantastic juiciness. Lovely dry extract and terrific quality and length and seems very youthful. 93/100

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyard Vin Pi (one)
This superb wine comes from a six-year-old solera started by Chris Mullineux when he was winemaker here. It is a Chenin Blanc Vin de Paille (straw wine) with beautiful aromatics: lots of cherry and super fruit sweetness, a strawberry syrup palate with delicious toasty richness and boldness, holding terrific acidity. 93/100.

See all stockists on wine-searcher.

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