Mullineux: 10 Steps to Legend Status

Seeing as the day was gloomy and foreboding under a gun-grey sky, with a Cold Front pounding the rolling green hills of the Swartland, a bit of drama of the opinionated kind is undoubtedly justified. This being that those persons present on Roundstone Farm on the Kasteelberg to experience ten vintages of Mullineux Syrah wines will a few years hence look back at the event and label this an historic occasion. And if they don’t, they didn’t deserve to be there.

Of course, the opportunity to engage with 20 Syrahs from one of the Cape’s finest modern producers is always going to be an irresistible experience and memorable proposition. A complete no-brainer, thus, on the front of the sensorial overpowering of those appreciating excellent wine. But the genuine reverence of this event lay in that it afforded those present to experience a wine producer with a solid foot-hold on the path to greatness in the story of South African wine. As assured as that footing currently is, it is only treading deeper. We are talking about a producer who will one day feature prominently in the talk of Cape wine legends.

Therefore, being exposed to the early years of Mullineux’s site-specific Syrah is the kind of stuff cemented in memory, ensuring that I-was-there feeling of being a part of something special and profound.

The kicker for the occasion was the 2019 vintage releases of the two terroir-specific Mullineuxs Syrahs, namely Granite and Schist. And on the hook of the new releases hung the tasting of each of the two wines’ preceding nine vintages, going back to 2010. As the whisky advertisement says, true privilege is rare.

All this was presided over by the easy-going Chris and Andrea Mullineux themselves, whose approach sends out a clear message that if anyone or anything is going to do any kind of impressing, it will be the wines.

Blue-cranes on the Mullineux Roundstone Farm.

And here, going through the first couple of vintages, I immediately threw off any shackles that might have me confining these wines to descriptors pertaining to a fixed perception of “Syrah” or “Shiraz”. Here before me were simply glasses embracing garnet-coloured red wines from two individually distinct patches of earth from the Swartland, Western Cape in the country that is South Africa.

The Mullineux Granite series alludes to the soil profile of a vineyard parcel in the Paardeberg area, while “Schist” dominates the earth on the Kasteelberg site where this wine’s journey begins. So, with ten vintages made from grapes originating from each of the two different soils, the chance to perceive the geological effect on the final product was one of the aspects of this tasting I was keenly anticipating.

A general observation from my specific set of senses-seeking physiological equipment was that the Mullineux Granite red wines were of firmer tannin, especially on the finish, where they left an energetic brushstroke of vivid wine flavour and taste. The Schist wines were generally sleek and graceful in their presence, the muscles sculpted and loosened compared to those of the Granite wines, which rippled and shivered with a robust virility.

Chris and Andrea Mullineux, the Golden ones.

As mentioned, the tone of this presentation was more focused on experiencing the wines than, thankfully, lengthy winemaker diatribes on fermentation, racking and oaking schedules. When prodded, Andrea mentioned the barrels were big and there was some new wood – less today than the 50% of earlier vintages before foudrés were thrown in the mix. Going through the tasting notes, it is evident the approach in cellar is of the gentle kind: whole-bunch fermentation, gentle foot-stomping to start the action, native yeasts and 14 days fermentation – a moderate pigéage, once to twice daily. Post-fermentation, the wine gets a four-week lie on the skins.

The Granite and Schist reds from the 2010 vintage threw down the gauntlet, preparing the stage for what turned out a magnificent show. My experiences with older wines made from Shiraz grapes have been forgetful, to say the least. But at 11 years of age, the two numbers the Mullineuxs put-up were staggeringly beautiful.

Granite 2010 had a sultry smokiness, so much bacon-kip that this ain’t going to crack the nod as a bar mitsvah wine any time soon. The savoury warmth lay like a log-cabin eiderdown on a mélange of blackberry and autumn-leaf, the presence of taste assured and evocative without any talk of overpowering or brash loudness.

Things got dangerous with the other 2010, namely the Schist. This winetasting occasion had me placed next to one of the Cape’s true wine ladies, a perennially attractive veteran of retail, and I hoped that she was not considering any of the signals of arousal I happened to show being aimed at her. For it was on record that, post-event, I wrote to Chris and Andrea stating that Mullineaux Schist Syrah 2010 was one of the finest South African wines I had ever experienced.

The wine was red and long and cool, a harmoniously aligned structure of nature and wisdom; understanding and human skill. On the nose, crushed crab-apple found raspberry compote spilled on a hot gravel foot-path in the countryside outside Aix-en-Provence. You could hear cicadas. The wine attacked the palate with a hasty, well-aimed and sharp onslaught, the kind you’d gladly die under, leaving a note of gratitude as the blood left your veins.

And then it danced. Awash with ripe plum, red-currant and fig-paste, the wine prodded the senses with other-worldly tastes: the wet wrapper of an aged Havana cigar; just-picked white peppercorn still damp with a salty breeze off the Zanzibar oceans. Sweet, fat mussels smoked by a fire made from sun-dried pine-needles. All this is heady and intoxicating, yet it runs a line of extreme civility and immortal culture.

In younger vintages, especially 2013 and those showing the brilliance of 2015, the Granite’s savoury rim lessened, overtaken by fruit of denser succulence. But the alignment remains seamless, the composure, balance and total charm being beautiful and expressive from one wine to the next.

The latest vintage of Granite, namely 2019, is forgiving and kind in its youth, now deliciously drinkable. But a dangerous power lurks in its charming smile, a lot of broodiness waiting to be unleashed in waves of visceral taste and joyous fulfillment as the years go by.

For the Schist, two words keep popping-up in my scribbles, namely “bloody plum”. In each of the ten times this wine entered my mouth, I detected that life-affirming sunny juiciness of fruit, followed by a pulsating feral tearing of sinew and flesh as the wine made its way straight for that one place for which God created it to strike into, namely the human heart.

Times like these make you realise how fortunate you are, for mere mortals must see, hear and sense greatness. Thanks to Mullineux and the few others, one is allowed to – on occasion – taste it.

  • Emile Joubert

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