Getting the feel of wine

Texture – now that’s not a word often used in wine notes. Yet I was reminded what an important role it plays at a tasting of Chris and Andrea Mullineux’s new vintages to an enthusiastic crowd at Wine Cellar earlier this week. In case you’re interested, texture is described in Chambers dictionary as ‘structural impression resulting from the manner of combining or interrelating the parts of a whole, as in music, art, etc.’ wine being one of the ‘etc’s’.

Mullineux-Syrah-2008-FrSponge is not a word I’ve come across, at all, I think, in a wine description, but it seems to fit the Mullineux Clairette Blanche 2011, which kicked off our vinous adventure. The fruit comes from a 44 year old, dryland bush vine site on Paardeberg decomposed granite.

The sponge, in this case, is light but with density and myriad tiny pores through which the concentrated liquid flows. By its nature, clairette blanche isn’t deeply aromatic, more vinous with a savoury edge to its acidity, so texture is an easy focus. This is not a grand wine but one that catches and holds the attention for its difference in feel. Unfined and unfiltered, as well as naturally fermented just increases the textural interest. Not generally available, it was included in the Mullineux’s Wine Club pack back in April this year. A compelling enough reason to join.

The more generally available White Blend 2012 (R178/bt ex Wine Cellar) also includes clairette for freshness and to help lower the alcohol provided by viognier, which itself donates a whisper of apricot. The wine’s backbone is old vine chenin, ‘picked early’. ‘Not under-ripe but if there’s a choice of harvesting on a Friday or a Monday, we opt for the former,’ Chris explains.

Again texture positively affects quality; a bit like mille feuilles (alright, a weird analogy but it fits), interspersed with layer upon layer of elegant richness but nipping any thoughts of showing off with a pithy grip. This is a shy youngster, giving little more than a peep of what it’ll look like as a mature adult in possibly four to six years.

Next, the new Schist Chenin 2012 (spoken with deliberate care and no mistakes on the evening!) (R423/bt) from vineyards well into their 30s. After the ripe, expressive florals, honey and wet wool, its unyielding steel rod of a core comes as quite a shock. Yet as steely as it is, that core has a binding of dense, pure fruit with a take-no-prisoners dry finish. A grand and serious wine that surely needs six to ten years to reveal its innermost depths. A granite version is promised in future.

Chris emphasised the important role of soils, something that’s evident in comparing the Schist chenin with the Schist syrah; both are tightly wound, unyielding both aromatically and in their structure when young. He also pointed out that as few sites are perfectly balanced, these wines aren’t the easiest to make. They have obviously been astute and lucky in finding a trio of vineyards with the necessary balance.

The effect of a blend of sites is well illustrated in the Mullineux Syrah. They had kindly brought along their maiden 2008 as well as the already sold out 2011. Fruit for the former, off schist, granite and koffieklip soils, came from two sites. While 2008 is still youthful, it is put into context by the younger wine’s greater all round dimension, freshness and more medium body, 13.5% alcohol compared with 2008’s 14.5%, again down to earlier picking. This fruit was sourced off the same three soils but from nine sites.

Chris and Andrea Mullineux chatting to Christian Eedes at the tasting
Chris and Andrea Mullineux chatting to Christian Eedes at the tasting

Whole bunches in the fermentation add to the palate of texture. In 2008 only 15% went in the vat, a figure that was increased to 50% in 2011. ‘The wines can be too approachable, we use the whole bunches to give more backbone,’ Chris explained. Interesting then that 2011, with a larger proportion, has more suppleness and elegance than the denser, more obviously tannic 2008.

More comparisons of note were to be made between the Granite Syrah 2010 and new 2011 and its Schist companion from the same two vintages.

The Granite 2010 is an explosive expression of site, reminiscent of Côte Rôtie with its expansive spicy, meaty tones and padded texture, though with firmness that reminds it has a long way to go. Schist 2010 is more elegantly perfumed, more floral than spice with the aromatics shutting down on the linear, stemmy palate. Schist again is more about texture than fruit.

Andrea Mullineux is of the opinion their 2011s will age much better than 2010.

Certainly Granite Syrah 2011 (R675/bt) is shyer, with similar flavours as 2010 but much tighter wound with finer, grainy tannins and uplifting freshness. If Granite is shy, Schist 2011 (R675/bt) is impenetrable, massive in density rather than alcohol, but brimming with aliveness. Much like a tiny ball of stones that weighs much more than one would imagine from its size.  This was my wine of the evening, closely followed by the Schist Chenin.

I think in due course this 2011 syrah pair will turn out to be the more complete of the two vintages but they’re wines for the long haul – not for the impatient!

Mullineux Straw Wine 2012 (R223/375ml), a chenin from two vineyards, concluded the tasting. It’s a style that needs both concentration and acidity for top quality; this has both in abundance.

What this tasting confirmed is that the Mullineux’s haven’t reached the prominence they have, both here and internationally, by chance nor temporarily. Their attention to detail from vineyard to bottle attests to that. Future vintages may be anticipated with pleasure – and impatience!

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