Soil – where the answer lies

‘Our idea was to make a white a syrah and a sweet wine.’ That was Chris and Andrea Mullineux’s intention when they left what was then Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (now Fable Mountain Vineyards) and in 2007, started their own business with Keith Prothero as a partner. After he sold his share a couple of years’ ago, Indian businessman Analjit Singh took his place, since when developments have been moving apace.


Chris and Andrea Mullineux with Analjit Singh

Chris and Andrea Mullineux with Analjit Singh

We can all be very happy their curiosity got the better of them and, while they do make all three of those wines, the range has expanded mainly with an exploration of wines from specific soil types.

These are not single vineyard wines; some fruit comes from two or more sites but what’s common to each is the soil. Quartz, Schist and now Granite for chenin blanc; Schist, Iron and Granite for syrah.

If proof is needed how soil and its various water-retention qualities, make a difference in the structure and taste of wine, the Mullineux Terroir series for both varieties offers more than adequate evidence.

Last week, Chris – Andrea was globe-trotting – presented at Wine Cellar, a selection the Terroir series sandwiched by the white blend 2013 and the new Olerasay with a spread of the syrah in between.

The new Granite chenin 2014 introduced the theme and was my favourite of the five poured. ‘Granite has deep soils, the vines don’t stress and the wine holds its acidity,’ Mullineux enlightened us. This wine trembles with acid, but because it’s natural, there’s no sense of imbalance. It’s grippy and bone dry too, which makes for a better partnership with food. I’ll be fascinated to taste it five or ten years’ time; everything points to wonderful evolution.

We move onto the Quartz Chenin 2014 and 2013, the latter my preferred between Quartz and Schist last year. Again I opt for the Quartz 2014 over the Schist from the same vintage. Richer, more aromatic, compact but with layers of texture, whereas the Schist 2014 shows more power and a richer, creamy texture.

Mullineux tells us quartz is the rarest soil in the Swartland; it reflects the sunlight back into the canopy, providing that greater richness.

Schist soils, on the other hand, are the shallowest; this chenin is distinguished by its power; the acid is less noticeable.

On to the syrahs, the blended 2013 leading into the Schists 2013 and 2012, the five-star spicy/red fruit fragrance of the former proving the more popular of the two, while the older Iron vintage was the preferred of that pair.

At this tasting, the younger wine did seem very closed, its darker fruit tones and wrap-around tannins needing time to relax Granite Syrah is an occasional release and there’s no 2013, but looking Rhônewards, Schist seems more in the fleshy mould of the Côte Rôtie, while Granite is in Hermitage’s sterner form. So too is the Iron, a denser more brooding style with notable firm tannins but with an overall elegance. My preference was for the 2012 but only because of its greater integration and distinctive expression now; no doubt 2013’s current reticence will fade with time.

Two things struck me when tasting these wines: 1) how individual they are, despite coming from different sites but the same soil; 2) what an interesting experience it would be to taste these against single vineyard wines including the above soils (single vineyards aren’t necessarily grown on a single soil type).

The attractive Olerasay bottle; the wine and spicy cookies make pretty good partners.
The attractive Olerasay bottle; the wine and spicy cookies make pretty good partners.

It’s not uncommon to hear a comment along the lines of ‘this wine tastes as though it was made of all the leftovers in the tank.’ A not particularly complimentary comment, but in the case of the Mullineux’s new Olerasay straw wine, it is made up of ‘leftovers’ from their regular Straw Wine. Every year there has been a barrel or two that hasn’t made the cut because it disturbs the balance. As the barrels mounted up, so the Mullineux’s wondered what to do with them: some lighter, some richer and sweeter.

So further blending started, taking wine from these leftover barrels dating from 2008 to 2014, in a system reminiscent of a solera. The unusual shape of the box also reflects the stacked barrels of a solera, while the attractive bottle is Italian.*

Olerasay box with one end removed. The shape is the closest to that of a solera without a cumbersome size. Empty, it makes a nice little mouse house!
Olerasay box with one end removed. The shape is the closest to that of a solera without a cumbersome size. Empty, it makes a nice little mouse house!

The wine is exhilarating and incredibly fresh considering the older wine included. The sweetness, all 260 grams of residual sugar, is off-set by cleansing acid and just 11% alcohol; a pity then that the wine comes in 375ml bottles only, as it disappears very quickly.

As indicated early in this piece, under the new partnership with
Analjit Singh, things are moving apace. The Mullineux’s are now installed on Roundstone, their farm on the Malmesbury side of Kasteelberg and next harvest they’ll be making a completely new range in Franschhoek, where Mr Singh is building, among much else, a new cellar.

A Mullineux sauvignon blanc is awaited with interest!

*Addendum. Andrea has corrected something I obviously misunderstood. She says the Olerasay was always an intentional wine chosen from specific barrels (the same way as they choose barrels for Quartz or Schist Chenin separate from the White blend.)

It’s a great wine, so my choice of words was perhaps unfortunate but there was no intention to negatively reflect on its obvious quality.




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