Finding good value is not always straightforward. Although generally good value is associated with cheaper wines, I can think of plonk that is a poor bargain at R40 and a few excellent buys that are more than R200, one of which is among the latest releases from perhaps the twinkliest new wine star of the Cape – Mullineux Family Wines, based in the Swartland village of Riebeek Kasteel.
It is hard to think of another local producer who has achieved not only local fame (three five-star wines in the current Platter’s Guide have made Mullineux a familiar name to more than the cognoscenti) but also international eminence so quickly. Even for the renowned Eben Sadie, it was longer and harder – although the crucial difference, is that Sadie was the pioneer of Swartland excellence, clearing a way for others to follow.
Chris and Andrea Mullineux would not deny this advantage, although they are cutting their own path. Sadie’s Columella, for example, remains the Swartland’s pre-eminent shiraz-based blend but the Mullineuxs, for red wines, are looking to single-varietal shiraz – or syrah, the synonym often used by winemakers striving for classic French finesse rather than Australian-style blockbusterdom.
The perfumed, lightly rich, fresh-fruited Mullineux Family Syrah 2010 retails at about R225, which is fine value. Few local shirazes offer anything like this quality, but many cost more. What, though, of the other 2010 Mullineux syrahs? There are two, Granite and Schist, which refer to the dominant soils in which the vines grow, giving different characters to identically made wines.
Both cost R675 a bottle. Their quality is undoubted, though I dither happily as to which I prefer. They do not make the standard wine seem remotely inadequate but have an added refinement, a distinguishing grace and fascination — they are surely the most elegant (but not necessarily the most profound) red wines to have emerged from the Swartland.
But for that sort of money (even less) you can buy some famous labels from syrah’s great heartland in France’s northern Rhône valley. This proves nothing but should be borne in mind. The Mullineux wines probably compare in quality with many of those fine examples. Moreover, they are made in tinier quantities, and are remarkable in South Africa in the way they reflect their origins.
They are wines for us to celebrate.
Hard vineyard work and much insight and flair is bottled here. Chris Mullineux says: “These are two specific blocks that have taken us since 2004 to find and fine-tune to the point where they can stand on their own and reflect their unique terroir in a complete and balanced way.”
Reasonable, if not brilliant, value must be the sober conclusion. It is not the sort of opportunist overpricing we see too often when producers seek attention with wines from their usual vineyards – just tarted up a bit with extra ripeness, power and showy new oak.
If even the standard syrah is too pricey, the Mullineuxs descend to the somewhat more affordable with their Kloof Street Red 2009, a juicy, delicious shiraz-based blend at about R90 (Kloof Street Chenin Blanc is R10 less). Last year I counted the Kloof Street wines as great value but this vintage is 20% more expensive and I am a touch less sure.
First published in the Mail & Guardian, 30 March-4 April