Mulderbosch moves

On the bottom rung of the wine ladder and worrying about it? Drinking Four Cousins Rosé and sure there must be more to alcoholic sophistication than this? I have a modest proposal (two, really – the second one is not to worry about it all).

One problem with the ladder theory is that few people believe they are on a ladder at all. Some beginners indeed glance upwards, intrigued, and venture a tentative foot heavenwards. Most, however, see the horizontal strut as a seat rather than a rung and settle down happily. And why not? Life on the lowest rungs might be dull, but it is cheaper.

I was pondering these things recently as I sipped Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. I soon tired of both rosé and thoughts. But this pleasant, fruity and just off-dry wine is definitely on a rung above the semisweet pinkness that sells so voluminously off the lowest shelf.

If you are looking for pink stuff that will not be smirked at by your chic friends, but still want something tastily unchallenging, give it a try, enjoy, and then think of the next step. Actually the Mulderbosch also sells excessively – a million bottles a year to the Swedes, I believe. True, they are mostly blonds, but can so many of them be wrong?

Mulderbosch has for a long time, in fact, catered surreptitiously and somewhat cynically to that large category of wine drinkers who claim to like dry wines but actually appreciate a dollop of unfermented sugar.

Yet, partly because some wine critics unfortunately share that taste and partly because the wines have always been expertly made from good quality grapes, Mulderbosch has managed to cling to a serious reputation.

It will be interesting what happens to these wines now, because big changes are under way. Bought recently by Charles Banks, a significant player from the United States who is investing heavily in South Africa, a revamped Mulderbosch has changed from being a place to being a brand.

Signalling this change somewhat disconcertingly to those who know their way around Stellenbosch, Mulderbosch has moved from, er, Mulderbosch to where Kanu used to be, and vice versa.

Banks has also bought Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, but contented himself there with just changing the name – to Fable – and a lot of expense and work. The label design and Afro-kitsch animalistic names will not please all tastes – certainly not mine – but the first releases are excellent. This is destined to be a top Cape winery.

In terms of Mulderbosch, one focus will be to introduce Americans to South African chenin blanc in a big way. Banks thinks South Africa can deliver an unbeatable quality: price ratio, first and foremost with chenin. And he is right.

A few recently released Mulderbosch wines necessarily represent the old regime more than the new. The Chenin Blanc 2010 (R59), like the Rosé (R49), is enriched by a ­little sugar but is fresher and fruitily ­lovable.

The showy gorgeousness of Faithful Hound 2009, the cabernet-based red blend, is dryish, if not to a totally respectable degree. Smoky-oaky-meaty aromas mingle with a lurking dark-berried promise of richness and warm-hearted, sweet-fruited flavours, all duly delivered.

For real refreshment it is too powerful, but altogether flavourful, harmoniously assembled – with a tannin structure like firm, plump cushions – and not trivial. It is good value at R120 and more than a few rungs off the ground, though not enough to make you dizzy.

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