‘Mullineux Wines, South Africa, visit Piedmont’s finest, Italy’


Back in early October I was treated to a visit from one of South Africa’s bright young gems, Mullineux Wines, Swartland: Chris, Andrea and their first born John (‘JZ’). This is their account.
After a somewhat long and difficult trip from Amsterdam (visa issues- it’s not easy travelling as a South African sometimes!), my wife Andrea, son John and I finally found ourselves winding up the road to Serralunga on an appropriately cool and misty evening. We arrived thirsty and excited – perfect for the two-day introductory experience our kind host had arranged for us in Barolo and Barbaresco. I had been to Piedmont once before, years ago while still at University, and most of our European time has been spend in the vineyards of France and Spain, so this was to be a massive learning experience into a terroir and grape variety foreign to the three of us.

Day one was spent in Barbaresco, and first up was a visit with the husband and wife team of Theobaldo and Maria Rivella.  The Rivella’s produce just one wine, their Montestefano Barbaresco, and Theobaldo first took us to visit his Montestefano vineyard that lies just next to his cellar. From a viticultural point of view it was interesting to note what a large canopy the Barbareschi employ, but as Theobaldo explained they need all the leaves they can get to properly ripen Nebbiolo, especially in this almost marginal climate! The Rivella’s produce wine on a small scale, and clearly do everything themselves (including digging out and building the bottle store under their house!). Their wine has a lovely purity and intensity to it, and is firm and tight, but fresh and giving at the same time. Wonderful stuff!

Rivella winery

After an animated discussion on truffle hunting (I think we got Theobaldo to tell us where his best truffle hunting spot is… but will we ever know for sure??), we headed to Luca Roagna, on the other side of Barbaresco.

After the longer than anticipated visit in the morning, we were a bit late, but there was no need to feel we were actually inconveniencing Luca. He clearly has bigger things on his mind! Once again the visit started in the vineyards, with an explanation of their natural approach to farming and winemaking. Speaking to Luca, it quickly became evident that Roagna is a family that has great respect for the traditions of their region, and this philosophy flows straight into their wines, where they are experimenting with 3 month (and longer!) macerations as their forbearers did. Otherwise, the winemaking is simple and intuitive, and the wines were naturally very subtle, with a thread of elegance threaded through their structure. It is easy to see why David likes these wines so much. Mid way through our tasting we realized we were starving and took a break to have lunch in Barbaresco, followed of course with an impromptu visit to the Produttori del Barbaresco (the local Co-Operative) before heading back to Roagna to taste (and buy!) their fascinating white wine.

'JZ Mullineux out among the organic vineyards of Roagna, Barbaresco'

Enough for one day though, and we headed back to Serralunga to unwind before lovely dinner at ristorante Castello with David, Luca, Davide Rosso and Maria Theresa Mascarello.

Day two was spent in Barolo, and started with a visit to the incredibly grounded Maria-Theresa Mascarello, of Bartolo Mascarello. It is always so humbling to visit a winery with such pedigree and history, and especially to be received in the open manner of Maria-Theresa. Her wines have incredible complexity, but what sets them apart is their sophistication and class. Maria-Theresa is somebody completely at home with her place in the winemaking world, and this shows in her highly confident wines.

Mullineaux visit

Another superb lunch of incredible anti-pasti was followed by a visit to Davide Rosso of Giovanni Rosso. Fortunately (for us!) Davide was having labeling machine problems, and could take us for a visit to proudly show us his vineyards before returning to the cellar to taste his polished, structured wines. Davide is young and ambitious, and it will be interesting to follow this winery into the future.

Though each of these four wineries are different in their approach, each gave us a clear insight into the region, and together gave a superb feeling for Piedmont as a whole! David is putting a brilliant portfolio together.

That evening was our last, and we ended up at the delicious Castello ristorante in Serralunga once again for dinner with the gang – David, Luca, Maria-Theresa and Davide. This time the wines were a range of Montalcino’s David brought along, and it was fascinating to taste these blind with a group of open-minded Piedmontese winemakers. Lots of compliments…. Something my French winemaking friends might struggle to do.

Next morning we wound out of hilly region, our lives and bellies much enriched. Thanks David!

Chris Mullineux

Mullineux Wines have just released their much anticipated inaugural vintage, a pair of wines from the leading Swartland region of South Africa: a 2008 White that blends Chenin Blanc with Clairette and Viognier in a Alsace-cum-Rhône fashion, and a 2008 Syrah that boasts the thrill of Crozes-Hermitage with a tad more sun.