Mulderbosch didn’t quite Meet the Yardstick
Thursday 11 January 2018
Mulderbosch was just across the road from Boschkloof Wines, to the West of Stellenbosch. It was barely the length of a 400 metre running track away and I had immediately to adjust to a new vineyard and tasting. The hot summer sun scorched the ground and I could almost hear the grapes ripening on the vines as I passed them on the driveway to the Tasting Room. The oak tree close by the road reminded me I was barely 8 kilometres from the ‘City of Oaks’. It also reminded me of my home street in the Southern Suburbs, Cape Town, where oak trees grow from the tarmac in the road.
I could have sat outside on cushioned setting on the wooden deck that overlooks the vineyards and hills beyond. Instead, I was pleased to find some welcome shade in the open Tasting Room while I perused the tasting options. Budelani explained the choices whilst Muriel later served me. It was not an easy task to make my selection for I could have chosen all: the Mulderbosch/Faithful Hound Range (5 wines for R50); the Fable Mountain Range (Tulbach wines, tasting at Mulderbosch) (R75 for 3 wines); or Yardstick Range (R80 for 5 wines). There’s also Single Vineyard and 1000 Miles Selections in the Mulderbosch portfolio to bewilder the taster. I intended to taste at Saxenburg and Zevenwacht after so I took the simple decision and chose 5 wines – of many different styles – from the first option.
The MCC, sporting the distinct Mulderbosch ribbon label, was unusual in many ways. Bottled in clear glass, the wine contained all 3 classic Champagne cultivars, including Pinot Meunier. South African MCCs generally contain Chardonnay with some Pinot Noir. Pinot Meunier gives acidity, fruitiness and softness; Chardonnay provides freshness, delicacy and elegance; whilst Pinot Noir brings body and finesse. Released just 3 weeks previously, and with a stream of fine rising bubbles, the wine promised much. It made pleasant, light drinking with a clean positive moussante mouthfeel. The aromas and flavours unfortunately were difficult to separate and identify. Some Granny Smith apple flavours emerged on the palate but the overall presence of the wine was disappointingly weak. I certainly could not pick out the ‘richly styled and powerful’ description on the Tasting Note.
The Rosé, at half the price, made for easy drinking too and was all one wants from the style of wine. Bright pale pink in colour, the bouquet of vibrant strawberry and candy notes showed limited complexity. Nonetheless, the aromas followed through to a clean palate with a delicate mouthfeel and positive acidity.
I much preferred the Chenin Blanc, a signature cultivar for Mulderbosch and special interest of Winemaker Adam Mason. Light oak maturation (10% in 1st/2nd/3rd fill French barrels; 90% in stainless steel tanks for 6 months) gave the wine a bright pale straw colour. The nose showed far greater complexity than the MCC or Rosé: inviting, engaging, aromatic notes of nougat, light caramel, apricot, ogen melon and lemon. These balanced well with a clean but not bracing acidity and alcohol to offer a smooth mouthfeel. I bought a bottle, great value at R70 for a decent bottle of wine.
I chose the Faithful Hound Red that reflected Mulderbosch’s signature red seal and red painted Tasting Room. The Bordeaux-style wine was a blend of all 5 classic Bordeaux varieties, 2/3 of which was shared equally by Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend did well to retain the individuality of each cultivar on the nose – a vibrant mix of tomato, tobacco leaf, mulberry, plum and dark cherry. It disappointed on the palate as prominent olive green tannins were too forwards and too sharp against the fruit flavours.
I rarely pass the chance to taste a Noble Late Harvest, this one being made from Sauvignon Blanc and sold in full size (750 ml) bottles. The wine was a surprisingly medium amber in colour that gave a richness and sherry like appearance. The notes of dried apricot and over-ripe raisins had an acetone overtone which did not taste quite right. It fared better on the palate with a clean but not syrupy mouthfeel and light dry to off-dry acidity.
The Tasting Selection finished, I asked to taste the Yardstick Pinot Noir. The simple and appealing Yardstick Label (a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay) is in its 9th year of a personal project by Winemaker Adam. The grapes are sourced from the Elgin region. I liked the wine with its shiny medium to deep pink colour; bright aromatic bitter-sweet cheery, unripe raspberry and black peppercorn spice notes; and light spicy mouthfeel and flavours. It was almost too light on the palate but the vibrant notes carried through well to provide just enough presence. I bought a bottle – it is already gone!
My experience of the tasting and of the Mulderbosch wines was mixed. The wine quality varied and that perhaps is a reflection of choosing sparkling, white, rosé, red and dessert wines in my tasting selection. I wondered with hindsight whether I should have sampled more wines or chosen those of higher price, even though knowing that greater price in wines is not a guarantee of greater quality. Nonetheless, I intend to make an appointment to taste the Yardstick Wines.
My sommeliers chose to leave me much to myself throughout the tasting. I had to remind when I wanted to taste the next wine and would have enjoyed learning more about Mulderbosch and its history. I didn’t know, for example, that the vineyard was founded in 1989 and bought in 2010 by a Californian investment company called Terroir Capital. Or that Charles Banks, the founding and managing member of Terroir Capital, once co-owned a cult Californian winery. Or that the company owns extensive vineyard assets in the USA, France and New Zealand as well as in South Africa. What was the origin of the ‘Steen op Hout’ name for the Chenin Blanc?
It would have been good to have known or to have been offered a pizza and wine pairing (Tuesdays to Thursdays by pre-request, thought the Tasting Room was virtually empty) or one of the thin-based wood-oven pizzas, or charcuterie or cheese board that Mulderbosch is renowned for. And so, I left with a nagging feeling that I should have enjoyed Mulderbosch – an established but ‘modern’ brand – more than I did. There was nothing particularly wrong – but the experience was just short of the benchmark Yardstick.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2014 Mulderbosch MCC Brut (53% Pinot Noir, 26% Pinot Meunier, 21% Chardonnay) – R150
2016 Mulderbosch (Steen op Hout) Chenin Blanc – R70*
2017 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé – R70
2015 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound Red (32% Cabernet Franc, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec) – R155
2014 Yardstick Pinot Noir – R150* FAVOURITE WINE
2010 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc Noble Late Harvest – R150