Morgenster vertical tasting apparently clashed with another tasting in Hong Kong (but then most tastings do!). Luckily I was not invited to the other one so was very happy and definitely did not regret being able to concentrate on this French-at-heart South African wine.
Located only about 4km from the Atlantic Ocean in Somerset West just south of Stellenbosch, the vineyard benefits from the cool sea breeze resulting in a growing season 2º-3ºC lower than inland. Hence the wines are a touch lower in final alcohol and higher in acidity. Being closer to the ocean also implies more vintage variation, and it does show in the wines we tasted.
The owner, Italian Giulio Bertrand, fell in love with South Africa and especially the setting of Morgenster—meaning ‘morning star’ in Dutch—with its Cape Dutch manor house dating back to 1786. He decided to retire there and make the best Bordeaux outside Bordeaux and the best olive oil outside Italy. Being from the textile industry which has nothing to do with winemaking and olive oil production, he engaged professional help to realise his dream. Pierre Lurton from Cheval Blanc is the man responsible for his wine.
There are two things that differentiate Morgenster from other South African wineries in the same league. First. Giulio and Pierre have the vision to retain a portion of each year’s production to age in cellar, so there are always at least ten backdated vintages available for sale and customers can appreciate the older wines in perfect condition—not every winery has the luxury to do this because of cash flow.
Secondly, while Pierre goes to Morgenster every April for the vintage, it is Henry Kotze, the winemaker, who takes the wine to Cheval Blanc every October to make the blend. I don’t think too many wineries in the world, let alone South Africa, adopt such a practice. So it can be argued that Morgenster wine is truly a French-at-heart South African wine.
There are two labels available, both Bordeaux blends: Lourens River Valley and the flagship Morgenster which is only made in the best years. We tasted four of each: 2009, 2005, 2003 and 2001. Both 2005s have more weight and sweet ripe fruit characters because it was a hotter year. We were split between the 2003s and the 2001s, both cooler years, which are more ready to drink now. For the Laurens River Valley my preference was the 2001 as the wine revealed different aromas and bouquet every time I took a sip. The 2009, from another cooler year, is definitely still too young but it has the backbone to develop like the 2001. As for the Morgenster, my favourite was the 2003 with finesse yet a firm structure.
Anyway, the point here is not to reach a consensus on which wine or vintage is the best. They are all of high quality and each has its own style so we just have to follow our individual preference. James Yates proudly said that he is a Merlot fan and so loves the Morgenster 2005 which has 86% Merlot in the blend! So don’t blindly take the wine critics’ word; try them for yourself.
Morgenster and Laurens River Valley are available from Victoria Wines.