Changing Attitudes

Today’s launch of the 2005 vintage of Morgenster’s flagship red on its namesake Somerset West farm was an apocalyptic affair. Flown down from Johannesburg, the upcountry wine press had a bird’s eye view of the 5½ week old bush fires that have danced around the Winelands like an arsonist with St. Vitus’ dance. The Cape itself resembled an ashtray at the Fireman’s Arms with a layer of gray ash descending gently on the scene (including the vineyards which were in the early stages of harvest) like Pompey in those first days of the Vesuvius problem.

mor Changing Attitudes

Pre-eruption tremors there were aplenty. For starters, winemaker Marius Lategan was curiously coy about the composition of the blend, foreswearing the usual detailed chemical analysis and confirming only that both the 2004 and 2005 are Merlot dominated. The 2005 has some Cabernet Sauvignon as well, as does the 2004 which also includes some Cabernet Franc. Morgenster make no mention of the cépage on the label while the estate’s other wine (“not a second label, more an alternative expression of our terroir” notes Lategan) called Lourens River Valley, lists the cultivars but provides no % breakdown.

When Giulio Bertrand’s brave venture kicked off with the release of the maiden 2000 vintage, it was generally assumed the intention was to make a Cheval Blanc in Somerset West. That he hired Pierre Lurton, the well known St. Émilion jockey to consult, made it look like a dead cert. But now the direction seems to be moving from St. Émilion to Pomerol and Château Pétrus as Merlot increasing seizes control, in 2005 ejecting Cabernet Franc entirely from the party.

M. Lurton for one is not surprised as the same thing happens at his Argentinian operation Cheval des Andes. The blend started off as a 50:50 mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec but in recent vintages, Malbec gains the upper hand.

For cash-strapped consumers, the Lourens River Valley is worth a flutter at R135 a bottle. Giulio did mention that some Johannesburg-based interests were pushing for a R150 price tag, which the wily octogenarian (who turns 82 later this month) gallantly resisted. The 2004:2005 duo are anthropomorphisms of the masculine:feminine principle in winemaking. The 2004 all tobacco and surly strength, the 2005 fragrant with a charming exoticism. Woody Allen:Soon-yi if you like – real Yin and Yang stuff.

R300 buys you a bottle of either the 2004 or 2005 Morgenster. More likely the former, as after the latter got five Platter stars at the end of 2008, label drinkers would have placed their trophy orders. Which serves them right as for my money, the 2004 is the superior wine with lashings of depth and impressive complexity. The 2005 is a real show wine: sweeter, more sensual and fatter. A Renée Zellweger 2005 as opposed to an Amy Winehouse 2004 and I know who I’d rather escort to dinner.