Good value is not an absolute quality, though the concept is mostly deployed only at the cheaper end of things. But I can think of a few (though by no means all) red wines for under R50 whose sheer unattractiveness makes them very poor value, and beer or water attractive alternatives.
By contrast some expensive wines are remarkably good value, albeit out of the reach of many winelovers: Kanonkop Paul Sauer, say, or Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Both are at the pinnacle of South African winemaking and, at approximately R440 and R370 respectively, by no means at the ever-rising pinnacle of prices.
The leading wines of Morgenster also offer good value, in the same league as Kanonkop and Le Riche (though with a less sustained record of excellence) but costing less.
Morgenster, on the edge of Somerset West, and glorying in one of the loveliest Cape-Dutch manor houses, this year celebrates 300 years since its founding under that name. The farm is older, though. It was part of the original Vergelegen, the great estate of governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel which was broken up after its owner’s corruption become too offensive for the infant settlement to handle and he was sent, disgraced, into exile.
The current chapter of Morgenster’s history opened in 1992, when Italian businessman Giulio Bertrand bought it and set about planting vineyards again and, for the first time, olive trees. If anything, Morgenster olive oil has gained the greater renown, but the two Bordeaux-style reds also have a fine reputation.
It must be said, however, that the top wine, simply called Morgenster, has never been quite certain of how to offer itself. Some vintages since the maiden 2000 stress elegance, while some, especially when merlot has dominated over cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, have moved to a more immediately ingratiating approach. But invariably a serious, unshowy example of good modern classicism.
The latest release, costing around R300, is no exception in terms of quality. There was no 2007, rather surprisingly as it wasn’t a generally poor year like 2002, the last time they skipped a year. But not up to standard, apparently. The 2008 is a wine with undeniably winning, impressive ways. Its big alcohol is neatly tucked away, while testifying to the ripeness of the fruit, and the classy restraint that is a Morgenster characteristic survives. There’s a lovely balance of components, and you need to look hard to detect the formidable structure beneath the velvet.
Even if it’s not the best Morgenster yet, it will gain complexity, and reward being forgotten about in some cool dark place for five or more years. I tasted this wine with Angela Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux recently and we agreed on a score of 17/20.
Waiting for that wine to come around, you could in the meantime do worse than console yourself with the Morgenster Lourens River Red. It’s quite a bit less costly, readier to drink – elegant, fresh and lovely, more forthcoming in youth than the grander wine. My note for that one at the tasting was: “Lean fruit-filled nose, fresh & rather delightful. Cigar-cedarwood. Fragrant red plum – a herbaceous nose. Elegant, lively. Subtle but firm tannic structure, well-balanced acidity. Well balanced all round.” Angela was just a little less enthusiastic than I and Ingrid, and scored it 15.5. I had it much closer to the Morgenster, at 16.5. This wine used to seem quite expensive – but the price has not risen much for a long time now, and it is undoubtedly good value
But if R128 (farm price) is still too pricey, an unrelated wine recently sampled might suit. Lauréat is another Bordeaux-style red, from Distell-owned Zonnebloem – a label that’s sadly not quite what it once was. Lauréat 2009 is even more classically styled than the Morgensters (more old-fashioned, if you wish), a little sterner and more savoury and less obviously charming, though there’s plenty of fruit-full flavour too. WE scored it 16/20, meaning that at R79 it is easy to recommend with enthusiasm.
First published in the Mail & Guardian, 21-28 April 2011, but this is an expanded version.