MÔRESON WINE ESTATE
Friday 26 January 2018
I had special reason to visit Franschhoek. I had waited 7 months until veraison to take reference cultivar photos of the rows of exemplar grapes at La Motte. I had previously tasted and reviewed the La Motte wines, and also attended their specialist Shiraz tasting, so it made sense to visit a different vineyard. Môreson was that vineyard. The entrance was directly opposite at La Motte so all I had to do was cross the aptly-named Happy Valley Road, just a few kilometres North-West of Franschhoek city centre.
Môreson was another of those well known wine estates whose wines I feel I ought to have tasted and know. I am sure I have sampled 1 or 2 of their wines at the Franschhoek or other Wine Festival but I needed to come to the vineyard to taste. My excitement got the better of me as the drive over multiple speed bumps to the entrance and shady car park seemed to take forever, even if barely 1½ kilometres. A leafy path led me through an arched pergola, past the orchid greenhouses and nursery of the Exotic Plant Company (due to re-open in March 2018), and bright blue Agapanthus flowers like exploding fireworks, to the Cellar and the Bread & Wine Restaurant.
The buildings were traditional white-washed with dark olive green painted sash windows and doors. There was a relaxed feel outside, with small circular tables set in the dappled shade for wine tasters and drinkers. The Tasting Room was surprisingly bare and small but well decorated. I already sensed a place with a difference and a personal stamp of identity. Entrance and other signs showed a sense of caring, fun and quirky humour.
MJ and then Piet hosted my tasting. The tasting selection (R50 for 5 wines) included wines from the Franschhoek Appellation Range and the Stellenbosch Heritage Range. These were the premium and flagship wines. The Miss Molly Lifestyle Range, so named after the Môreson Weimaraner, was not listed. Piet explained that Môreson is renowned for its Chardonnay (one block had already been picked for MCC) which only made choosing 5 wines even harder. I was fortunate that as the tasting progressed I was able to taste more wines, including many that were not for tasting. More of that later.
The tasting started with the Blanc de Blancs, the first of 4 Chardonnay. This was a NV wine and simple in character and style. The flavours of fruity apple and vanilla were limited, with little yeasty taste due to just 18 months spent on the lees, and short in length. It was nonetheless very drinkable, being moderately dry, and having a good moussante feel.
I scored the unwooded Dr Reason Why, harvested from a single block and made in cement eggs (60%) and amphorae (30%), the same. Served in a balloon Chardonnay glass, it too was shy and showed limited complexity and intensity for my preference. I understood the winemakers approach for a fresh, clean wine, but the process gave neither mineral earthiness nor richness.
The Mercator was much more to my liking, aided by 12 months’ maturation in new/2nd fill French oak. This was comparatively oak forwards with aromas of vanilla and coconut that led to greater concentration of apple and lemon flavours on the palate. The balance was good too and I liked the buttery texture in the mouth.
I was fortunate to taste the Fox Yankee Mike, named after the owner’s career as a pilot for South African Airways and passion for flying. The gold cockpit screen on the label and callsign name left me, as an ex-Royal Air Force officer, in no doubt of the origins. The wine itself, made into 1,000 bottles from a single block of CY clone Chardonnay, was a dizzying R750 a bottle. I wondered as I tasted if knowing the price affected my analysis and assessment of the wine. It is never easy to tell. The wine was an attractive shiny pale straw colour. Was it elegant (high quality) or shy (lower quality)? It did have good complexity and intensity, with excellent balance between apple and citrus flavours with those of French oak. It was the silkiest and most luxurious wine of the tasting, of that I was sure, with an acidity that held onto the palate for a lingering finish.
Wines were first made at Môreson by US-based Richard Friedman in 1993 and it remains a family business, with daughter Nikki managing the farm. Unsurprisingly, Chardonnay is by far the most grown cultivar – 18 hectares of the 35 hectare property are under vine – and red wines make up just 10% of the production. These were to be my next for tasting.
Cabernet Franc is always a favourite wine and, like the Cabernet Sauvignon, matured for 18 months in 35% new French oak barrels. Though full bodied, it was pleasantly light in style, being fruit-driven with delicious aromas of redcurrant, mulberry and cranberry with a dusty white spiciness beneath. Nippy tannins, not bitter, added to an elegant mouthfeel and a decent finish. It was my favourite wine of the tasting.
I rated the Cabernet Sauvignon a point higher as it had a more defined and pronounced bouquet. This was classic, heady berry fruity and potent Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry tannins gave firm grip to the palate to make for a decent wine that will improve only with keeping.
The similarly-priced Pinotage was atypical of the cultivar with grapes coming from the South-West of Stellenbosch. Indeed, I would have struggled to pick it out in blind tasting. The aromas were limited in intensity and not the usual ripe plum and cherry fruits. The flavours were more red than dark fruits that made for an interesting wine. Dry tannins, aided by 18 months in 40% new French oak, were smoother than expected for the 2015 vintage. I easily recognised the ‘Widow Maker’ name from my career in the British Air Force. The name was given to the American F-104 Starfighter jet in the mid-1960s due to its appalling safety record, particularly with the German Air Force. 262 of the 916 aircraft that were delivered crashed, including 4 on one day in June 1962.
The final red wine of the tasting (and not generally available for sampling) was another Stellenbosch Pinotage of altitudinous pricing, at R750 a bottle, and made from 2 specific rows of vines. The MKM name stems from the Moraka Klaas Maffa family names of the first families who worked the land. The 2013 vintage was the first released and, as with the Foxtrot Yankee Mike Chardonnay, I did my best to dissociate my tasting analysis and scoring from the known price. Made in clay amphorae that I was to see in the Cellar after, the medium to full bodied, medium ruby to purple wine showed a greater complexity than the Widow Maker Pinotage. Blueberry and plum aromas were laced with subtle mineral chilli and chocolate undertones. I scored it the highest of any wine of the tasting, notably for the palate which was smooth, elongated, with perfect balance between fruit, tannin and alcohol. The wine just went on and on for a prolonged finish.
I was treated last to a taste of the Fudge Straw Desert Wine, another with the gold aviator design on the bottle label. Unusually for a straw wine it was made with Chardonnay but in classic ancient method, with the bunch stems closed whilst still on the vine and left for the juices to concentrate before harvesting. Fermented using wild yeast, the wine was matured for 24 months in French oak to give a shiny, attractive and inviting deep yellow colour. The wine was full of flavour – dried tangerine, orange peel, apricot – with a delicious, clean melt-in-the-mouth texture on the palate that lasted. Low alcohol concentrations are customary with dessert wines and at just 11% this added to the lightness of the wine, as well as making it exceedingly more-ish.
Piet showed me around the Cellar before leaving. The fermentation tanks were geared up for the rush of harvest and there was an expectant air amid the equipment. I was surprised to see stainless tanks outdoors given the heat of the South African late-summer. I had seen in photos of Chile wine farms but not in South Africa. It was good to see too the clay amphorae up close (I had seen at a distance for making Sauvignon Blanc wines at Cape Point Vineyards) as well as the cement ‘eggs’ that are increasingly popular for white wine making.
I chose not to buy any wine which is rare for me. This was not because the quality was poor, far from it, but because the wines I liked most were either ones I have many of (the Cabernet Franc) or priced more than I could reasonably afford (the Mercator Chardonnay). The mid-priced wines were all circa R240 per bottle which is to be perhaps expected for Franschhoek wine farms. Without being too critical, I prefer for regular drinking the better value-for-money (and equally high quality) wines from elsewhere. To be fair, I did not taste from the entry Miss Molly Lifestyle Range.
Nonetheless, I left with a smile on my face and having experienced a great tasting. Môreson may be one of the smaller estates and with a white-heavy/MCC range but I enjoyed the wines. I wish now with hindsight that I had bought a bottle of the Straw Wine, for that was truly more-ish, even though a pricey R350 for half a bottle.
Wines tasted (bought *):
MV Solitaire Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs – R160
2016 Dr Reason Why Unwooded Chardonnay – R125
2015 Mercator Chardonnay – R240
2013 Foxtrot Yankee Mike Chardonnay – R750
2015 Cabernet Franc – R240 FAVOURITE WINE
2015 Mata Mata Cabernet Sauvignon – R240
2015 Pinotage – R220
3013 Moraka Klaas Maffa Pinotage – R750
2013 Fudge Straw Wine (375 ml) – R350