CHARLES DICKENS, JANE AUSTEN & ME; WE ALL LOVE THIS SOUTH AFRICAN SWEETIE.
VIN DE CONSTANCE 2008, Constantia. (£40 for 50 ml., Majestic).
I’ve been flicking through some pictures of the South African vineyards, to my mind the most beautiful vineyards in the world. I’m going back soon; one sip of the Vin de Constance took me straight back to Cape Town, it’s amazing mountain and the city’s historic Constantia vineyards.
Located on the rear flank of Table Mountain, the vineyards are home to the famous wine estates of Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia. (That’s ‘big’ and ‘small’ Constantia in English money). The estates are next door to each other and both produce world class wines but for the renowned Vin de Constance sweetie you have to ‘go Klein’.
The Constantia estate was established on the gently sloping valley overlooking False Bay by the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel way back in 1685. Before too long the estate’s Vin de Constance wine acquired a fine reputation and it soon became a favourite of European kings and emperors. Frederick the Great once told me he loved it, and Napoleon ordered a few cases online from his exile on St. Helena.
Towards the end of the 19th century, however, the dreaded phylloxera (hungry bugs that chew away at the vines’ roots) disease arrived at the Cape, causing devastation in the vineyards and bankruptcy to the winemaking families. There was a happy ending to this tragedy though for in 1980 Klein Constantia was expertly redeveloped with strict reference to Simon van der Stel’s early records; a cunning move that included the careful selection of vines which, in all likelihood, came from the original vine stock used in Constantia 300 years ago.
Being barely 10 kilometres from False Bay, the Muscat de Frontignan grapes thrive in warm vineyards wafted by cooling sea breezes, just part of the ‘terroir’ that contributes to the excellent growing conditions needed to produce the high sugar concentrations of this naturally sweet wine.
In Edwin Drood Charles Dickens tells of “the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a home-made biscuit”, while Jane Austen told her forsaken heroines to try a little Constantia for “its healing powers on a disappointed heart”. So, I’m in good company in loving this golden, luscious, hugely aromatic, orange marmalade sweetie. Not cheap but wow, you’ll love it too!