Constance, then a Dutch colony in South Africa, was legendary for its sweet wines.
Charles Baudelaire, the notable French poet, in his Les fleurs du mal compares the charms of his beloved to the pleasures of Nuits-St-Georges and Constantia wines:
“Even more than Constantia, than opium, than Nuits, (Nuits St George) I prefer the elixir of your mouth, where love performs its slow dance.”
Well perhaps, but clearly shows how tasting the sweet wines of Constantia was considered a hugely pleasurable activity – at least for those who could afford them!
The story starts in in the 1680 when a Dutch governor founded an estate just outside Cape Town. It was however a gentleman by the name of Henry Cloete who having bought part of the estate propelled its wines to unimaginable fame and prosperity. The cool climate of the Cape and its unique soils must have suited the small-berried Muscat grape for no other sweet wine could claim to equal its seductiveness nor match the prices drinkers in Europe were prepared to pay for this elixir. It must be pointed out that Cloete had slavery at his disposal to make sure that labour intensity the wines demanded were always there for the taking!
Economic upheavals during the second half of the 19th century and the arrival of Phylloxera, coupled with changing tastes in Europe, sent the estate into a steep decline where it languished for more than a century.
Tasting the sweet wines of Constantia was considered a hugely pleasurable activity.
It was Cape Town businessman Duggie Juste who bought the state for next to nothing in 1980 and set about reviving it to its former glory, replanting it with the original small-grained Muscat grape.
Today Klein Constantia, is held in the highest esteem throughout the wine world. Critics give it near perfect scores with prices to match. Expect to pay anywhere from £50 to £60 for 50cl’s which come in their unmistakable 18th century styled bottle.
I’ve been lucky to taste the wine several times which is complex, reminiscent of orange peel, honey, beeswax and ripe figs. The finish is long and persistent. Utterly seductive! Vintages 2016,17, 18 and 19 are particularly sought after. These vintages can be drunk over the next 20 or even 30 years such is the longevity of these wines.
There are no records what Marie Antoinette thought of Vin de Constance, but had the people run out of water I am sure she would have had a glib answer to that particular conundrum!