The Iconic Klein Constantia Winery Releases Its New Vin de Constance 2017 Natural Sweet Wine to Great Acclaim Yet Again…

The famous Vin de Constance is certainly a deeply contemplative wine. While I was tasting the fabulous new Vin de Constance 2017 release, deep in thought, I realised that my friendship with current winemaker Matt Day makes up the tail end of over 30+ years of my own relationship with this great estate and its winemakers after getting to know both Ross Gower and Adam Mason very well over the years. The journey of vinous evolution has been an exciting one for Vin de Constance which now proudly ranks, once again, among the most admired fine wine brands in the world.

With more than 320 years of history, Vin de Constance is without a doubt THE greatest sweet wine of the South hemisphere, being a unique style based on freshness, complexity, balance and deliciously hedonistic aromas. The vines of Muscat de Frontignan, the only variety used for Vin de Constance, stretch more than 16,5 hectares together with the estate’s other varieties on the slopes of the Constantiaberg mountain. The terroir of the Constantiaberg is 600 millions years old and has a high clay content which ensures good irrigation and favourable water retention, keeping the vines happy during the dry and hot summers. Located between 70m and 100m above sea level, the South-East oriented Muscat plantings on the estate’s lower slopes benefit from the constant cooling sea breezes of the Cape Doctor, a wind formed by the Benguela current coming up to the Cape from the Antarctic.

In the vineyard, a first harvest is made to create a basic base wine with a 12.5% to 13% alcohol content and a good acidity. In all, there are up to 20 separate pickings which are all vinified separately, 50% from bush vines planted in 2011 and 50% from older trellised vines planted in 1983. The consequential elaboration of Vin de Constance means that it does not require any “noble rot” or botrytis but merely the raisining of the grapes in a natural sweet wine style. After an extended fermentation period, the wine is normally aged for 3 years in a combination of 50% new French oak and acacia barrels, as well as some large format foudres before further blending and bottling.

Vin de Constance was previously enjoyed by…

• Napoléon 1st who had some bottles delivered weekly at Saint-Hélène during his exile. On his death bed, he wanted to drink only Vin de Constance and nothing else.

• Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

• King George IV, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II

• Prussian Emperor Frédéric Le Grand.

• George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

• The Indonesian Prince Dipanagara who was a Muslim but still drank Vin de Constance.

• Baudelaire (« I prefer Constance to opium »), Lord Byron, Jane Austen (a remedy to a heartbreak ) and Charles Dickens.

• John Adams, Casanova, Alexandre Dumas

• Nelson Mandela and more latterly, Xi Jinping

The build up to the 2017 harvest of Muscat de Frontignan was text book according to Matt Day. The autumn months were hot and dry – resulting in early leaf fall and moderate reserves in the vines. Winter came late with mild conditions. The rainfall, although better than 2015, was below average. Spring’s warm weather initiated budburst, however a cold September resulted in the budburst being slightly uneven. The summer months were near perfect for flowering and berry set. The exemplary growing season was characterised by cold nights, moderately warm days, cooling winds and just the right amount of rainfall perfecting the process of berry development and the ever so important maturation process. Despite the drought, they were able to isolate their individual pickings into 20 different batches of Muscat de Frontignan. The first picking showed fine acidity from the Bush vines – at just over 18 balling or 7.5-8% Abv., a 3.3pH and a total acid of 9 TA. These pickings spanned over two months, allowing numerous possibilities when making up the final blend of Vin de Constance 2017. The most time consuming of these batches was of course the essencia, the heart and soul of the Vin de Constance, which is made from raisins harvested individually by a specialised team.

The first experimental recreation by Ross Gower in 1986 was made up of around 1,000 bottles from grapes from two to three blocks with the 1987 vintage forming the first official commercial release. The 1988 vintage made 13,000 litres and was at first rejected for certification before later being passed. To this day, Vin de Constance still has no accurate official certification category, meaning that the wine is still certified as a Noble Late Harvest, despite having no botrytis, and is then declassified to a natural sweet wine with a volatile acidity level around 1.2. Recent production has now reached between 30 and 40,000 bottles annually.

Vin de Constance 2017 Natural Sweet Wine, WO Constantia, 13.97% Abv.

165 g/l RS, 3.7pH, 6.6 TA.   

When comparing the technical stats of the 2017 with those of the 2016 Vin de Constance, they appear almost identical with a very similar alcohol level, residual sugar and total acidity. The aromatics are wonderfully cool, crystalline and fragrant with delicious notes of white peach, honey on white toast, spicy orange peel, apricot, passion fruit hints and pineapple pastille. Where this wine really departs from the 2016 is with its incredibly harmonious, utterly seamless, creamy mouthfeel that boasts a soft, suave glycerol mouth coating concentration, plush fleshy layers of dried apricots, honey and grapefruit marmalade. On the finish, the wine tightens up once again revealing such a fabulous balance where its multiple textural layers become almost inseparable before ending with a long, persistent phenolic length that lends an illusion of dryness. A truly outstanding benchmark Vin de Constance yet again. Drink now or over the next 25+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vin de Constance 2016 Natural Sweet Wine, WO Constantia, 14.04% Abv.

164 g/l RS, 3.73pH, 6.5 TA.

Winemaker Matt Day is always effusive about how much he loves the 2016 Vin de Constance expression for its unique and characterful style that is just slightly more exotic and out of the ordinary. The aromatics are intricate and overt showing deliciously complex notes of ripe yellow grapefruit and dried apricots, pithy marmalade and spicy nectarine peel together with fabulously edgy notes of stem ginger and herbal cinnamon spice. This fabulous 2016 earned a lot of followers and was highly lauded across the world with drinkers seduced by the wine’s lush dense palate, its impressive concentration and glycerol breadth and a textural depth kept beautifully vibrant and bright by the wines superb sweet and sour tangy acidity. The finish is long and precise with tantalising hints of zesty tinned pineapple slices in syrup, fresh honey and more ginger and apricot nuances. A very special wine that shows plenty of individuality. Drink now and over the next 20 to 30+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Another Cape Winemakers Guild Classic Red From Groot Constantia’s Boela Gerber…

Formed in 1982, the Guild is an association of some of South Africa’s finest winemakers and has evolved into a body of 45 members who jointly represent the pinnacle of South African wine achievement. 

While the point of the guild’s existence is sometimes questioned by voices in the South African industry, it seems clear to me that the experimentation and creativity the CWG promotes is a valuable and unique part of the wine industry in South Africa and should be cherished. In the guild’s own words… “Innovation, benchmarking and the sharing of knowledge spanning over thirty seven years of winemaking excellence, is the proud accomplishment of the Cape Winemakers Guild.”

Another key point of the CWG is that individual winemakers are invited to join, not wineries, and the membership remains with the individual even if they move to another winery. I recently caught up with long time Groot Constantia winemaker Boela Gerber to taste his exciting new 2017 red CWG release along side Duncan Savage, another popular guild member.

Boela Gerber Groot Constantia CWG Red Bordeaux Blend 2017, 14 Abv.

A classical blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Cabernet Franc.

What lovely opulence and hedonistic power right from the start offering incredibly lavish blueberry and black berry intensity, finely lifted violet, sweet tobacco leaf and iris perfume with plenty of vanilla pod spice. On the palate there is a beautifully vivid plushness showing cola and cherry spice notes, brûléed sweet cedar oak and a fabulously focused intensity and freshness. Very expressive and luxurious, this is impressive winemaking in action for people looking for a show stopper. This really is what special edition CWG wines are all about.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting Vin de Constance 2015 at the London Launch – Moving Greatness to the Next Level…

For the past 8 years, Matt Day has come to London to launch the new vintages of Vin de Constance, one of the greatest sweet wines in existence. Usually there is a formula of showing a few older rare vintages before revealing the newest release. But after Matt pulled barrel samples 6 months ago from multiple component parts of the 2015 blend… and recently discovered the bottles in the lab, he thought it would be the perfect way to introduce one of the finest expressions of Vin de Constance to date… by showing a deconstructed version with multiple component parts.

This is a wine that needs no introduction, and as Matt pointed out, we all know about the famous historical dignitaries that have consumed this delicious sweet wine over the years. But more important to him and the estate owners now is making great wines that represent their terroir to the fullest and represent the vision of where Vin de Constance is going in the future.

As if there was any need for further compliments, it was the great Steven Spurrier who proclaimed at the tasting that “the 2015 Vin de Constance was every bit as impressive as the 2016 Chateau d’Yquem”… where Matt actually worked a harvest two years ago.

For me, this wine shows a focus, a precision and a clarity of purpose not seen on any recent vintages of Vin de Constance. If you want Chateau d’Yquem buyers to buy your wine, this is what they are going to have to taste like! Bravo Matt!

Component Tasting:

Component I6 – Precision

Wonderfully perfumed and fresh, orange blossom, marmalade on white toast, crushed grapefruit and barley sugar. Very fragrant, pure and precise. Quite full and unctuous on the palate, massive mouth coating depth, creamy and powerful with impressive purity of fruit.

Component I7 – Flesh

Quite neutral, mineral and restrained aromatics, showing more a leafy, sappy, resinous side of Muscat with subtle orange and tangerine peel spice. Texturally full, fleshy and harmonious with a wonderfully plush lemon cream biscuit core of yellow orchard fruits. Soft acids, dreamy harmonious balance.

Component I8 – Harmony

Containing a small part of 2016 Vin de Constance, this wine shows aromatics of an almost more complete wine with fine balance between fruit and sappy resinous notes, minerality and wood spice. Palate is slightly fresher and more ‘teenager gawky’ than the others with plenty of power and depth but unlike the nose, the palate feels much more incomplete and more like a blend component.

MDF Green 2018 Component – Frame

Harvested green end of January 2018. Lean spicy and green with stalky sappy notes, peppered green figs, white pepper, grapefruit confit and waxy green apples. Wine is bone dry, less than 2 g/l RS. Sleek, fresh, very juicy. Could certainly be bottled as a hipster still wine but going to be a perfect component of a blend. Delicious backbone and freshness.

Component Essencia 2015 – Richness

A whopping of 655 g/l RS in the component with next to no alcohol. Fantastically rich and opulent, hedonistic notes of orange marmalade, grapefruit preserve and caramelised hairy yellow peaches. Palate texture is dense with a treacly weight, tasting it akin to sucking on a big teaspoon of honey. An important component piece in the Vin de Constance blend.

Vin de Constance 2012, WO Constantia, 14.3 Abv.

Matt Day’s first vintage in charge of winemaking after taking over from the phenomenal talent of Adam Mason. So no pressure! The RS is 160 g/l, pH 3.6, TA 7 g/l with the wine aged for 2.5 years in a combination of 60% new French oak, Hungarian oak and French acacia before racking out, blending and ageing for a further 6 months in tank before bottling. Aromatics show crystalline white peaches, yellow citrus, orange blossom and subtle tangerine peel spice. Palate is so sleek and taut with an appealing salinity and spicy marmalade, fleshy texture and an intensity that lingers long in the mouth. An exceptional maiden vintage for Matt.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vin de Constance 2015, WO Constantia, 14 Abv.

Very pure crystalline and fragrant nose with a really complex aromatic profile seamlessly knitted together. Beautiful peppered white peaches, honey suckle, yellow grapefruit, pear purée, barley sugar and a most enchanting under vein of chalky minerality. The palate is crystalline and pure, taut and polished with absolute harmony and balance. The incredible blending precision delivers an amazing texture, impressive tension, mid palate restraint and a finished wine that is perfectly proportion and finely chiselled and near faultless. A very grown up Vin de Constance that flirts with lightness, freshness and elegance.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Another Iconic Vin de Constance Release from Klein Constantia – Tasting the 2014…

The 2014 Vin de Constance release sees Klein Constantia winemaker Matt Day deliver a superbly confident display of vinous sweet wine alchemy, conjuring up an impressively fine and balanced rendition of this iconic sweet Muscat dessert wine. Fill your cellars with this vinous gold!

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2014, WO Constantia, 14.2 Abv.

172 g/L RS, matured in 500 litre barrels for around 36 months, the 2014 displays a wonderfully aromatic nose of white blossom, honeysuckle, quince confit and freshly baked brioche smothered in honey and yellow grapefruit marmalade. The 2014 is wonderfully approachable showing a finely poised balance of creamy yellow orchard fruits and superbly elegant integrated acids. The finish is focused and pure, concentrated and beautifully textural, finishing with a delicious melange of orange peel, ginger pastille sweets and caramelised apples dusted with vanilla pod spice. This is a really distinguished expression that shows the winemaker’s growing confidence to be able to deliver an iconic expression of Vin de Constance year after year. Drink from 2019 to 2045+

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance – Still the King of South African Sweet Wines…

Vin de Constance as we all know was drunk by Napoleon in exile and helped sooth lovers’ broken hearts in Charlotte Bronte novels but more significantly, was regarded as one of the most desirable sweet wines in the world often selling for higher prices than Bordeaux’s grandest red wines.

Now days, the winery employs the services of one of the most talented young winemakers in South Africa, Matt Day, who has whole heartedly embraced the quality vision promoted by the new(ish) owners, to make Vin de Constance one of the most desirable sweet wines in the world once again.

It’s actually not too often one gets to drink the older vintages now days but when they do pop up at lunches or dinners, they are always a truly wonderful vinous treat. I recently had the pleasure of enjoying the 21 year old 1997 Vin de Constance at lunch and it was every bit as riveting as expected. My advise is not to neglect this style when purchasing wines to cellar as they will certainly reward patience and appreciate in value.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 1997, WO Constantia, 14.5 Abv.

Dark golden molasses brown with orange brick rim, this wine is super expressive, complex and intricate showing tertiary aromas of brown sugar, brûléed oranges, barley sugar, honeyed nuts and molasses hints. A subtle toffee apple and burnt sugar opulence underpins the palate which is wonderfully multidimensional, layered with caramelised orange peel, sweet peach ice tea and piquant Seville orange marmalade nuances. Incredible intensity, a regal sugar / acid balance and a superbly focused depth. A really awesome sweet wine expression. Drink now or bury in your cellar for another decade or two.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

With Klein Constantia Winemaker Matt Day in London recently.

Tasting The Innovative Cool Climate White Wines From Klein Constantia With Winemaker Matt Day…

Whenever friends tell me they’ll be in Cape Town for work or other travel and have one day spare for some wine tourism, Klein Constantia is normally top of the list along with Groot Constantia and Buitenverwachting for an idyllic few hours of wine tasting.

Dating back to 1685 and described as one of the world’s most beautiful wine estates, this famous winery set amidst ancient trees on the upper foothills of the Constantiaberg, with views across False Bay, offers some of the most interesting Sauvignon Blancs and sweet wines in the entire Cape.

Young Klein Constantia winemaker Matt Day started his wine career with an internship at Meerlust Estate in 2007 and followed that experience up with stints in the Barossa Valley, Napa Valley, St Emilion and Sancerre. In 2009 he was appointed as the assistant winemaker to Adam Mason before taking over the top job itself in 2012 when Adam moved on to Mulderbosch.

The 146 hectare wine estate originally formed part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 by Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape. This particular valley was chosen not only for its beauty, but also for the decomposed granite soils on its slopes, gently cooled by ocean breezes. Prized by world leaders and the global aristocracy throughout 18th Century Europe, Constantia’s Vin de Constance was revived by Klein Constantia in 1986, reaffirming this unique natural sweet wine’s place in history.

Today, Klein Constantia not only continues to make some of South Africa’s very best dessert wines but also an impressive array of Sauvignon Blanc cuvees that reflect the cool Constantia climate. On his most recent trip to London, I caught up with Matt to taste his current releases as well as some exciting new vintages.

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Constantia, 13.5 Abv.

Wonderful opulence with a delicious melange of tropical fruits, cassis leaf, gooseberry and smokey boxwood spice with hints of mango peel and waxy green apples. Full and mouthfilling, textured and broad, this warm vintage has yielded massive leesy concentration, rich citrus flavours but ample vibrant acidity. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Constantia, 13.5 Abv.

Another warm dry vintage but with 17% wild ferment and a portion of barrel ageing. Still slightly reduced, there are layers of minerals, crushed granite, cassis leaf, wet slate and pear purée. Palate is bright, zippy and intense, with fine palate core tension, big aromatics, vibrant acidity and luxurious complexity on the finish. A very pretty wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia Metis Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Constantia, 14 Abv.

100% wild ferment, small amount of barrel ferment from some single vineyard declassified parcels. A far more dusty, mineral nose with crushed granite, limestone, boxwood and hints of flinty struck match reduction. Rich and textural, but still plenty of fruit restraint. Quite a distinct chalky, gooseberry atypical style of Sauvignon Blanc that spends 12 months on the lees. Bright, drying acids, this is one for old world lovers.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia Perdeblokke Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Constantia, 13.5 Abv.

Hints of new season asparagus, gooseberry, dried baking herbs and fennel root notes. Super individual and complex from this superb high slope single vineyard. Palate follows with crystalline fresh acids, fresh sage, waxy green apples and an incredibly long, concentrated finish. Quite profound expression, this assaults the senses and titilates the palate. A beauty!

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia No. 382 Experimental Block Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Constantia, 14 Abv.

No sulphur at crush, free run juice, all wild ferment in a more funky Metis kind of style. Lovely nuanced nose of green fruits, gooseberry leaf, cats pee, black currant pastille and a dusty khaki-bush fynbos character. Sweet mint leaf, waxy green apples, quince and exotic fennel root and savoury asparagus complexity. Wow, what a wine!

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia No. 382 Experimental Block Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Constantia, 14.8 Abv.

Unique nose of asparagus, green fruits, tinned petit pois peas and an alluring savoury boxwood and wet chalk mineral depth. Creamy and textural, there is big glycerol weight, palate flesh, sweet gooseberry and leesy, white citrus concentration. Still a baby, this is a wine with gravitas and power, focus and impressive depth. Touch warm on the finish but certainly tempered by the fresh crystalline acids. A whole lot of wine in a bottle!

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia Chardonnay 2015, Constantia, 12.5 Abv.

Aged in 500 litre French oak barrels, there is plenty of subtlety with a fine cool climate approach keeping this wine restrained and in check. Plenty of palate opulence with pink rock candy, citrus peel, dried herbs and creamy biscuit spice. Very cool, rich but light on its feet, with great drinkability.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Klein Constantia Estate Red 2014, Constantia, 14 Abv.

58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Shiraz, 14% Petit Verdot, and 9% Malbec. Sweet creamy opulent black fruits, plummy and sappy, sweet resinous breadth with creamy vanilla pod spice, black berry flesh and coffee bean mocha spice. Lovely texture, sleek fine grained and lovely harmonious cherry and black berry confit focus. Plenty of attention to detail.

(Wine Safari Score: 91+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)