An Iconic South African Sweet Wine Produced by Alheit Vineyards Hits the Market – Tasting the Lost & Found 2019 Hanepoot Dessert Wine…

Most fine wine collectors and afficionados will need no reminding that South Africa has the proven ability to produce some of the most tantalizing and mesmerising dessert wines in the world. Whether it’s a throw back to the golden sweet wine age of the 1800’s or simply a built in cultural sweet tooth, South African winemakers have always excelled with which ever sweet wine style they have put their minds to. Of course the iconic Vin de Constance needs no introduction, but we should not forget the epic Cape Vintage and Cape Tawny Port styles from the Klein Karoo and the Swartland, the delicious Muscadelles and Hanepoot Jerepigos, the botrytised Sauvignon Blancs, Semillons and Rieslings, and more latterly, the incredible Straw Wines made from rack dried Chenin Blanc grapes. We are simply spoilt for choice in South Africa.

A new addition to the Cape’s iconic sweet wine selection.

While the wine industry bathes in the recent big scoring successes of straw wines like the 100-point Olerasay No.2 and No.3 from Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines, I was thrilled to see yet another incredible “certified heritage vineyard” used to produce an ambitiously noteworthy wine from the 2019 vintage. The Gevonden farm near Rawsonville, at the spot where the sheer cliffs of the Du Toitskloof open into the Breedekloof, is the site if a three-century old farmhouse just across the Moolenaars River. Right in front of this old farmhouse is a vineyard considered by many to be the oldest commercially productive parcel of vines in South Africa.

In the Cape, official record keeping of vineyard planting dates only started in 1900, so unfortunately nothing can officially pre-date that year although we know from word of mouth that vines were already in the ground and producing grapes on the Gevonden farm as well as from other famous old vineyards like the Basson Old Vine Cinsault in Wellington, farmed by the Mullineuxs, and the Eselshoek (Hanepoot) Muscat d’Alexandrie vineyard in the Swartland that Eben Sadie used to make delicious sweet wines from bush vines aged over 100 years old. According to the De Wet / Boonzaaier family history, the Gevonden Hanepoot vines were planted by one Jacobus Hendrik Stofberg De Wet in 1882 just after the first Anglo-Boer War from 1881-1882.

The gnarly old Hanepoot vines planted in circa 1882.

As has been the case for many of these newly discovered “old vineyards”, Chris Alheit came to know about this special heritage block through the ongoing work of Old Vine Project founder Rosa Kruger, who introduced Chris to farmer Neels Boonzaaier in late 2010. After several frustrated failed attempts to create something special, the sweet wine project was abandoned until a chance meeting with Neels’s son Janus in 2017 led to Chris Alheit giving the sweet wine project another bash. In 2019, the vineyard yielded what Chris considered was a large enough quantity of fully ripe grapes to attempt the rack drying process to concentrate the sugars.

The Resulting raisins were pressed for five days yielding juice with a sugar concentration of around 55 Brix. This juice was then fermented for 12 months, reaching just over 7% alcohol with a residual sugar of around 450 g/l. But the story does not end there. The 2019 vintage was also sadly the last vintage that the De Wet / Boonzaaier family, who owned the Gevonden farm for six generations, farmed this famous Hanepoot block and so Chris does not expect to be able to source fruit again. So perhaps the label should read, Lost & Found & Lost Again?

Alheit Vineyards Lost & Found 2019, WO Breedekloof, 7% Abv.

Looking at this rich, unctuous wine in the glass is akin to gazing through an ancient piece of Jurassic fossilized amber – ripe, captivating and most definitely warmly inviting. But this is no normal sweet wine and one sniff of the rich, ripe, potent aromatics reveals an enchanting bouquet of freshly boiled marmalade jam, green mango preserve, barley sugar, sweet herbs, wet straw and dried apricots. Give the dense, glycerol wine another slow swirl in a big Zalto Bordeaux bowl and it shifts gears again to offer yet more pithy orange peel nuances and seductive notes of quince jelly, pressed grapes and burnt caramel. Like some of South Africa’s other truly great sweet wines, the aromatics are so complex and seductive that you almost forget to sip the wine! Incredibly viscous and fleshy on the palate with a round glycerol opulence, there is no suggestion at any point that this wine is going to be overly sweet and clawing with its 450 g/l RS. In fact the sweetness is kept smartly in check by a searing acidity that scythes through the caramel and barley sugar laden fruit layers with samurai sword precision. The finish is gloriously mouth coating, hedonistic and persistent with just the most subtle sappy, pithy, bitter orange peel vermouth twang. An incredible vinous expression that represents an unbelievable journey of not only all those who have farmed this block over the decades, but also of the vines themself. A fine wine that will undoubtedly endure and out live most us who are tasting it now. Some of the most desirable decadence available in a bottle.

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Perseverance Prevails – Klein Constantia Unveils Their New Vin de Constance 2019 Release in London…

Welcoming Klein Constantia’s winemaker Matt Day back to London after several years of pandemic imposed isolation in the Cape presented the perfect opportunity to unveil the new 2019 Vin de Constance – a wine which I believe represents the culmination of the past 10 years experimentation, innovation and tweaking to create something that reaches new quality heights. Coming from a very long and late harvest, the wine sees a move away from long 6 to 12 month ferments to a quicker, more precise 1 to 3 month fermentation.

The spring of 2018 was cold, wet and windier than usual, which impacted flowering and resulted in smaller berries and a reduced crop. Cooler conditions throughout the growing season meant that ripening was slower than normal, and pushed back the harvest. The late harvest and unpredictable autumn weather conditions forced Klein Constantia’s vineyard team to be reactive and disciplined with their assessment of perfect ripeness.

The 2019 harvest was short, taking place from late February until the end of March in warm and dry conditions that alleviated the risk of disease. In total, 26 separate different passes were made through the vineyards, collecting grapes turning from high acidity to more intense sugar levels with every passage, each being vinified separately. The different lots were aged for 18 months in 50% new French and Hungarian oak barrels, followed by a further 18 months in large foudres before blending and bottling.

Winemaker Matt Day presenting the new Vin de Constance 2019 in London.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2019, WO Constantia Valley, 13.9% Abv.

166g/l RS | 6.1g/l TA | 3.71pH

The 2019 displays an incredibly opulent, powerful aromatic profile brimming full of grapefruit preserve, lychees, white peaches, green melon confit and melted honey on warm white toast. What purity and precision! The wine sticks perfectly to the estate’s mission statement trying to make a sweet wine that tastes not particularly sweet regardless of its actual 166 g/l RS. This is achieved through an incredible balance and harmony with a palate texture showing a sublime equilibrium between acid, alcohol and fruit intensity. Beautifully complex and layered with hints of peach iced tea, pink musk, pear purée, quince jelly and candied citrus bon bons. Very classy indeed and undoubtedly one of the best modern vintages to be made at the estate. Drink now and over the next 30+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

To add extra perspective on the quality of the 2019, Matt Day showed a range of older Vin de Constance vintages including the 2016, the 2012, the 2004 and the rare 1991.

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.

New Wines and New Horizons – Tasting Christelle Guibert’s Tierra del Itata Muscat Orange Wine 2016…

I have been very fortunate to have shared a friendship with Christelle Guibert for almost two decades. Her sterling work at Decanter Magazine and at the Decanter World Wine Awards as Tasting Director has helped elevate these two entities for many years. Christelle recently announced that she will be moving on to newer, greener pastures just over the proverbial bridge. I just hope her new travails and new role allow her time to continue with her secret double life as a vigneron / winemaker.

Indeed, few outside the wine trade know that Loire originating Christelle owns, grows and makes fabulous white wines in Muscadet under her Vine Revival Terre de Gneiss label with the help of vigneron Vincent Caille. The vines are situated in the village of Monnieres, where the fruit is vinified using biodynamic principles, hand harvested and fermented in an egg. But there is none this year due to adverse weather conditions so Christelle has moved her attentions temporarily to producing a fabulous Muscat orange wine made from 150 year old vines in the Itata Valley in Chile. With the valuable assistance of Leo Erazo, 2000 bottles of the maiden 2016 vintage were produced.

This is a unique, delicious, characterful wine that reminds me of some of the finest natural style skin contact white wines made from Zebbibo (Muscat) in northern Italy. The grapes are organicly grown in bush vines on steep granitic hill side vineyards and are ungrafted and dry-farmed. The wine spent 42 days on its skins in concrete spherical shaped tanks. Only natural yeasts were employed and the wine was bottled bone dry, unfiltered. Stylistically, I would even go as far as to say this is one of the best dry orange wine Muscats I have ever tasted. Track this rare unicorn down quickly before it’s all gone. 🇫🇷 🍷 🇨🇱

Christelle Guibert Tierra del Itata Muscat Orange Wine 2016, 13 Abv. Chile

Seductive dark yellow straw colour, there is a slight haze to remind you of this wine’s natural, minimalist winemaking aspirations. Raised in a concrete sphere, the nose is reminiscent of the most seductive Zebbibo wines, positively overflowing with sweet quince, rose water, lychees, barley sugar, Thai basil, marzipan and pithy new season bitter marmalade on buttered brown toast. The amazing depth and complexity follows to the palate that is full bodied, intensely concentrated, superbly fresh with a vibrant acidity and a piquant, sweet / sour peachy depth. The key to this wine remains its mouth watering freshness allied to its pithy, bone dry liquid mineral finish. Once again, this is a triumph of old vine fruit intensity and passionate artisanal winemaking. Drink now and over the next 3 to 5+ years.

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