South African winery’s history includes literary mentions

August 19, 2023

I sampled some whites from Klein Constantia in Western Cape, South Africa. KC dates to S. African grape introduction, 1685, when it was established by Dutch East India Companies 10th commander, Simon van der Stel. Subsequently, it has a long history of “best in world” accolades and was recently named among the Top 50 World’s Best Vineyards. Jane Austen fans may remember Mrs. Jennings from “Sense and Sensibility” recommending a glass of Constantia for its healing powers on a disappointed heart, as well as for colicky gout. Napoleon, in exile, enjoyed a bottle of Vin de Constance daily. Some claim, when in extremis, refusing food and drink, he requested a glass on his deathbed. Baudelaire and Dickens extolled their virtues also. Various vine diseases and ownership changes saw the wine decline and disappear, until Duggie Jooste bought the property and restored it to its former glory. Many accolades followed his first release in 1986. In 1997, Vin de Constance was chosen one of three Southern Hemisphere wines of the top 44 wines in the world. Another two ownership changes, involving enlightened money people who decided not to mess with the process and winemaker, propelled Vin de Constance to the top of the ladder again. At a recent tasting of an 1875 bottle, still in perfect condition, one of the judges described it as, “142 years of bottled poetry.”

KC Vin de Constance is considered in connoisseurs’ discussions along with Chateau d’Yquem or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, but it won’t break the bank. Keep reading! Rating 95 most vintages, it can be found under $65 for 500 ml. The 95-point 2016, ready 2018-30 and easily available, opens to orange marmalade, apricot, honeysuckle and ginger bouquet. On the huge, unctuous palate come dried mango and orange zest with vanilla hints. Keep in mind these are sweet wines, so do not look for bright acidity, but enough for proper balance through the finish, which is fresh and clean with ginger subtly in the background. The KC Sauvignon Blanc 2020 can be found under $20, 90 McD; it opens to lime and briny aromas followed by more lime, peaches and herbs riding a flint mineral bright frame. Goes well with oysters. I have seen six-packs for $102. Tim Atkin reviewed the 2021 at 92 points; I have not sampled any but accept his advice. 2021 was an excellent vintage for SB in this region. If you happen to see a KC labeled Perdeblokke SB 2021, under $32, buy with both hands, 93 McD. Ready next year. Reminds of Pouilly Fumé with lemon, flint and thyme aromas, bright palate with a bit of earth and orange zest; it finishes with a clean salinity aspect. This label is only produced in good years.

From Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard in Gualtallary, Argentina, comes a big, $145+ Chardonnay that several rated 94-98. Both White Stones and White Bones are overpriced. Generally speaking, I am a fan of Catena Zapata, especially those fairly priced, well-regarded reds. Of the Chardonnay, I recommend Catena Alta Mendoza, 92 McD since 2017 and available around mid-$30s. Although the Adrianna Vineyards are an upscale label, in this case, high production costs come from small-parcel, low-production farming in pockets of difficult-access plots. This has led to scant availability driving price, instead of QPR. For those buying unique, with deep pockets, go for it.

Let’s wrap up with a referral on wine tasting. Over the years and my experience teaching wine appreciation classes, frequently, folks would say they didn’t really get it. There are many good reasons for this situation, and after a lot of reading and thought, I came across an article by Kathleen Willcox headlined, “Science makes a mockery of tasting notes.” From time to time, I try to remember to revisit what I consider my best wine advice. Chief among these tips are: 1. When choosing a critic, try his recommendations. If most of them are enjoyable, stay tuned in. 2. Follow the winemaker. Nearly all wine is blended. Think of the winemaker as a chef or an artist. Although the ingredients are the same, the products can be wildly different. Read here: Science Makes a Mockery of Tasting Notes.

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