2005 Vin de Constance, Klein Constantia

As a person who loves aromas I was always fascinated by the thought that
Posted 22nd June 2012        

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As a person who loves aromas I was always fascinated by the thought that in theory a fragrance can be reproduced.

Surely your favourite perfume might have magic powers to alter your mood, but from a scientific point of view it’s merely a chemical formula that can be replicated. This happened not once in the history of perfumery – a classic example is Chanel №5 developed in the 1920s by Russian-French chemist Ernest Beaux. He worked as the master perfumer at A. Rallet and Company – official perfumer for the Russian royal family – and probably didn’t think his fragrance will become iconic and outlive several generations of his loyal customers.

Wine is not perfume, which, knowing the ingredients and proportions, can be reproduced and rebottled. But the history of wines as well knows examples of famous comebacks of great wines. One of them – the emblem of South African wine making, Vin de Constance, loved by monarchs, politicians and writers. In XIX century this wine was sold for the price of Sauternes and Tokay. In its heyday Vin de Constance was praised as one of the best dessert wines in the world: top-quality and fabulously harmonious.

Vin de Constance, or Constantia, wouldn’t exist without its founder, Simon van der Stel – the Governor of the Cape who in 1685 founded the vineyard south of Cape Town. Though Constantia became famous due to the efforts of Hendrik Cloete, who bought the site in 1778 and focused on Muscat grape varieties and high standards in wine making. Cloete’s perfectionism sometimes went over the top: he kept slaves at the vineyards to whisk the flies away from bunches of grapes.

But the bet on quality proved to be right. European royal courts chose Constantia in preference to Yquem, Tokay and Madeira.

The South African wine was enjoyed by the King of the French Louis Philippe, Frederick the Great, Bismarck and Napoleon. The taste of Vin de Constance could be found not only in history and politics, but also in literature: it appears in Charles Dickens’ and Jane Austen’s novels and in Baudelaire’s ‘Fleurs du mal’. The end of golden age of Vin de Constance was brought by phylloxera, that devastated the vineyards at the Cape in the end of XIX century. But Constantia was redeveloped in 1980s and new Vin de Constance was made in the style of ‘the sweet luscious and excellent wine of Constantia’.

Pouring this wine, it’s hard not to think of its glorious history – even though you know that it’s not the bottle that Napoleon relished on St Helena. Still, it’s that very Vin de Constance – and it’s beautiful. Deep amber in colour, with lovely viscosity and the nose of orange peel, honey and vanilla; this wine is made from raisined Muscat de Frontignan grapes and can be kept for up to 10 years. But surely you can enjoy your Vin de Constance now – with desserts or blue cheeses. Or, if you fancy being really old-fashioned, you can try this wine in Charles Dickens style, with home-made biscuits, and decide for yourself whether Jane Austen’s character was right saying that this wine has “healing powers on a disappointed heart”.

This wine is available from Majestic, on offer at time of writing at £30.


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Meet the Author:
Alya Kharchenko
There is not much out there that Alya wouldn’t try out – sometimes only for the sake of it, tackling obstacles of any kind being her drug of choice. But there are other things she is fond of: especially wining and writing – so wine writing came in handy. Trained as a journalist, Alya discovered her love for wine long before she moved from Moscow to London, which became her home five years ago. After having worked for the BBC, she took a leap of faith, and a few sips of wine, and started her first full time job in the wine trade at the UK's oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd. Since then she's worked as a sommelier and wine advisor, but writing has never been far from her mind - as well as a bottle of nice wine, suitable for any mood and occasion.