We thought we would kick off our little wine-tasting group’s activities at one of the oldest wine farms in the Constantia valley, Klein Constantia. Generally, we head out for the Cape Winelands in the Stellenbosch area, probably because it feels like more of an adventure to drive away from home, but we forget that we have a plethora of outstanding estates within a few minutes’ drive! However, they tend to be on the high end of the market and we try to keep our costs within the bounds of reason (so that we can do this more often!). Due to some anomalies on the internet search, we arrived at Klein Constantia with the impression that we would be having a 6-variety wine tasting with cheeses at a very affordable R50, followed by a leisurely lunch on the patio under sprawling branches of ancient trees. Things that sound too good to be true generally are, and we found ourselves in a quandary on arrival to be met with a list of wine-tastings commencing at R120 (no cheese) and a two-course set menu at R345 being the only lunch option. This all made sense, but we didn’t take long to decide that our reason for choosing Klein Constantia was to try their famous Sauvignon Blanc, and we would simply change the lunch venue to the wine estate next door.
An engaging young man took us through the selected tasting, which included the world-renowned Vin de Constance, and treated us to an additional sample of the red from their Stellenbosch vineyard so that we could appreciate the difference between two similar wines grown under different conditions. It was agreed that the Stellenbosch heat worked to the grapes’ advantage. It’s been many years since I had a Riesling and I found it to be a little bland but pleasant enough, and the Chardonnay that followed was only slightly wooded and palatable, but the Sauvignon Blanc knocked our socks off! All else paled into insignificance as we savoured the fruity yet earthy undertones of this wine that had texture and a sensation of lingering on the palate. It was agreed that we all have different tasting experiences, with some picking up the fruits referenced, while I instantly thought of hot granite boulders (a little odd, but relating to the terroir) and we all went home with a few bottles to savour on a summer’s day. As it ages well for ten years or more, it might be fun to each produce a bottle at intervals to see if we think it has improved.
Of the two reds sampled, the Petit Frere from Stellenbosch stood out with a rich toffee aroma that stayed with the nose and the palate. While not a wine fundi at all, and not having the experience or ability to describe in the lofty terms of this sometimes pretentious pastime, I know when I like a wine, and this one I definitely did.
A generous pouring of the exquisite Vin de Constance revealed everything you needed to know as to how it achieved fame among the famous – Napoleon and Marie Antoinette being early customers – and a visit to Klein Constantia simply to sample it should be on any wine lover’s bucket list. At R1 395 a (small) bottle, this is the ideal way to enjoy it when the fancy takes you. Not overly sweet, it has a delightful complexity.
It is a great pity that the restaurant does not offer a more flexible menu, and particularly a more affordable option, as the surrounding wine farms were packed past capacity with happy patrons enjoying a range of excellent dishes, but perhaps the focus at Klein Constantia is simply on the wine.