KLEIN CONSTANTIA

Klein Constantia is a ten minutes drive from my house. It is part of the Constantia Wine Route. I love the drive to Klein Constantia, through the greenery, tall trees, winding roads and beautiful terraced vineyard slopes.

Klein Constantia has a long history. Jancis Robinson in her “The Oxford Companion to Wine” writes at length about the viticultural history of Constantia. “Constantia, legendary, aromatic, concentrated 18th century dessert wines from the Cape, South Africa, then a Dutch colony. Their fame was never matched by any other New World wines and at their height they commanded more prestige, more fabulous prices, and enjoyed more crowned patronage than the most celebrated wines of Europe. Save one, Hungarian Tokay Constantia was even ordered by Napoleon from his exile on the island of St Helena!” 

“ Analyses of recently opened bottles ‘ still perfumed with a tang of citrus and smoky richness’ according to South African writer Michael Fridjhon ) show they were unfortified although high in alcohol, apparently confirming records that the grapes were left on the vines long after ripeness to achieve shrivelled but not botrytized.”

“Klein (Little) Constantia, a subdivision of the original farm, has been the first to take up the challenge to re-enact the legend. It replanted vineyards of Muscat of Frontignan in 1980 and now produces naturally high- alcohol white dessert wines (also without botrytis – in the manner of the old Constantia’s) to some local acclaim.

The resurrected Klein Constantia had a first bottling in 1986. Then owned by the Jooste family their wine maker was since August 1984 Ross Gower. Sometimes it is a genius that makes a wine farm and the late Ross Gower was a genius. When I think of Beyers Truter at Kanonkop, Giorgio Dalle Cia at Meerlust and Etienne le Riche at Rustenberg it is a great winemaker that sometimes makes a wine farm though their legacy continues. As they must possess the right terrior to produce great wine. 

Although I have never tasted it I believe Ross Gower made a cracker of a 1986 Sauvignon Blanc. If my facts are correct he had previously made wine in New Zealand (maybe at Corban’s) the land of then powerful, pungent Sauvignon Blanc. The most famous and cult Sauvignon Blanc to come out of New Zealand at the time was perhaps Cloudy Bay with it’s catchy moody label. I won’t go into the detailed history of how Cloudy Bay came into being as described in Rosemary George’s “The Wines of New Zealand” but it is interesting reading as my focus is Klein Constantia, but Ross Gower must have been influenced by New Zealand.

However, Klein Constantia makes a large range of wines both white and reds and of course their most famous sweet desert wine Vin de Constance that takes them far beyond New Zealand. Although under Ross Gower Klein Constantia could make a fine Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s their whites that I feel truly express the glory of Klein Constantia.

His Klein Constantia Blanc de Blanc 1987. Drunk in 2005. I have already written about it. But it was burnished gold. With a honeyed nose. Extraordinary power and intensity. A masterpiece. 5 stars.

But the star icon wine for Klein Constantia is obviously and undoubtedly their Vin de Constance.  I have recorded numerous tastings of Vin de Constance in this book. I have tasted every vintage but only have tasting notes for a few. My earliest is the Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 1991. Intense, sweet desert wine with fruit, complexity (honeyed) power and great length. 4 and half stars. Although I must add that most I have rated as 5 stars.

The 2003 John Platter writes of Vin de Constance “Unbotrytised- not a Sauternes style- has its own, unique, riveting, complex impact. Current 97 usual brilliant package. Shimmering saffron heralds tropical/ apricot scents layered with spice, creamy apple-pie. All deliciously cut by orange- marmalade twist. Handles 14.5% alc with aplomb.” 5 stars.

One could wax endlessly about Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance in its beautiful pack etching, reminiscent of its past glory but there are far more fine wines in its stable.

Under Ross Gower Klein Constantia made a fine Sauvignon Blanc. A combination of power and elegance. I have tasting notes for the 1996. Pale gold in colour, grassy, herbaceous on the nose. Together with asparagus. Nice acidity and balance. The 1997 was a fine Sauvignon Blanc. The 1998 was one of my favourites. It was a bit atypical for a Ross Gower Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc. Very fruity and luscious and open but with a back bone of acidity holding it together.  I purchased a magnum I liked the wine so much and drank it on a New Year’s Eve. The 1999 was more restrained. With green nettles and a higher acidity. 

Ross Gower made a fine Rhine Riesling in a off dry style. The extra sugar softened the palate but their was a still a residual acidity which have it a long maturation potential of at least ten years. I tasted many of the Rieslings but I particularly liked the 1995 and the 1997. The 1998 I particularly enjoyed. I have already written how I was particularly impressed with it at one of my birthdays.

I wrote tasted July 2007. Good colour, youthful. Lovely nose (candy peel) . Elegant but intense. Will develop further.

Recently 2020-09-25 I drank with Jonathan a superb bottle of Klein Constantia 2006 Rhine Riesling Noble Late Harvest. For a 14 year old wine it was at its peak. Copper in colour very rich but not cloying with the acidity of the Riesling giving it back bone. Its alc. Was only 9%.  

Ross Gower also made fine Cabernet Sauvignon. But my personal feeling is that their whites are superior to their reds. His 1995 was excellent. I purchased it from the estate. A second bottle was a dud. It was not oxidised or corked it was just flat.

So I went back to Klein Constantia and spoke to Ross Gower about the wine.

“Come” he said, and he took me into the cellar. He gave me another bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 and also a 1986 Rhine Riesling which I have still kept. 1986 was the maiden vintage for Klein Constantia.

Ross Gower was not only a genius wine maker but was also very generous. At one time I wrote a lot about Klein Constantia. At the end of year he once gave me a press box of all the wines that Klein Constantia produced. 

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