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The wines of Klein Constantia, Constantia, South Africa

[NB. See more recent illustrated reviews of Klein Constantia's wines here (2003) and here (2010)]

Some history. Constantia, just on the edge of the Cape Town suburbs, was South Africa's first wine region, and began making wine as early as the 17th century. Then, in the early 18th century the estate was split into three: Klein Constantia, Groot Constantia and Buitenverwatching. Confusingly, the current Klein Constantia estate is different from this original estate, which itself had its name changed to Hoop-Op Constantia. Today's Klein Constantia was partitioned off from the Groot Constantia Estate in 1823 and sold as a separate entity. Yet while Groot Constantia carried on making wines that enjoyed an international reputation (in particular the famed sweet vin de Constance), Klein Constantia went downhill in wine terms. Indeed, the vineyards were in a state of decline by the time the present owners acquired the property in 1980. At this stage just 30 out of 146 hectares were under vine; a replanting programme has since increased this to 75 ha. One of the great ambitions of the current owners has been to recreate the famous vin de Constance dessert wine that enjoyed such a great reputation back in the 18th century. The first vintage of this recreation was 1986: it's a concentrated, non-fortified, non-botrytised style, as true to the original as detailed research has permitted. The other wine for which Klein Constantia currently has a great reputation is its acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc. It's an impressive line up of wines, with the whites probably having the edge over the two reds tasted here. 

Sauvignon Blanc 2000
One of the very best Cape Sauvignons that I've tasted, this is lovely. It kicks in with a crisp, fresh nose of gooseberry and cut grass, followed up by a concentrated palate displaying bold, full flavours, lively acidity and good balance. Very good/excellent

1998 Chardonnay
This spends 6-8 months in 500 litre French oak barrels (about twice the volume of the standard barrique), half of which are new and half second use. The nice toasty nose has nutty, savoury fruit. The palate is rich and nutty. It's full flavoured, in a rich style, but still elegant and balanced. Very good/excellent

1997 Reserve Chardonnay
This is a separate bottling of the best barrels of Chardonnay. It has a lovely, evolved, creamy/nutty nose. The palate is rich, intense, nutty and savoury, with well integrated oak and refined, lemony fruit. Softening out a bit. Very good/excellent

1998 Riesling
Rich, citrus nose with a distinct petrolly edge. Soft, rich-textured and a little bit spicy on the palate, in a medium sweet style with a little bit of residual sugar. Interesting. Very good+

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon
The nose is very open, showing ripe blackcurrant fruit, chocolate and coffee. Nicely balanced palate shows ripe fruit and firm tannins. An elegant but powerful style. Very good/excellent

1997 Marlbrook
The flagship red, this is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, which are all matured separately in barrel for two years and then blended. Beginning to brown a bit at the rim, there's rich, ripe berry fruit on the nose, which is quite open. Firmly tannic on the palate, which shows concentrated fruit, notes of coffee and herbs, and high acidity. Very attractive. Very good+

1996 Vin de Constance
A deep golden colour, the nose shows sweet marmalade and citrus notes. Beautifully complex palate with flavours of honey, citrus fruit (especially oranges) and sweet herbs, with a spicy finish. Real character, as well as historical interest here. Very good/excellent

wines tasted May 2000

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