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Constantia 1875 tasting at Klein Constantia

Posted on 30 Mar 2017

On Monday 27 March, a few fortunate members of the specialist wine trade and media were invited to the old cellar at Klein Constantia to taste history – literally – in the form of two pint bottles of 1875 Constantia Wine.

Among six bottles bought on auction in London in the late 1960s by Dr Nils Sternby, the wine had rested for almost half a century in his temperature-controlled cellar in Malmo, Sweden. A “swallow” who now spends six months of the year in Hermanus, Dr Sternby very generously offered to open the wine at Klein Constantia with people who would truly appreciate it – alongside a line-up of iconic Vin de Constance from the modern era, including the 1987, 1995, 2004, 2012 and 2013.

“It’s the kinda stuff that gives you goose bumps and you only realize the magnitude of the occasion long after the last sip,” commented Tinashe Nyamudoka, head sommelier at The Test Kitchen. “The wine is still in perfect condition – 142 years of bottled poetry.”

While Nyamudoka was among those who believe the 1875 was fortified, specialist wine retailer Roland Peens of Wine Cellar said he thought it had less alcohol and more sugar than some of the relatively youthful Vin de Constance wines. (A sample sent to VinPro for analysis will reveal all…)

Whether fortified or not, general consensus was that the wine was discernibly similar to the 1987 and 1995 vintages of Vin de Constance (a natural sweet). “There’s a definite thumbprint or shared DNA signature to the wines,” said international wine judge and journalist Fiona McDonald. “The ancient one offered up generous amounts of pine resin, malt, caramel, even dried lavender and hints of spice – cumin and nutmeg. Notably sweet but surprisingly lively, light and fresh still. The only wine in my memory bank which tops it was the 1791 sweet Constantia that former Klein Constantia owner Duggie Jooste marked his 75th birthday with about 15 years ago.”

It seems the last week of March was a particularly appropriate time to taste the wines as it marked exactly seven years since the death of Ross Gower, the winemaker who in the mid-1980s helped the Jooste family research, grow and ultimately produce Vin de Constance, thereby resurrecting the legendary sweet Constantia wine of the 18th and 19th centuries.

So what did Dr Sternby think of the 1875 Constantia that he bought for a “ridiculously low” price some five decades ago? “I’m surprised and also happy that it’s drinking so well. I still have two more bottles in Sweden, but I think I will let them mature a bit more…”

“The 1875 is still a baby,” agreed Klein Constantia winemaker Matthew Day.

 

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