Cape Town - The world’s most famous playboy, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, wooed his women with it, Napoleon drank it daily while in exile on St Helena and royalty have ordered it by the hundreds.
Now interest in the wine Vin de Constance, made exclusively at Klein Constantia, has been renewed after its mention in Fifty Shades oO Grey, the first instalment in the three-part best-sellingseries
Interest in the wine has surged among people who have read the book, says , says Hans Astrom, the estate’s managing director.
This has not necessarily translated in increased sales.
In the book the wine is listed on the menu at a masked ball which lovers Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele attend.
It was first mentioned in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility in 1811 and later in Charles Dickens’s last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Astrom, who read Fifty Shades of Grey out of curiosity, says the amber-coloured sweet wine has a colourful history.
“We should be proud in South Africa to have a wine with such a rich history,” he says.
Vin de Constance was first produced in 1689, when a variety of muscat grapes planted by Simon van der Stel were made into a wine. It gained stature after being exported in small amounts by the Dutch East India Company, but because only small quantities were produced, a fair amount of bootlegging also took place.
A diary entry, on July 18, 1807, by Charles Abbott, the speaker of the British House of Commons, is an indication of the wine’s popularity at the time: “This day received my allotment of the Government Constantia wine from the Cape of Good Hope, viz. five dozen red, and five dozen white pints. The King takes 40 dozen; the Prince of Wales and each of the princes of royal blood, 20 dozen; the Cabinet Ministers have each 15 dozen.”
After French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was banished to St Helena in 1815, he, too, developed a liking for the wine. Napoleon was supplied annually with between 563 and 1 126 litres of the wine until he died in 1821. In fact, according to journals and documents, he drank nine bottles of wine daily, including one bottle of the sweet elixir. After his death, his former secretary reported he had refused everything on his deathbed, but a glass of Constantia wine.
In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor is offered a glass of the wine for her sister by Mrs Jennings, who says her husband described it as “more good than any thing else in the world”.
Dickens mentioned it in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, when it was served to Reverend Septimus by his mother.
German poet Friedrich Klopstock devoted an entire ode to its pleasures, while French poet Charles Baudelaire transformed it into a sensuous image for his great poem, Les Fleurs du Mal.
Astrom says the wine disappeared for about a century before making a comeback during the redevelopment of the wine estate in the 1980s. It takes about five years to make once the grapes have been harvested when perfectly ripe. After that, the winemaking process takes one year, after which it’s left to age in barrels for four years before being bottled and sold.
The wine has consistently appeared on lists of the world’s top 10 wines and the 2007 vintage, which costs R465 for a 500ml bottle, was recently awarded 97 out of 100 points by Robert M Parker, a US wine critic with international influence. The rating makes it the best-rated South African wine in history, says Astrom.
But what makes this wine so special?
“Wine has a lot to do with perception. It’s a very likable wine: a bit of sweetness, but it’s fresh, light and savoury. It makes you happy and feel good,” says Astrom.
And you don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to appreciate it. Astrom compares the wine to art, saying there are times when people just love certain paintings, even though they don’t understand them.
He says its unique taste is the culmination of the right balance between fruit, sugar and alcohol and that the wine is better known to the foreign market, especially Europe.
“What’s too close to home, one tends to forget. We are very fortunate to have this wine here,” says Astrom. – Cape Argus