Klein Constantia is one of the Cape’s most historic wine estates, and its success is underpinned by a wine once greatly favoured by the nobility of Europe. It’s an enduring legacy, and Klein Constantia’s famous Vin de Constance will surely continue to inspire and delight for many more generations.
But more about this iconic sweet wine, nicknamed “Napoleon’s wine” by some, a little later.
Klein Constantia makes for an ideal visit if your time in the Cape is limited, as it is situated in the lush slice of heaven that is Constantia, just 20km from the city centre.
Klein Constantia has earned its place in history
You’ll find Klein Constantia on the upper foothills of the Constantiaberg, in the fertile Constantia Valley, one of the Cape’s oldest wine regions. It is widely considered one of the world’s most beautiful vineyards, and boasts unsurpassed views across the Constantia Valley and False Bay.
The estate originally formed part of Constantia, a huge property established in 1685 by Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape.
Czech entrepreneur and philanthropist Zdenek Bakala and JP Morgan’s Charles Harman bought Klein Constantia in 2011. Bordeaux wine personalities Bruno Prats and Hubert de Boüard merged their Stellenbosch farm, Anwilka, with Klein Constantia in 2012.
Winemaking excellence then and now
Besides the incredible history associated with the estate, Klein Constantia has been the birthplace of many an award-winning contemporary wine. Winemaker Matthew Day continues this important tradition today.
Day describes his biggest career highlight as “being fortunate enough to experience different winemaking experiences all over the world, from Barossa, Napa, St Emilion, Pommerol, Sancerre and even Tokaj”.
Another highlight was being recognised as one of the top 30 young winemakers in South Africa and, later, one of the top 30 young winemakers in the world.
“However, my greatest career highlight is being involved in making the legendary Vin de Constance,” he said.
World-class wines available for tasting
During a December 2020 visit, which fortuitously took place right before yet another pandemic-driven liquor ban, I was fortunate to enjoy a splendid vineyard tour and outdoor tasting that kicked off with the 2016 MCC Estate Brut.
This bubbly is made from 100% chardonnay grapes picked from a single block in one of Klein Constantia’s oldest vineyards. You can expect a rich, complex cap classique with enticing citrus characteristics that is pure elegance.
We tasted a selection of excellent wines alongside a scenic dam on the 146-hectare estate. In terms of whites, the 2017 Metis Sauvignon Blanc with its perfect, Sanserre-like minerality was my favourite. I can equally passionately recommend the Klein Constantia 2017 Estate Blend Red, which should be a fine one to put away.
Country-style bistro where perfect plating is a given
Klein Constantia is also a place where exceptional country-style food is served in its inviting Bistro. The Bistro focusses on locally sourced ingredients and prides itself on careful attention to detail. Dishes have a European leaning while paying homage to South Africa’s layered culinary tradition.
The menu is seasonal and subject to change. Our group feasted on dishes like a fantastic trout tartare or the restaurant’s twice-baked Montgomery cheddar souffle to start. For mains, the confit duck with curried green mango and carrot salad, and potatoes cooked in duck fat, was the most popular order.
The dessert highlight was a subtly spiced gingerbread pain perdu (chefs’ speak for French toast) with poached nectarine, powdered pistachios and vanilla-bean ice cream.
Of course, we would have gravely erred had we not made Vin de Constance part of the triumphant finale!
More about Vin de Constance
Speaking of this magical golden liquid, the stuff legends are made of, here’s a bit of history about this famous dessert wine. Europe’s leaders and aristocracy favoured Vin de Constance throughout the 18th century. Klein Constantia revived Vin de Constance in 1986, reaffirming the wine’s historic significance.
The wine is made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes and has a vivid golden hue. You’ll find tropical fruit on the nose and palate, and perfect acidity to balance the sweetness. The best way to describe it is that it is history in a glass.
Napoleon Bonaparte had more than 1,000 litres of Constantia wine shipped to his home while in exile on St Helena island from 1815 until his death in 1821. On his deathbed, Napoleon reportedly refused everything offered to him except for a glass of this good stuff.
Where to find Klein Constantia
The estate is situated at the end of Klein Constantia Road in the exclusive suburb of Constantia, Cape Town.
Contact Klein Constantia on 021-794-5188, email email@example.com or visit www.kleinconstantia.com. Hours are 10:00 to 17:00 daily for the tasting room. The Bistro is a lunchtime venue which is open daily from 12:00.