As the home of the Cape wine industry, the Constantia wine region has an abundance of offerings that never ceases to amaze. If you want to explore the area that made the sweet wines Napoleon sipped on while in exile on St Helena in the early 1800s, Constantia’s the place to be. How about some Sauvignon Blanc? Sure, South Africa’s most popular white wine variety is made to a level of extraordinary excellence in this cool region. And as far as wine tourism goes, Constantia’s offering of cellars and venues that are focussed on wine is in a league of their own.
With everything else it has to offer, it’s easy to forget what a brilliant part of the world Constantia is for red wine. This is, for example, where Cabernet Sauvignon was first grown in the Cape. And in the 1970s, before the Cape’s wine boom, wine-lovers would queue up outside Groot Constantia waiting to get their hands on a case or two of red wine.
There is a lot of good red wine in the country, most noticeably from Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and the Swartland. And due to its association with Sauvignon Blanc and those noble sweet wines, plus its status as South Africa’s main wine address, the fact that Constantia makes some of the nation’s most magisterial red wines is not always recognised. And to this, I plead guilty. When reaching for Cabernet Sauvignon or a red Bordeaux blend, I usually head for the oaks and mountains of Stellenbosch and farms such as Kanonkop, Rust en Vrede or Waterford.
This was until I had the recent opportunity to taste a brilliant red wine from Constantia Glen, a wine that genuinely blew me away. The wine was the Constantia Glen Five 2018, a blend of all five red Bordeaux varieties, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. I have always liked Constantia Glen as a smart new-wave Constantia property, a superbly hospitable place to visit. But with this Bordeaux blend, Constantia Glen proves itself to be one of the finest red wine producers in the country, capable of competing and surpassing many of the Cape’s more famous and older properties.
What I loved about the Constantia Glen Five 2018 was the purity and the absolute focussed expression of the five grapes used to create one harmonious blend. The Cabernet Sauvignon brought dark fruit and an exotic, feral hit of fynbos. The merlot was all red berries with a bit of meaty succulence. The Cabernet Franc provided a zingy linearity, a racing line of freshness and just the right amount of acidity. And as one blended unit, the wine has a plush, elegant texture that makes it what every great wine aspires to be: plain darn delicious.
While on the topic of Bordeaux nobility but straying to the cool white, Boschendal recently released a stunner of a white Bordeaux blend called Suzanne, named after the wife of the farm’s first owner, Nicolas de Lanoye. The wine is a blend of 54% Semillon and 46% Sauvignon Blanc — two of the white varieties in the Bordeaux area. Maturation was done in French oak for depth and complexity.
White Bordeaux blends are arguably one of the strongest white wine categories in South Africa due to the ability to farm excellent Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc in this neck of the woods. The fruit for Suzanne’s first vintage, from the year 2019, was sourced from cool-climate Elgin, which delivers slow-ripening, long-hanging grapes of incredible intensity. In the hands of Boschendal’s master white winemaker, Danielle Coetsee, the initial expansive intensity of the grapes is toned and nurtured into a dry white wine of enormous beauty and memorable presence.
Notes of pear and apple abound, with white flowers and honeysuckle creating an initial impression of perfumed sensuality. But the characteristic waxiness of the Semillon assists in creating a long, complete and enormously satisfying white wine, which is very pleasant to drink now but can definitely take another few years’ ageing in the bottle.
Something for the festivities
Heading for Christmas, are we? I will be doing just that with a few bottles of Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir from the 2020 vintage, made in Hemel-en-Aarde. This wine has impressed me since the maiden 2008 vintage. And yes, 2020 sounds young, but the winemaker, Peter-Allan Finlayson, is a genius when it comes to making great wines that are accessible in their youth.
The vineyard comprises shale, clay and granite soils, implying an immense structure. The vintage does not have the rather invigorating perfume that usually characterises Cuvée Cinema, which implies a sterner wine than the ones I am used to from the Crystallum marque. The nose is brooding and ominous, but then again, we are talking Pinot Noir, the red king of Burgundy.
It is a beauty from the first sip. There are few things in the world as immensely reassuring of the planet’s beauty and the greatness of civilisation as a mouth of weighty, juicy, succulent Pinot Noir. And this is what the Cuvée Cinema 2020 offers, a confident and dominating slug of satisfying excellence.
The usual Cuvée Cinema line of wild strawberries and blackcurrant are there, drifting on a tapestry of cunningly interwoven tannins. Some porcini powder is present, as well as a hit of dried sage and fresh bay leaf. But the beauty is in the feel of the wine, the marvellous combination between a sinewy, flexible prod from the crisp acidity and the enthralling, complete voluptuous fleshiness within which the dense flavours are found. This Pinot Noir is confident and expressive without being pushy or opinionated. Yet, there is a bit of arrogance in the ease, guile, and assuredness with which this wine presents itself as a commanding force in South African Pinot Noir. Year-after-year.