In Cape Town, really old New World wine
Groot Constantia Estate
While Steenberg Vineyards is South Africa’s oldest wine-producing farm, Groot Constantia is the country’s oldest vineyard. Founded in 1685 by then Governor of the Cape of Good Hope Simon van der Stel, Groot Constantia (which translates to “Great Constantia”) had a royal following from the start -- in the 17th Century, King Louis Philippe of France bought out the entire vintage. And one of Napoleon’s last wishes before he died in exile on St Helena was to have a glass of the brand’s sweet wine, Grand Constance. Between tastings, history buffs can explore the three Iziko Museums of Cape Town on property, comprised of a restored manor house furnished between the 18th and 19th Centuries, an orientation centre with artefacts from the early days of the estate, and the Cloete Cellar Collection which showcases historical drinking vessels, wine-making equipment and horse-drawn carriages.
After touring the vast property’s carefully maintained Dutch-style buildings, it might surprise you that the tasting room is little more than a gift shop with a seating area. Select tastes of white, red, sparkling and dessert wine at the counter and take your glass back one of the sets of low couches and tables.
Bottles to buy: Grand Constance is a sweet wine that is intensely amber-coloured and has notes of apricot, raisins, pineapple, honey and rose. Sauvignon blanc balances tropical fruit flavours with hints of green and mineral flavours.
Klein Constantia Estate
At Klein Constantia (which translates to “Little Constantia”), visitors can sample and purchase Napoleon’s favourite dessert wine, Vin de Constance, a very sweet tipple made with notes of honeysuckle, citrus peel and clove, which won the Constantia region international fame during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Like Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia supplied Napoleon Bonaparte with wine while he was in exile. Jane Austin and Charles Dickens were also fans of the drink — Austin included a reference to the wine in her book Sense and Sensibility, hailing its “healing powers on a disappointed heart”.
The sunken tasting room features a dark, sexy bar flanked by a simple display of early vintages of Vin de Constance, a ledger from the original winemaker Hendrick Cloete and a wall-hanging mural of the grape harvesting process called “Four Seasons of the Vine”.
Bottles to buy: Vin de Constance. KC – a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot -- is the brand’s lower-priced red, but is approachable and ready to drink right now. It has blackberry and plum aromas, complemented by subtle oak spice.
Unlike the valley’s historic vineyards, this small boutique winery does not offer cellar tours. Blink and you will miss the turn for the winery and the low-key tasting room, which looks like a nondescript house from the outside.
The vineyard’s origins can be traced back to 1836, when it was used as a refreshment station for ships travelling from Europe to South Africa to refill on food, water and supplies. But in 1984, land was purchased by its current owners and in the summer of 2000, the first Eagles’ Nest vines were cultivated.
Although Constantia is known for its white wines, Eagles’ Nest is set on the highest slope in the Constantia Valley, making it more suitable to red wines. The brand’s shiraz has even won awards from the International Wine and Spirit Competition, beating out the usual suspects from shiraz-famed Australia.
Bottles to buy: The brand’s award-winning shiraz is rich and tastes like plums and white pepper. White wine lovers should try a viognier, with peach, apricot and jasmine on the nose and crisp, velvety finish.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that the Constantia Valley is located north of Cape Town. This has been fixed.