Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 1991-2019


Winemaker Matt Day, together with co-proprietor Hans Astrom, flew from South Africa recently to present a rare vertical tasting of their Vin de Constance that included the forthcoming 2019 vintage. As a quick primer: in the 18th and 19th centuries, Vin de Constance was made purely from Muscat de Frontignan but with shrivelled, not botrytised berries. It was one of the most esteemed wines in the world but disappeared in 1872 when winemaking in Constantia ceased, returning with the first commercialised vintage in 1986. For more information on its history, viticulture and winemaking, I recommend reading my previous article.

Matt Day tutored an insightful vertical at Trivet restaurant, despite an undiagnosed blood clot in his leg that sent him straight to hospital upon his return. He’s doing fine now thankfully!

I asked Day for his views on the 2019 Vin de Constance. “The 2019 is getting closer to the point where we are no longer a sweet wine. I am really happy with the balance. Even though it’s probably got the lowest total acidity, it is the best in terms of freshness. We have been working really hard over the past ten years, and 2019 really showcases the evolution of our journey. I can’t wait to see how it develops.” So without further ado, let’s crack on with the wines from oldest to youngest.

The 1991 Vin de Constance is a vintage that I have not tasted for a long time, chosen because Matt Day feels that the residual sugar level, variable from vintage to vintage at that time, correlates closely to today’s. It has a deep amber hue, darker than the equivalent of a Sauternes of similar age. The nose offers scents of caramel, crème brûlée and tangerine, clean and attractive, though not intense. The palate displays fine weight and depth, viscous in texture with a slight nuttiness developing over the course of 20 minutes. Mandarin and desiccated orange peel linger on a finish that has fine length. Personally, I would not cellar this longer because it is at its peak. 92/Drink 2022-2030.   

The 2004 Vin de Constance has a very aromatic bouquet with yellow plum, pressed flowers, a touch of kerosene and a background garrigue scent. The palate is medium-bodied with fine definition, quite spicy with a marmalade-driven finish. It doesn’t quite have the panache of the 1991, but I appreciate its length. A little outclassed in the company of other vintages on this occasion. 90/Drink 2022-2028.

The 2012 Vin de Constance has a lucid amber hue. Tangerine, orange peel and a touch of wet wool on the nose, becoming increasingly petrolly with time, this has verve and intensity. The palate is underpinned by a fine bead of acidity that cuts through its viscosity, barley sugar and quince, smooth and harmonious with an utterly seductive finish. I feel this is beginning to reach its plateau, but it has the energy to remain cruising at high altitude for a number of years. 96/Drink 2022-2040.

The 2016 Vin de Constance contains 165g/L of residual sugar. This has a wonderful bouquet with layers of wild honey and acacia, little-changed since I last encountered it a couple of years back. The palate is concentrated, multi-faceted yet primal at the moment. I suspect this vintage is maturing at a glacial pace, but I cannot wait to taste this at 12-15 years of age. Outstanding. 97/Drink 2028-2055.

The 2019 Vin de Constance is matured for 18 months in 500-liter Hungarian and French oak barrels, 50% new, followed by another 18 months in oak foudres. The growing season saw more sunlight hours than previous vintages (2,998 compared to 2,588 in 2018 for example). It has an understated nose, almost Sauternes-like even if it does not contain an ounce of botrytis. Subtle nutty aromas percolate through the wild honey and quince scents, wax resin and lanolin. The palate is medium-bodied and very pure. Disarmingly fine acidity, it is slightly Germanic towards the finish. with a hint of lemongrass lingering on the aftertaste. This is a superb Vin de Constance under the tenure of Matt Day that is a step closer to what you might confusingly call a non-sweet dessert wine. 97/Drink 2027-2050.

The 2006 Anwilka is a wine that I feel has not really kicked on with maturity in bottle. Compared to more recent vintages, this lacks a little presence on the nose, quite gamey and tertiary in style, touches of cigar humidor developing in the glass. It is quite sweet on the entry with vestiges of blue fruit, soft in texture and needing more grip towards the finish. There is a slight greenness that is becoming more pronounced with age. Drink soon. 87/Drink 2022-2025.

The 2016 Anwilka, a blend of 55% Syrah, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Petit Verdot, offers plenty of dark berry fruit, smoke and hickory on the nose, quite minty and still quite tight. The palate is medium-bodied with firm, slightly coarse tannins. Broad-shouldered at first, then it somehow musters more refinement and harmony towards the Médoc-like finish. This is a well-crafted Anwilka, though I personally would like to see the contribution of Petit Verdot limited to 10% as it can steal the limelight from the other varieties. 90/Drink 2024-2036.

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