Constantia Wyn and the U.S. Founding Fathers

About the time Thomas Jefferson was penning the U.S. Declaration in Philadelphia, a British merchant ship bound for Philadelphia ran aground in the shallows off Lewes, Delaware, and sank. It remained on the ocean floor until 2004 when it was discovered during an operation to mine sand to replenish Lewes Beach. Items uncovered in the subsequent archeological investigation included bottle fragments, including one with the embossed words “Constantia Wyn”. Putting together the fragments, the archeologists came up with the elegant-looking bottle shown here. And this is the bottle that today Groot Constantia uses for its superb sweet wine called Grand Constance.

Of course, Grand Constance is just one of the many superb sweet wines made in South Africa today. The making of wine, especially sweet wine, is very old in South Africa, dating from the 1600s when Simon van der Stel, Commander of the Dutch Cape Colony, established one of the world’s most modern wineries at his estate named Constantia on the backside of Table Mountain in what is now Cape Town, South Africa. His wine, named after his estate, soon won fame among Europe’s royalty. Reportedly, on his death bed Napoleon refused everything offered to him except a glass of Constantia wine. The original Constantia estate was divided in two after van der Stel’s death. One estate—Groot Constantia—makes the Grand Constance, while the other estate—Klein Constantia—makes Vin de Constance. Our tasting notes on these two wines follow below. For our ratings and notes on all of South Africa’s sweet wines, read our article The Sweet Wines of South Africa, or our Report # 27 Sweet Wines of the World.

Of course, the most important question is, was Thomas Jefferson sipping Constantia Wyn while working late at night by candlelight writing that famous Declaration?

Groot Constantia 2008 Grand Constance Constantia ($60/375ml) 91
The amber-orange topaz Grand Constance is a refined, fragrant, and beautifully balanced wine that is restrained in its sweetness. Aromas of apricot and rose petals give way to a rich palate of ripe apricot, strawberry and orange marmalade with good levels of acidity. It’s a knockout with white cheese and fresh figs. Alc 13.2%, RS 157 g/l, TA 8 gl. Importer: Indigo Wine Group

Klein Constantia 2005 Vin de Constance Constantia ($50/500ml) 93
Deep yellow gold. Made of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Frontignan), Vin de Constance is a rich, powerful wine both aromatically and palate-wise with excellent balancing acidity and an invigorating and persistent finish. Pineapple, mango, peach jam and dried apricot all make their appearance. Fermented in a combination of stainless steel and oak and aged in 500 liter barrels for four years. Alc 12.2%, RS 157 g/l, TA 7.5 g/l. Importer: Cape Classics

Don Winkler

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