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Preview: the Soon-to-be-Released Vin de Constance 2020

The 2020 Vin de Constance in its trademarked, distinctive asymmetrical 500ml bottle that resembles the early hand-blown Constantia bottles and in one of the Josephine glasses by Kurt Joseph Zalto. This is the No 4 Champagne glass, the one recommended for fine sweet wines. The four glasses are designed to "enhance the aromas and nuances of every wine... [and amplify] the flavour... highlighting the distinct characteristics." Do they work? So far, they seem to, but the testing goes on

I can only reiterate what I’ve said before: Vin de Constance is not only one of the world’s great sweet wines, it’s one of its most original, historic and renowned, from a beautiful estate, Klein Constantia in the Western Cape, that dates from 1685.

In the 1700s and 1800s the wine was served at the tables of royalty, emperors and presidents, from Frederick the Great to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, George Washington and John Adams to Napoleon, and it was praised in poetry and literature by the likes of Austen, Dickens, Dumas, Baudelaire and Klopstock.

There’s no other wine like it, which makes every new release noteworthy. The 2020 vintage will be released in two weeks' time on September 5.

The history and winemaking are fascinating, but I have written about them previously (in this review of 11 vintages and this review of the 2017), so I shan’t give more than the most salient points here.

Vin de Constance is a sweet wine made from very ripe and raisined Muscat de Frontignan grapes. It’s not a botrytised wine like Sauternes – Muscat de Frontignan grapes rarely develop botrytis because the skins are too thick – and it’s not fortified. The vines, some bush-trained, some trellised, are on the estate’s lower slopes in soils of decomposed granite with a high clay context.

The grapes, hand picked in many passes through the vineyards (19 in 2020, often more), are hand sorted at the winery and each batch is processed separately. Skin contact (two weeks in 2020) is followed by pressing and then a long, slow fermentation. Blending is done incrementally at various stages, the end goal always being to achieve a perfect balance between sugar, acid and alcohol. Only the best wines make it into the final blend.

The 2020 was aged for 18 months in 500-litre Hungarian and French oak barrels (50% new) and then a further 18 months in a large wooden foudre. It was bottled on 10 May this year.

The 2020 growing season saw one of the longest flowering periods and in contrast one of the shortest harvests: only three weeks where sometimes it’s eight. Low rainfall and wind were a challenge and resulted in smaller, concentrated grapes and a lighter crop. Summer temperatures were lower than average (only 30 hours over 30ºC), but overall the conditions were excellent for raisining the Muscat de Frontigan grapes, says head winemaker Matthew Day. He also comments that it's a drier style of Vin de Constance


Vin de Constance 2020

13.5% abv, RS 172g/l, pH 3.92, TA 6.3. Empty bottle weight: 500g.

One word kept recurring in my tasting notes: bright. It was the first word I used for the appearance: bright, golden yellow. It was the first I used for the nose: bright and precise. And I noted bright, vibrant, persistent acidity coming through the ample, creamy palate. In terms of specific aromas, there’s apricot compote, stem ginger, honeysuckle and tangerine, followed by buttery salted Marcona almond and a fleeting note of fresh dill (dill isn’t something I’ve noticed in previous vintages). The palate is plush and intense with floral sweetness and candied orange punctuated by stem ginger, lime marmalade, apricot compote and mirabelle plum, all underscored by flattering oak spice, a hint of roast coffee bean and appetising salinity. The finish is long, shimmering, balanced and delineated by zingy acidity. Drink to 2045.


UK importer: Mentzendorff

Photograph by Joanna Simon


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