The sweet wine of Constantia helped Napoleon ease the misery of exile and
was recommended by Jane Austen for a broken heart. Now, two CapeTown
estates have revived the beverage that made South Africa the toast of Europe.
Klein Constantia was first to bring back Vin de Constance, using vines from the
three-century-old plantings on the slopes behind Cape Town's signature
Table Mountain. Neighbor Groot Constantia followed in recent years,
producing its own version of the honeyed wine.
Vin de Constance is a late-harvested wine made from white Muscat de
Frontignac grapes, golden in color, with a bouquet of stone fruits and a smooth
finish. "It's a delightful and unusual wine for relatively early drinking
that serves as a reminder of historic fashion," said London-based wine critic
The South African wine also compares price-wise to its French and German
rivals, costing about 300 rand ($43) at the cellar door for a 500 milliliter
hand-blown, French glass bottle.
The original Constantia farm was granted in 1685 to Van der Stel, the first
governor of the Dutch colony in the Cape. Constantia's wines reached the peak
of their fame in the 18th and 19th centuries before the phylloxera beetle
devastated the plantings in the 1880s.
Napoleon Bonaparte had as much as 1,126 liters (297 gallons) of Constantia
wine shipped in wooden casks each year to Longwood House, his home in exile
on St. Helena from 1815 until his death in 1821, according to Groot Constantia.
The Count de las Cases reported that, on his deathbed, Napoleon refused
everything offered to him but a glass of Constantia wine.
A rare bottle of 1821 Grand Constance sold for 2,990 pounds ($5,918) at a
Sotheby's auction a year ago in London. The wine was also a favorite
among the European and Russian royal households of the time, Sotheby's
said. Jane Austen wrote in "Sense and Sensibility" of its "healing powers
on a disappointed heart."
-- from an article by Clyde Russell for the Bloomberg News