Thursday, July 19, 2012

Napoleon's St. Helena Wine Has Renaissance in Cape Town Vineyards

Groot Constantia (c) Groot Constantia Trust

Groot Constantia

Groot Constantia Trust
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 
Jancis Robinson.

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

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