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Vin de Constance - From Dickens to Fifty Shades

Staff at Klein Constantia have recently been bemused by the number of visitors asking to taste ‘the Fifty Shades wine’.

Klein Constantia is a small winery in South Africa. Table Mountain looms above it and the suburbs of Cape Town have spread over time to surround its wine lands. Because of its closeness to Cape Town and its position close to the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens it is on a main tourist route.

Klein Constantia is one of the very few wineries identified by name in E L James Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy, although wine generally appears frequently.

In Fifty Shades Darker the two protagonists, Christian and Anastasia, attend a charity ball where they are given a menu card listing detailing each course and the wine that is matched with it. (see link below)

Klein Constantia’s sweet dessert wine, named ‘Vin de Constance’ is paired with Sugar-crusted Walnut Chiffon Candied Figs, Sabayon, and Maple Ice Cream.

E L James is following in a great tradition as the luscious sweet wines of Constantia have been mentioned by novelists Charles Dickens, the poet Baudelaire and Jane Austen, who in Sense and Sensibility, has a recommendation of a little Constantia for “its healing powers on a disappointed heart”.

Constantia wine was drunk by Kings, Tsars and Emperors. Napoleon Bonaparte demanded a bottle a day while in exile, and it was the most famous and expensive wine of its time. Imagine the most fashionable, desired and highly priced of today: 150 hundred years ago Constantia wine was that wine and more. Unusually the wine was then known as ‘Constantia’ after the estate, rather than borrowing an old world name as practised still today by some new world wineries.

But Constantia’s reign came to end in the latter part of the 19th Century as South African vineyards were devastated first by the oidium mildew which was quickly followed by the vine killing disease phylloxera.

Constantia was a great estate founded in 1685 by Simon van der Stel, the Governor of the Cape Colony. Over the years land was sold. Now the part with the original buildings and winery is named Groot (or great) Constantia. Today Groot Constantia and its winery are a national monument and museum operated for the government by a trust.

Another winery, named Klein (or little) Constantia, farms another part of the original estate. A new owner bought the property in 1980, constructed a new winery and decided to recreate the historic Constantia wine. In 1986 the first bottling is released.

The wine is made from very sweet Muscat de Frontignan grapes and comes in a distorted black pint-size (500mL) bottle, moulded from an original and presented in a black box lined with wood shavings and with an explanatory leaflet.

The wine is timeless. Its high sugar level, 130 grams per litre and alcohol of 14%abv in the 2004 vintage mentioned in the book, means it will last indefinitely. But when I visited Klein Constantia and asked winemaker Adam Mason how long I should keep the bottles I had just bought he replied “Why wait? It’s beautiful now.” And it was.


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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle, iPad and Nook.







Disclosure: The author travelled to Klein Constantia at his own expense and paid for all wines

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