In South African Wine
on 17 Mar 2011

I can’t come to South Africa and not spend time in Constantia, which is home to some of my favorite wine farms. Luckily Kara was willing to take a break from her hectic weekend to bring me to two of the best, Klein Constantia and Buitenverwachting.

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Klein Contantia is known first and foremost for Vin de Constance, a sweet muscat wine with a rich history (it was a favorite of Napoleon, for starters). Winemaker Adam Mason requested that we show up Saturday morning with croissants. We happily obliged, and interrupted his morning pumpovers for a lovely breakfast of espresso, croissants and Klein Constantia’s own delightful grappa. A winemaker’s breakfast!

muscat grapes hermann

Adam took us for an amazing vineyard drive; Klein Constantia’s vineyards are absolutely stunning. Constantia’s cool maritime climate and shale/granite soil produce a more naturally high-acid, austere style than most the Stellenbosch wines; I could feel a climate difference just wandering about in the cool, breezy air. Most exciting were the Muscat grapes which are used to make the famed Vin de Constance; they are now just beginning to raisin but typically remain on the vine until nearly 40 Balling. They tasted quite lovely!

Of Klein Constantia’s excellent wines, I most enjoyed the Tuscan-like 2008 cabernet franc, which came home in my suitcase along with the Perdeblokke sauvignon blanc, which was not open for tasting but came highly recommended from Kara. As far as I’m concerned you can’t go wrong with Constantia sauv blanc from a great producer.

Wine in hand and thoroughly charmed by Adam, we headed to Buitenverwachting, home of some of my favorite wines in the world. Despite the ominous warning on the cellar door we snuck in to look for winemaker Brad Paton and cellarmaster Hermann Kirschbaum.

We found Brad and I started gushing like a ten-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert about how much I loved his wines, including the totally-Chinon-oh-my-god-it’s-real-cab-franc cab franc. Brad dropped everything from his extremely busy day to get us some tank samples of different sauvignon blanc vineyards. Hussey’s Vlei, my favorite of their two sauv blancs, is the more jalapeno-tomatillo peppery style with serious depth, while the Constantia sauv blanc shows more tropical fruit character.

In true winemaker fashion, Hermann was ready for a beer after our tasting, and at the risk of continuing the creeper-stalker-teenybopper-groupie image I chased him through the tasting room pointing my camera at his rear end to grab the photo at the bottom of this page. I think it was worth it.

For the record, the beers he was drinking were by Brewers & Union -– we grabbed them later with lunch at Neighborgoods Market in Cape Town! The regular and dark lager that I tried were both delicious and traditionally-styled, with a long slow fermentation and several weeks of lagering.

Julia Burke reviews South African wine and writes about social justice, the South African wine industry, and her own adventures in winemaking.