National treasure

ImageFeeling patriotic? Reach for a glass of Constantia. As if you need another reason on a cold and wintry Cape evening … or a sweltering summer’s afternoon, for that matter.

Seriously, though, this is the winemaker that belongs to the nation. I would like to shout it from the rooftops: Groot Constantia is a non-profit organisation! It has no owners and no shareholders. South Africa’s oldest wine farm is dedicated to preserving the legacy of wine-making in the Cape.

And what a legacy it is!

A glass of Constantia was one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s last wishes
before he died in exile on St Helena

Don’t believe anyone who says South Africa is “just starting” to produce excellent wines. Otto von Bismarck and King Louis Philippe of France, and so many others – with and without lofty aristocratic and political pedigrees – would disagree. The record shows that Louis Philippe once ordered the entire vintage of Groot Constantia, and a glass of Constantia was one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s last wishes before he died in exile on St Helena.

Dig into its history and you will find it is as rich and chequered as South Africa’s. In 1724, for example, the farm’s first female owner. Anna de Koningh, widow of Oloff Bergh, was also daughter of the slave Angela of Bengal. There are also those who say that wine pressed at Groot Constantia before France’s famous Médoc (Château Margaux, Château Latour etc) was under vine. The French will probably suggest we split hairs on this … are we referring to the first ever vines in the Médoc or replanting after devastation in the Great French Wine Blight? Oh tra-la-la…

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Leaving that one to the purists, true Champagne Socialists should quaff Groot Constantia bubbly with their canapés. On a recent tasting at the farm we sipped the bubbly with a roasted masala butternut soup that made me weak at the knees, bobotie spring rolls which delighted as much as they surprised, and melt-in-the mouth chicken liver parfait pate with grape relish.

The menu at the second part of the tasting where we ooh-ed and aah-ed over Groot Constantia’s signature whites and reds (before working our way through all t he others) was interestingly eclectic: surprising and delightful, with the emphasis often on the surprise.

Wait until the Michelle and Gift at Keenwaä get their hands on this liquid booty … rumour has it they soon will.

Anyway more about that later. I am feeling patriotic so must open a bottle of Groot Constantia …

Siobhan Cassidy

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