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Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2000

Off to South Africa this week, and a little trip down memory lane for me. Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance is a wine I first encountered about eleven years ago, brought out as a sweet treat at the end of, if I recall correctly, this tasting of 1989 Châteauneuf du Pape. It was the 1991 vintage (which was a rare bottle I think - the Klein Constantia website only has details back to the 1993 vintage), and although I have long since moved my tasting note from that page, to my rather sparse collection of South African notes, the memory of the wine lives on very strongly in my mind. I thought the bright peachy fruit quite entrancing, and I always looked out for the wine from that point on.

Of course, as British readers will perhaps already be aware, the wine was not readily available in the UK due to some farcical regulations concerning sweetness and potential alcohol, a law which prevented a number of sweet wines - most notably Canadian ice wines - from making their way into British cellars. As a consequence my experience of the wine since that early encounter has been sparse, despite my latent desire, and in fact the 2000 is the only other vintage I have tasted. This is my second bottle, the last having been four years ago, and there has clearly been some evolution during this interval, the candied fruit flavours I found last time now giving way to the more spicy, perfumed and exotic flavours of aging Muscat.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2000

Before my updated opinion on the wine though, a few words on Vin de Constance. This once-famous sweet wine was once popularised by some very notable advocates, including Baudelaire, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, all of whom referenced the sweet wines of Constantia in their writings. The vineyards which gave these 18th- and 19th-century acolytes their wines were of course eradicated by the advance of phylloxera through the Cape, and almost a century had gone by before the wine was reborn. It was known to have been a sweet wine, and thus most probably from Muscat de Frontignan, a popular cultivar in the Constantia vineyards from the 17th century onwards, and so its modern-day incarnation is based on the same variety. The fruit is left to dehydrate on the vine, before a slow fermentation of the raisined grapes in thermoregulated stainless steel, followed by 18 months in French oak.

As for the wine today, the 2000 vintage has a deep, burnished, rose-tinged amber hue in the glass. It possesses a very aromatic nose that cries out 'Muscat!', far more so than that bottle I enjoyed more than a decade ago. There are elements suggestive of rose petals, Turkish delight, green apples and oranges perfumed with cinnamon and other spices. The palate is certainly sweet and rich, showing a slightly fat composition in fact (the residual sugar is 141 g/l), a sensation no doubt reinforced by the intense sweetness having only a light grip, and rather moderate acidity for balance. It doesn't have the bright definition I was hoping for. The perfumed character found on the nose comes through here though, giving the wine overall a very pretty and overtly Muscat character. It certainly has a good sense of harmony to it, and it is somewhat redolent of the aged and fortified style of Muscat classically associated with Australia. Ultimately though, I would have preferred a little more backbone and cut to this wine. Nevertheless, a very good wine, and most definitely one worth experiencing. Alcohol 14%. 16.5/20 (17/10/11)

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