Groot Constantia Estate remains the mother-ship of the South African wine industry, but as we all know Bigger is not always seen as Better. The fact that Groot Constantia is inundated with tourists which it accommodates with an unabashed veneer of commercialism – take the red double-decker London bus driving between carefully planted vines – makes it difficult for the uninitiated to take the wine seriously. For common-thinking has us incorrectly believing that commercialism is a curse and good wine, and I mean really good wine, can only be made on small, tidy estates unhindered by the rampant wonts of Mammon and droves of digital-savvy noodle-eaters from the East.
One of the Cape’s most popular tourist spots it may be, with all the bells, whistles and kitsch art, but Groot Constantia also makes wines of the quality most of those hyperventilating tourists would not be able to appreciate.
It was not always thus. Groot Constantia was a joke in the 90s. I remember buying some generic white with the label of the famed manor house for under R10 a bottle. The vines were shot and the bureaucratic mentality running the place did not know this, and if it did not care.
Times have changed, mind you and the vinous pedigree of Groot Contantia – the true Constantia – is intact.
Vines were replanted since the R10 a bottle days and a winemaker named Boela Gerber came on board. Not so much for a good time, but for a long time. He begins his 14th vintage on the Estate this year.
Boela has a studious diligence when it comes to making wine, no sideshows or smart-talk, just inspired by the quality of the grapes and his site to honour them by making clean and honourable wines of substance and character.
I recently visited the farm for Die Burger’s harvest festival that happens there annually, and before things got out of hand I had the chance to drink some of the finest Groot Constantia has to offer.
The Sauvignon Blanc 2013 was a pleasant aperitif. Thankfully no showy flavours of cat urine, gooseberry pips or Persian nipple-rings in the wine, just a dry-ish and fresh white wine with a perky and pleasant mouthfeel.
Where things really got interesting was with the Gouverneurs Reserve White 2012, Groot Constantia’s flagship white wine. This blend of Sémillon (75%) and Sauvignon Blanc (25%), oaked in new French and second fill, is one of the classiest white wines in South Africa not made from Chardonnay.
The Sémillon grows at around 50m above sea-level, south-facing, but due to the mountain it is spared the pummelling of the summer winds. This allows the grapes to ripen in a cool, maritime environment without forcing them to develop nervy flavours due to extreme climatic conditions. The result is a Sémillon of the beautifully mild and restrained variety. No harsh pippiness or skin-soaked imbalance. White pear, veld-flowers, sea-urchin roe and a touch of jasmine ooze to the fore, the extremities of flavour tempered by the silky Sauvignon Blanc.
Wood-maturation provides for a complex mouth-feel with just a touch of oceanic, a bit like kissing a mermaid above all those scaly bits.
When I got to the Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Red 2010 I had about a bottle of the White under the belt, fully able to appreciate the change in direction to red.
The Gouverneurs Red relies on Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with a chunk of Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for balls, and has in my book always been a Wine Almighty. Constantia is great red wine turf, and it does not get better than this blend of elegance, verve and style with a hit of unrestrained headiness.
One is tempted to deconstruct the blend and pen lofty tributes to what each of the three varieties brings to the party, but that is a futile and useless exercise as the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
The Gouverneurs Red has a sappy freshness, something I want in a red wine no matter how old or what variety. The leads to a refined texture and dense palate with a flavour spectrum which is vast and satisfying. Sweet Karoo springbok biltong is there, as is a handful of just-dried prunes, some Turkish fig paste and a mouthful of blackcurrants. A sunniness comes out, too, shining with a sweet touch….a spot of liquorice and touch of spice which could be cardamom.
A massive 979/1000.
Old World, New World, New Frontier. Who cares? This is Constantia, Groot Constantia. A class of its own.