Sunday 27 November 2016
The bright blue agapanthus flowers matched the cloudless blue sky as we drove down the drive to the tasting room at the Klein Constantia vineyard in Constantia Valley. The trip was a last moment decision for me and my partner. It was all the more fitting as we await the outcome of our first wine exam, having recently completed the (introductory) South African Wine Course with the Cape Wine Academy.
We chatted excitedly as we passed the Muscat bush vines devoid of trellises. Surprisingly, my partner had not tasted here before. New experiences are always so uplifting. Learning about wine is a new passion for us, to be developed through 2017, and one we shall both enjoy sharing our knowledge with friends and others.
The historic importance of Klein Constantia, just one tenth the size of Simon van der Stel’s original vineyard in 1685, was immediately apparent. Natural vines were growing in tubs as we walked to the small, intimate tasting room. The walls of the entrance were full of maps and artefacts together with cabinets with wine bottles of over 200 years old. I knew we were in for a real treat – and I was not disappointed.
I explained we were Academy students and asked if we could taste our wines ‘blind’. I wasn’t sure how this could be arranged but very soon a numbered tasting mat with eight glasses was placed between us. Four white wines each. This was where the fun began as I tried to apply the initial learning and to put theory into practice. I assessed the colour in each glass. Was it pale or dark yellow? Was there a green colour too? Or was it a straw colour? I started with the palest wine and then tasted in order of increasing strength of colour. All were of good clarity and scored 3 out of 3. In turn, I then assessed the nose and wrote notes for each wine, scoring each out of 7. I soon realised how difficult it is to choose precise and meaningful words – and how easy to describe merely as ‘citrus’ or ‘grassy’. Meanwhile, as I quaffed a small amount from each glass, Afsana was enjoying her tasting and making notes too, separate so we did not know each other’s findings. I scored out of 10 for the palate and tried to consider the differences in acidity, sweetness, balance and finish (aftertaste). We both decided what each wine was before asking Sebastian, our tasting host, to reveal. We were both right and both wrong. We picked out the Cabernet Sauvignon. I correctly identified the MCC Chardonnay but the fourth wine totally foxed us both. It was a Riesling. Neither of us even had that variety on our tasting radar at all!
We browsed in the small shop to let our taste buds settle and for Sebastian to select three reds for our next tasting. I rarely drink red wine so this was to prove even more of a challenge and learning opportunity. I followed the same process and scored each wine out of 20 for colour, nose and palate. My partner reminded me to look at each glass from above to see whether the stem could be seen to assess colour and body. As I tasted each wine, I similarly tried to describe with more than ‘berry’ or with ‘tannin’. The learning from the Academy course was most useful. Well, I should qualify that ….. It was useful to help describe more precisely and in more detail. It wasn’t so much use when my partner and I conferred on our opinions and Sebastian disclosed which wine each glass contained. All three red wines were blends and made up of three or more grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz mostly – and so it came as no surprise that it was difficult correctly to guess each one. Sebastian was exceptional in his knowledge and the information and explanation he gave us. I told him he was ‘head and shoulders’ better than any other taster host – and I didn’t just mean his vast height alone!
We finished by sampling the Vin de Constance, a natural sweet wine that harks back to the original wine made more than two centuries ago. It truly lived up to its high price being golden yellow, sugary and deep flavoured, smooth and elegant, and tasting of honey, ripe apricots and mangoes. Sebastian explained that it is considered second only to Chateau D’Quem in being one of the very best sweet dessert wines in the world.
We thanked Sebastian and lingered in the shop before leaving. Afsana had her heart set on one bottle only – the Vin de Constance – and we agreed to share the cost. It is the most expensive bottle of wine I have ever bought so it will have to be a very special future occasion to open.
Klein Constantia could not have been a more suited place for my first ‘real’ tasting. The ‘blind’ tasting was a real challenge but the start of much learning and fun ahead. We left with a cheery wave to the polite and smiling guard at the gate. Klein Constantia has set the bar very high for future tastings. My high expectations were far exceeded. They will rise further when Afsana and I choose to open the bottle of Vin de Constance.
Now did I really spend THAT much on a bottle of wine …..?
Wines tasted (bought *):
2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc – R130
2015 Metis Sauvignon Blanc – R240
2015 Riesling – R220
2012 MCC Brut – R220
2014 Petit Frère – R115
2014 Estate Red – R260
2013 Anwilka – R380
2013 Vin de Constance – R895* FAVOURITE WINE