Quiz a South African about the country’s premiere wine-growing region and most will name Stellenbosch, but to international visitors, Constantia is the more famous home to South African wines. Indeed, the wines of Groot Constantia were favoured by Napoleon Bonaparte, French King Louis Philippe and Frederick the Great of Prussia and namechecked in Austin’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and Dickens’ ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.
Groot Constantia is therefore, clearly, one of the country’s heritage estates, having been established by Cape Governor Simon van der Stel in 1685 and producing a steady stream of internationally-famous wines, ever since. If ever the country decided on a First Growth-type classification for its estates, Groot Constantia would most likely be the first name on the list.
The property sits back from the main road in the leafy Southern Suburb of Constantia and offers a few different options for visitors, depending on whether their bent is for exploring the history of the estate or sampling its produce – or both. The new Visitors’ Route offers a self-guided exploration of the heritage areas of the estate, including the original Cape Dutch Manor House, a wine and cultural history museum and audio walking tours of the vineyards and cellar.
If tasting the estate’s great wines is the priority, there are three venues to choose from. The cellar building is refreshingly ‘old school’ – there’s some art for sale and a few nods to the estate’s heritage, but the space is largely functional, which gives the wines the opportunity to speak for themselves. The basic tasting offers the choice of five available wines for R90 (including a souvenir Spiegelau Crystal glass – also something of a throwback to wine tasting experiences of yesteryear where a collection of tasting glasses was considered a badge of honour) and the Chocolate & Wine Pairing offers five selected wines, paired with handmade chocolates for R140. So many estates offer pairing opportunities these days – with chocolate looking relatively pedestrian in the face of matches with cupcakes and nougat – but this particular pairing opens up different notes in the wines which are well worth contemplating, and certainly showcases their versatility. Thankfully, it’s not a gimmick for inferior wines to hide behind – they certainly stand up on their own, just as they have done for more than three centuries.
The breadth of available wines – from fresh ‘everyday’ Blanc de Noir, through a complex Chardonnay and on to the bold Shiraz and flagship Gouverneur’s Reserve. The estate’s history draws tens of thousands of visitors every year, so the team in the tasting room can be a little rushed and the tasting process a little perfunctory, but the opportunity to enjoy some of the country’s great wines in the cellar in which they are produced makes a visit to Groot Constantia a must for anyone looking to gain an understanding of the history of South Africa’s wines.
Groot Constantia is a major stop on the City Sightseeing Hop On-Hop Off bus tour – a great way to access the estate without self-driving, and a chance learn a lot about the history of the Cape, on the way.
Groot Constantia Road,