Grand Constance: South Africa’s Oldest Wine

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It’s an ice cold winter’s day in Cape Town and I have a date with food and wine and history at Groot Constantia. A weak sun is shining on the vineyards and the old buildings have a classic beauty that is beautiful in every season.

We are having a feast of food and wine, and I just hope I can keep up. Menus baffle me and wine makes me sleepy, but I am hungry, and I do enjoy a port or a good red to warm me up, so long as it’s in a small glass.

The private function room at Jonkershuis Restaurant is warmed by an open fire, the long table is beautifully set, and the welcome is a glass of Grand Constance paired with chicken liver parfait, soft creamy goat’s cheese on brioche toast served with preserves selected to enhance the spicy tones of Grand Constance. I found the pineapple and chilli a little overpowering, but the apricot and vanilla, spiced beetroot relish, apple chutney and almond and honey praline all highlighted different flavours.

I am addicted to Grand Constance, so let me tell you a little bit about it.

It comes from the Cloete Cellar at Groot Constantia which is the original home of the South African wine industry dating all the way back to 1685.

Grand Constance is a sweet wine with spicy undertones and smoother than anything you will ever taste in your entire life.

It is high in sugar, totally organic and wine maker Boela Gerber has managed to come very close to replicating the recipe and methods used hundreds of years ago, when this wine was highly sought after by the who’s who of Europe.

Groot Constantia still have the original purchase order from Napoleon who required thirty bottles of Groot Constantia wine a month to give him comfort during his exile on St Helena Island.

Grand Constance is made from Muscat grapes which are left on the vines until they are practically raisins. They are then picked, stomped and allowed to ferment for a few days before being pressed and put into barrels for a couple of years. That’s just the bare basics of the process, they are not revealing the secrets of this award winning recipe.

Grand Constance 2013

Whatever they do and however they do it, the result is very palatable. In my opinion Grand Constance can be paired with everything, but Groot Constantia does have other great wines, and this is how they chose to pair them.

The menu at a first glance is a foreign language to me.

Pafait, gnudi, emulsion, parmentier, terrine, fondant.

What will I be eating?

A few English words come in to focus and reassure me, nice easy words like cauliflower, mash, kudu and chocolate cake.

The Governeurs Reserve White wine was paired with ricotta gnudi, butternut emulsion, sage noisette butter and spinach.

This was followed by a Governeurs  Reserve Red with deconstructed kudu wellington, buttered cauliflower mash, puff pastry with porcine and red wine sauce and roasted winter root vegetables.

The dessert was a celebration of chocolate flavours and consisted of a dark chocolate and citrus terrine, a chocolate fondant with salted caramel and a gluten free chocolate cake.

The starter and dessert were both paired with Grand Constance and did an excellent job in enhancing all the subtle flavours of the wine.

This restaurant is not easy to leave.

From the creative blends of flavours to the friendliness of our hosts and the perfect private setting for a day of indulgence, GrootConstantia delighted me.

In spite of the fancy food and excellent wines, Grand Constance stole the show. This wine is class all the way. From the efforts over a number of years to research and perfect the recipe, to the stories of glass fragments from the 1700’s, photographs of old bottles and a team of industrial designers and engineers who made recreating the original bottle a reality.

Grand Constance on ice

Grand Constance is presented in a classic ornate bottle complete with a letter pressed label and a red wax seal, all encased in a hand made wooden box.

Almost too good looking to drink, but once you have tasted it, all resistance crumbles.


Written by Di Brown, The Roaming Giraffe

Enjoy the true “Constantia Wyn” of Napoleon

Napoleon’s favourite “Constantia Wyn” name originated from the word “Grand Constance” – the French translation for Groot Constantia. Napoleon’s aid, Immanuel de la Casse, dealt with the Cloete’s of Groot Constantia when he purchased Napoleon’s wine. These wines were produced in the Cloete Cellar directly behind the Groot Constantia Manor house. It is known that Groot Constantia used the french translation “Grand Constance” on its labels additional to the normal “Groot Constantia” reference. “Grand Constance” was supplied to Napoleon until his death in 1821.