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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2001-10-2)

Duggie Jooste, owner of the distinguished Klein Constantia estate, recently celebrated his 75th birthday in a rather unusual way: he opened a 210-year-old bottle of wine.

Wines from Constantia were the first from the Cape to become known in the wider world, in the 18th century. They were sweet wines relished by the upper classes in England and France and mentioned in the writings of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and the French poet Baudelaire. They also helped provide solace for Napoleon during his lonely exile on St Helena, from 1815 to 1821.

It was one such bottle that Duggie Jooste, whom I have known for most of his 75 years, opened recently. It was of course an unknown quantity. Predictably enough, the cork disintegrated on opening and Duggie and his winemaker Ross Gower half expected to find brown vinegar inside. Instead there was a heady perfumed bouquet and a wine that was dark red in colour and had kept much of its original sweet, nutty flavour. This wine was bottled in 1791, and Ross Gower was amazed at how well it had held its quality for more than two centuries.

This bottle was one of two of the 1791 vintage bought by Klein Constantia in London last year, for about R10,000 apiece. They were part of a collection belonging to the Duke of Northumberland and their age could be verified from cellar records. Klein Constantia have a bottle of the 1821 vintage in a display cabinet on the farm, but the 1791 is the oldest Duggie Jooste has seen (or tasted).

The modern version of the sweet wines of the 18th century is Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance. This has been made by Ross Gower for the past 15 years and has become something of a cult wine among South Africans and visitors from overseas. Muscat de Frontignan grapes are used to produce this natural sweet wine, which has wonderful honey, mint, toffee, lime flavours and scents and comes in an antique-style bottle.

* * * * * * *

As I noted recently, the Versus white wine from Stellenbosch Vineyards has in the last couple of years become one of the country’s biggest sellers. It is a highly palatable blended dry white and it comes at about R19 in a handsome one-litre bottle.

It has now been joined by Versus Red, from the same cellar and in the same litre bottle. This is a blend of noble cultivars from the Stellenbosch area and the winemaker, Chris Kelly, has used merlot as the base. He describes the wine as being friendly, approachable and versatile, suitable for any occasion. It is deep red, with berry and chocolate aromas and a gentle palate. Alcohol content is an imposing 13,76 percent, and the litre bottle sells at my neighbourhood store in Durban at R27,50. – Michael Green




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