South Africa’s Constantia Valley may be renowned for cool climate white wines, in particular, Sauvignon Blanc—but can the Bordeaux-style blends and Shiraz bottlings attract the same kind of attention as their international counterparts?
“The difference between the price of these Constantia reds and the international classics is great, but the quality is not,” claims Jörg Pfützner, sommelier and owner of Fine Wine Events. Pfützner’s opinion was put to the test last weekend (February 24– February 25) at the third-annual Constantia Fresh festival, held at Buitenverwachting, where he hosted a fine wine tasting focusing on the region’s reds, comparing them to some sought-after international bottlings.
The blind tasting was made up of six flights, each featuring four local and international wines based on common themes, such as “Old,” “2007,” “Classic,” “Value,” “Elegance” and “Power.” The tasting was presented by local winemaker, Richard Kershaw, MW, of Richard Kershaw Wines. The first four flights featured Bordeaux-style blends and the latter two, Shiraz/Syrah. Favorites in each flight were voted on by a show of hands from the Constantia winemakers, local media and public who attended the event.
In the four Bordeaux-style flights, Constantia mostly held its own. Buitenverwachting’s 1995 Christine, the oldest wine of the Old flight, was an overwhelming favorite, and despite Kershaw saying that its “sweet underbelly [was] a giveaway,” many found it indistinguishable from a Bordeaux.
Constantia was well-received in both the Classic and Value flights: Groot Constantia’s 2006 Gouverneurs Reserve was most popular, followed by the Sassicaia 2005 and Buitenverwachting’s 2005 Christine in the Classic flight, and the Merlot-dominant Constantia Glen 2008 Three was a favorite in the Value flight. On the other hand, the 2005 Château Lascombes was liked the least in the Classic flight.
Other Constantia reds that less performed favorably than their international counterparts included some weak vintages with virus-infected vines that struggled to ripen or vines that were too young. These included Klein Constantia’s 1988 Cabernet Sauvignon, Constantia Glen’s 2007 Five and Klein Constantia’s 2006 Marlbrook. To no one’s surprise, Constantia Shirazes were not favorites when up against heavyweights like Alain Graillot, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave and Domaine René Rostaing.
Many judges found it difficult to select a favorite from the Elegance flight when it came to the 2009 Shiraz tastings from Eagles’ Nest Winery and Steenberg Vineyards, since both showed individuality and elegance.
But what made Constantia standout across all flights? Bottle prices. Selling for approximately $30, the region’s offerings cost significantly less than most of their competitors. Plus, local winemakers affirm that once the virus-free vines mature, even better reds will be produced from this cool-climate region.