Wine enthusiasts always spread their love of wine. My friend Tobi went to do a harvest at Constantia Glen in South Africa last year, and he came back excited to share his experience with others. A few months ago, he organised a Zoom tasting with Constantia Glen winemaker Justin van Wyk to a full house of wine lovers.
Located just outside Cape Town, Constantia is one of the first wine regions in South Africa, dating back to 1685. The farm where Constantia Glen is located has changed hands and usage many times during its over 300-year history, including a short period as a wine estate in the 1800s. It was only after a devastating fire in 1999 that the Waibel family, owner of the farm since 1960, decided to return the land to its historic winegrowing roots. The majority of vines, mostly Bordeaux varieties, were planted in 2001, and the first wine was bottled in 2005.
Justin explained that the farm has a unique position cradled between two mountain ranges – Constantiaberg in the south and Table Mountain in the north – with the Atlantic Ocean in both the west and east. The combination of decomposed granite, sandstone, cold sea breezes and late afternoon sun is ideal for producing elegant wine with good acidity and concentrated flavour. No wonder that despite its short history, Constantia Glen has quickly become a reputable producer in Constantia. Justin was even named South African Diners Club Winemaker of the Year 2021.
In addition to making wine for Constantia Glen, Justin also has his own label, Van Wyk Family Wines. This is a new wave South African winery that champions old vines and adopts minimum-intervention winemaking techniques to express the purity of the grapes. It was interesting to compare two very different styles of wine from the same winemaker at this event.
Constantia Glen only produces four wines, all classic Bordeaux styles. Constantia Glen TWO is the flagship white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This wine is aged on lees for seven months in a combination of big barrels and clay amphorae, giving the wine texture and a round mouthfeel and adding extra dimension to the fruit aromas.
Constantia Glen FIVE is a red blend of five Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. It is powerful and structured and has long ageing potential. Both Constantia Glen TWO 2020 and Constantia Glen FIVE 2017 received five stars in Platter’s Wine Guide, the most respected South African wine guide.
I am more intrigued by Justin’s Van Wyk Family Wines, where the grapes are sourced from all over the Cape Winelands, particularly from old vines. Instead of making classic-style wine from classic varieties, Justin’s own label employs more gentle techniques and is open to various grape varieties. The Syrah 2019 uses grapes from cool-climate Elgin, of which 50% underwent whole-bunch fermentation, and the wine was aged in old barrels. This wine is a light version of French Rhône-style wine, with pleasant pepper and floral aromas and supple tannin.
Named after his daughter, Olivia Grace 2019 is a creative white blend of five varieties led by Chenin Blanc from Darling, followed by Chardonnay, Riesling, two barrels of Roussanne (9%) and one barrel of Viognier (4%) from Constantia. It is aged in amphorae and old barrels. The blend changes every year, and I was wondering what comes first, the availability of the grapes or the blend? Justin explained that he first has the style in mind and then sources the grapes to fit the profile.
Both Constantia Glen and Van Wyk Family Wines are available in Hong Kong from Wine Impala, a boutique South African wine importer focused on wines produced by passionate winemakers. Constantia Glen is one of the first wineries represented by the company.
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