The Constantia Sauvignon Blanc Wine Route must have been one of the easiest wine routes to map out. There’s almost nothing of it. From north to south Constantia is less than 10 km. From east to west it’s usually less than 2 kms. And, anyway, most of the Constantia region is rather attractive suburban villas with stunning views of False Bay, or forest and fynbos on slopes that quickly become too daunting for any sane wine producer to essay – and what’s more, they’re well-protected by the colonies of baboons who live there. There’s even a golf course and some super-glam hotels to squeeze in. Yet, packed together, mostly cheek by jowl, 8 wine estates combine to produce small amounts of some of South Africa’s best white wine. And that wine is led by Sauvignon Blanc.
If you casually look at a map, you think – surely South Africa will be too hot for a grape like Sauvignon Blanc? It sits at around 34° South. Marlborough in New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc’s spiritual home, sits at 41.5° South. True. But it’s the detail that matters in South Africa. And above all, it’s your proximity to the sea and the icy winds that sweep in from the shore as the Antarctic Benguela Current makes landfall, intent upon freezing to death anyone foolish enough to venture in for a dip.
The great crescent curve of False Bay just south of Capetown is famous for these chilly draughts which they call, sometimes fondly, the ‘Cape Doctor’. They get sucked well inland and make fine wine production possible in Stellenbosch. But right on the mountainside, barely a kilometre or two from the Bay, in the full force of the raw Southeasters, the vineyards of Constantia cling to the undulating face of the Constantiaberg mountain. Their soils are mostly decomposed granite gravels – good stuff for low yields and high quality. Most of them face east, away from the blazing afternoon sun, and directly into the path of the False Bay gales.
In high summer the temperature in the vineyards is more than 10°C cooler than in vineyards just a few kilometres away. And Constantia’s position on the mountainside facing False Bay to the east, but only a mountain crag away from the vast cold Atlantic Ocean to the west, means that Constantia actually gets more rain each year than Sancerre in France, as well as coping with frequent bouts of mist and cloud sidling down from the peaks and keeping everything cool, and, frequently, moist. Unusually for South Africa, irrigation is generally seen as unnecessary.
What does all this mean? A Paradise for Sauvignon Blanc. Infinitely smaller than New Zealand’s Marlborough, but equally able to make sensational Sauvignon. And because the area is so small, and the number of estates so limited, and so dedicated to quality, and so competitive to be perceived as the best, there is never the slightest incentive to cheapen the product, to produce large volumes of commercial ‘savvy’. How could you? Why would you?
Well, they don’t.
On 24th May Oz Clarke hosted a virtual tasting of 6 superb wines to show how good, how special – and how truly different – Constantia Sauvignon Blanc proves to be. Click here to view the recording of the session, and see below for his tasting notes and scores of the wines featured.
And, you can find out more about Constantia Wine Route at their website.
Constantia Royale Sauvignon Blanc 2020
Beautifully made wine, in a softer style, and now showing some maturity. Attractive nut and bread crust savouriness just dabbed with honey and lightly teased by grapefruit, apple core and lemon leaf acidity.
Winemaker: Roger Burton | 91 points
Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2021
This has a delightful suggestion of spritz to tickle the palate, and the flavour follows through with appetizing passion fruit and lime zest freshness rubbing up against good stony minerality, a wisp of orchard blossom scent and a slight chewiness to finish rather like the pith of a lemon.
Winemaker: Boela Gerber | 92 points
£16.99 | Corking Wines | SA House of Wine | Strictly Wine
Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2021
Fascinating, delicious, truly original Sauvignon Blanc. There’s a fair bit of body in this wine, and the green flavours are all ripe, not sharp, barely even leafy. But it works beautifully. Ripe apple and dry peach fruit is quickly joined by passion fruit and juicy greengage plums, while a stony bed of minerality holds it firm, and a whimsical springtime scent of lemon verbena and white hedgerow flowers hovers above the wine.
Winemaker: Matthew Day | 94 points
£12.99 | Majestic
Constantia Glen Sauvignon Blanc 2021
This is the most scented of the wines, but the most saline too. Unexpected, but delightful. The scent is led by lemon verbena with orchard blossom dallying just behind, and the strong appetizing salinity merely serves to complement ripe greengage plum and boiled lemon fruit, and a savouriness somewhere between fresh croissant and a baked custard tart.
Winemaker: Justin van Wyk | 93 points
£16.50 | BBR
Buitenverwachting Vineyard Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2021
Excellent, absorbing wine, balancing savouriness, minerality, citrous fruit and scent. It’s relatively soft on the tongue but wonderfully focussed, mixing spearmint leaf, lemon flower and fresh grass scent with ripe green apple flesh, greengage plum and lime zest. All of this is shot through with lively acidity, and laid on a bed of croissant and cream softness, and summer dust minerality.
Winemaker: Brad Paton | 95 points
£13.50 | Swig | Vinvm
Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2021
Scintillating wine that treads the tightrope between being a serious, thought-provoking mouthful and a style that’s so delicious you have to hold yourself back from downing it in one gulp. There’s a tiny suggestion of spritz and an uplifting scent of lemon verbena, fresh mint and apple blossom. This freshness runs right through the wine in an almost absurdly juicy way, but is held in check by a touch of lemon pith bitterness and a warm savoury softness, part brioche, part sea salt caramel.
Winemaker: Elunda Basson | 95+ points
£15.50 | Frontier Fine Wines