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Klein Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon 1997
While "klein" means "small," Klein Constantia’s reputation is anything but. With its historic Cape Dutch homestead and breathtaking location, it has frequently been described as one of the world’s most beautiful vineyards. In 2002, Wine and Spirits Magazine named Klein Constantia among the Top 25 Vineyards of the World. During the 18th and 19th centuries, "the sweet, luscious, and excellent wine called Constantia" became one of the most legendary and sought-after wines in the world. Prized by kings, emperors, and nobles, the iconic bottling could be found in the cellars of many of the courts of Europe. Napoleon consumed a bottle of Constantia each day during his exile on St. Helena, and the fabled elixir was immortalized in the works of Baudelaire, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen.
After phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Constantia at the end of the 19th century, Klein Constantia fell into disrepair. In 1980, the run-down farm was purchased by Duggie Jooste, whose family had been involved in the South African wine trade for four generations. Duggie and his son Lowell began to revitalize the farm and using vines propagated from the original vineyard stock, they sought to revive the glorious Constantia wine of yore.
The cellar is headed by the energetic young Adam Mason, a Stellenbosch graduate who gained significant winemaking experience in France before joining Klein Constantia in 2004. The recreated "Vin de Constance" remains the estate’s crown jewel. Over the past two decades, the dazzling nectar has received immense critical acclaim and has become a modern-day legend in its own right.
With an important wine renaissance is in full swing, impressive red and white bargains abound in South Africa. The country has a particularly long and rich history with winemaking, especially considering its status as part of the “New World.” In the mid-17th century, the lusciously sweet dessert wines of Constantia were highly prized by the European aristocracy. Since then, the South African wine industry has experienced some setbacks due to the phylloxera infestation of the late 1800s and political difficulties throughout the following century.
Today, however, South Africa is increasingly responsible for high-demand, high-quality wines—a blessing to put the country back on the international wine map. Wine production is mainly situated around Cape Town, where the climate is generally warm to hot. But the Benguela Current from Antarctica provides brisk ocean breezes necessary for steady ripening of grapes. Similarly, cooler, high-elevation vineyard sites throughout South Africa offer similar, favorable growing conditions.
South Africa’s wine zones are divided into region, then smaller districts and finally wards, but the country’s wine styles are differentiated more by grape variety than by region. Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is the country’s “signature” grape, responsible for red-fruit-driven, spicy, earthy reds. When Pinotage is blended with other red varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Pinot Noir (all commonly vinified alone as well), it is often labeled as a “Cape Blend.” Chenin Blanc (locally known as “Steen”) dominates white wine production, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc following close behind.
A noble variety bestowed with both power and concentration, Cabernet Sauvignon enjoys success all over the globe. Inherently high in tannins and acidity, the best bottlings of Cabernet can age beautifully, with the ability to last fifty years or more. Cabernet Sauvignon flourishes in temperate climates like Bordeaux's Medoc region and forms the base of the Medoc reds, which are typically mostly Cabernet with Merlot and smaller amounts of some combination of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. (Enjoying a great deal of success in various regions around the world, this blend is now globally referred to as a Bordeaux Blend.) Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley is responsible for some of the world’s most prestigious, age-worthy and sought-after “cult” wines.
In the Glass
High in color, tannin and extract, Cabernet Sauvignon expresses notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, currant, spice and tobacco. In Bordeaux and elsewhere in the Old World you'll find the more earthy, tannic side of Cabernet, where it is typically blended to soften tannins and add complexity. In warmer regions like California Washington, Argentina, Chile and Australia, you can typically expect more ripe fruit flavors upfront.
Cabernet Sauvignon is right at home with rich, intense meat dishes—beef, lamb and venison, in particular—where its opulent fruit and decisive tannins make an equal match to the dense protein of the meat. With a mature Cabernet, opt for tender, slow-cooked meat dishes.
Despite the modern importance and ubiquity of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is actually a relatively young variety. In 1997, DNA profiling revealed the grape to be a spontaneous crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc which took place in 17th century southwestern France.