Most people think of the ''wine route'' as a place outside of Cape Town, in the valleys of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch – but just 15km from Cape Town city centre is Constantia Wine Route, the oldest wine-producing region in South Africa and home to some of the country’s best wines.
Each year, Constantia winemakers get together and come to Johannesburg to promote their wines with the city’s sommeliers, experts, and foodies for a fantastic tasting event. This year we got to join their annual autumn event.
It should come as no surprise that we spent an entire day exploring Constantia wines while enjoying the views of Joburg from the Southern Sun Luce Restaurant in Hyde Park, and indulging in excellent food pairings prepared by Luce’s Executive Chef Grant van der Riet.
Constantia vineyards are not just the oldest in South Africa, but also the oldest in the southern hemisphere. This small wine region first began producing wine in 1685 and consists of nine wineries.
The white wines of Constantia are known for their fresh and acidic properties. Out of the 400 hectares of land, 45% of that is dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc, which enjoys growing in the granite soil with strong wind and ocean influences.
Wineries for this event are brought together by Wade Bales, curator of the Wade Bales Wine Club, along with Miguel Chan, sommelier of the Southern Sun in Hyde Park. Showcasing the wineries together creates a robust concept of what Constantia wines offer and provides insight into the regionality of the wine.
Bales’ goal is to develop Constantia into a world-renowned region of South Africa. He states that looking at wines of the world, what has helped distinguish them is regionality. Constantia can bring about a unified message for South African wines through its regional identity. The winemakers of Constantia in turn have a common goal to create something beautiful; it's a message that expresses what Constantia does best.
Here's a rundown of the finest wines we tried during the event (not in attendance were Steenberg and Klein Constantia).
Fine Wines to try from the Constantia Wine Route
Brad Paton is the winemaker at Buitenverwachting, which was founded in 1694, making it the oldest of all the Constantia wineries. The 90,000 vines on Buitenverwachting were first planted in 1825. Buitenverwachting means “beyond expectation,” and truly lives up to its name. Paton brought the Maximus 2019, an exclusive, limited wine only available for sale directly from the winery. The Maximus 2019 is matured for 18 months and is what you would expect from a Sauvignon Blanc.
The vineyards of Beau Constantia are grown on some of the steepest agricultural slopes in the Cape. The 22-hectare property was bought by Pierre and Cecily Du Preez in 2002 and the first vineyards were planted in 2003. Beau Constantia’s winemaker is Megan Van Der Merwe and she showcased the Pierre 2021. Pierre 2021 is a combination of five vineyard blocks that all head straight to the wine for a composition of 95% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Semillon.
Constantia Glen is a family-owned estate that has been producing wines since 1685. The 60 hectares of Constantia Glen have been steered by the Waibel family since the 1960s and have seen the land transition from a forest, to a Red Angus cattle stud, eventually returning to its historic wine-growing roots and producing the first Constantia Glen wine in 2005. Winemaker Justin Van Wyk shared the Constantia Glen Two, a rich and concentrated blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that is one of the top-scoring wines in the country.
Constantia Royale is the newest addition to the Constantia wine route, producing its first wine in 2015. The winery exclusively produces Sauvignon Blanc on its 17 hectares. Winemaker Roger Burton explains that Constantia Royal’s limited edition wines are known for their tropical flavor and freshness.
Eagles' Nest Wine Estate
Eagles' Nest Wine Estate is led by winemaker Craig Barnard. Eagles’ Nest only produces Sauvignon Blanc, and their wines are full of freshness. The Sauvignon Blanc 2021 is crisp and acidic, perfect for pairing with seafood.
Boela Gerber is the winemaker at Groot Constantia. Both whites and reds are grown at Groot Constantia, and it is one of the oldest producing wine estates in South Africa. Contrary to other wineries in Constantia, Groot Constantia primarily does red varies. It is 160 hectares, making it one of the largest wine estates in Constantia.
Silvermist Vineyards is a small winery in Constantia led by winemaker Greg Louw. You may know it as the home to the famed La Colombe Restaurant. Silvermist white wines are known for their fresh, fruity, clean, and crisp flavors. The Silvermist Sauvignon Blanc 2020 is no exception. Silvermist is the only certified organic vineyard in Constantia and extreme care has been put into the land and vineyard. Invasive alien trees were cleared by hand, wood was reused in buildings around the property, and vines are grown without the need for irrigation, pesticides, or fertilizers used during the farming or wine-making process.
Wade Bales Constantia White
The winemakers of Constantia are a tight-knit group. Because of their closeness in proximity and operations, it's easy for these winemakers to get together under one roof to celebrate and develop wines together. This is part of the Constantia ethos. Two wines showed this; the Wade Bales Constantia Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2019 and 2020. Both wines are a testament to the region’s collaborative nature. This regional series brings together eight winemakers of Constantia to contribute their “finest Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon to create the ultimate expression of their region’s signature style.”
The Wade Bales Constantia Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2019 has layers and depth to the wine; the flavor of the wine develops from bottle to glass and as you sip. The Wade Bales Constantia Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2020 has freshness and elegance to it, and that is what Constantia is all about. This wine smells like summer in a bottle with fresh and bright acidity to it.
About visiting the Constantia Wine RouteFrom rich, powerful reds to crisp, aromatic whites, the Constantia Valley has everything you could want from a wine to serve at a braai, all the way to a fancy dinner. On your next visit to Cape Town, think of more than just Stellenbosch. Explore some of these incredible wineries that have history and experiences across centuries. The beauty of wine is sharing and discovering it together, so of course take your friends with you. Constantia is only 30 minutes outside of Cape Town and several tours are available to get the most out of your trip. Even Cape Town's City Sightseeing red bus stops at some Constantia wine farms.
Look out for the Constantia wines on your next dinner excursion or trip to the liquor store and explore the region online at constantiawineroute.com.