What I love about travelling internationally, back when it was still a thing, was the privilege it afforded me to experience the culture and heritage of other people. Where do they come from? What traditions have their culture given rise to which, in this day and age, continue to be handed down through the generations? And, most importantly, how does this inform who these people are today?
Like the time I visited Georgia, at the crossroads of Asia and Eastern Europe. There I discovered their tradition of winemaking, dating back some 8000 years, where vinification takes place in qvevri (large egg-shaped terra-cotta pots buried beneath the ground). Here, along the old silk road, they kick off a Saturday afternoon wine-drinking cum catch up session with the aid of an over-developed wild goat horn, filled with the fruit of the vine, complete with a ceremony master. And that goat horn – you drink its content in one go.
I will admit, I was happy to have left that particular tradition behind as I flew home from Tbilisi.
A Matter of Heritage
Although South Africa is a relatively new country by international standards (my hometown of Joburg is a mere 132-years old), we do have a rather proud heritage when it comes to winemaking. Groot Constantia, credited as South Africa’s oldest wine-producing farm, has been producing wine since 1685. They continue to produce world-class, quality wines and have an eyebrow-twitching list of accolades to back this up.
I am a staunch proponent of white wine, in particular Sauvignon Blanc. Since time immemorial, and without actually understanding why, the trusty Sauvignon Blanc has been my go-to varietal on all occasions. It has always felt comfortable, like reading a good book on a Sunday afternoon while lounging on your favourite couch with the African sun streaming in through the window. Pure bliss.
The Sauvignon Blanc Varietal
Hailing from the Loire Valley in western France, with its favourable cool climate to slow down ripening on the vine, similar conditions exist today in the Constantia Valley for the Sauvignon Blanc grape. These conditions have resulted in well-received Sauvignon Blanc’s from our shores. Approximately 121 000 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc are planted worldwide, of which South Africa accounts for just 9 000 hectares and the Constantia Valley, just 188 hectares.
But in terms of quality, we are right up there with the heavy hitters of Sancerre in France and the Marlborough region in New Zealand. Groot Constantia’s 2019 Sauvignon Blanc was awarded the International Sauvignon Blanc Trophy at the 2020 International Wine Challenge, a prestigious competition that selects the best wines from across the globe. Although the winning 2019 vintage is now sold out, Groot Constantia CEO Jean Naudé insists the 2020 vintage has the same winning flavour profile.
So I asked for some. And three bottles of the latest vintage were dispatched, straight from the Constantia Valley to my home, here in the heart of Jozi. Having invested some time recently in understanding just why I enjoy wine so much, and Sauvignon Blanc in particular, I was eager to experience the ripe fruit flavours this varietal was famous for. And I involved friends in my personalised wine tasting experience.
An Impromptu Winetasting at Home
I enjoyed the rather refreshing natural acidity of the wine, with notes of green citrus complimented by hints of asparagus and, perchance, some guava? The experience was delightful, delivering a perfectly timed long finish. And I wasn’t the only one who thought so. This zesty wine paired well with a variety of cheeses one Saturday afternoon as I held my own wine-drinking cum catch up session with friends, showcasing my Groot Constantia find. I was particularly fond of the pairing with the goat’s cheese on our smorgasbord of taste sensations and equally delighted to not have to endure that Georgian tradition involving a goats horn. Travel really does open your eyes.
The Sauvignon Blanc Route
Best of all, the Constantia Wine Route recently launched South Africa’s first varietal-based wine route – the Constantia Sauvignon Blanc Route. The spectrum of tasting experiences and settings on offer highlight the rich diversity of this rather unique valley, from decades-old properties steeped in history, to modern estates also producing world-class wines. The route gives visitors both the opportunity to taste an array of expressions of Sauvignon Blanc and hear from a variety of voices and personalities that make up the Constantia Valley. As if that wasn’t enough, tastings showcase a combination of current and older vintages to demonstrate the age-ability of the glorious Sauvignon Blanc varietal, straight from the Constantia Valley.
And so it was that I found myself sitting in the heart of a 132-year old city, taking in 336-years of winemaking heritage. Maybe I should challenge my dislike of Chardonnay next?