Surprisingly Good – and Not Only for the Red Bus Tourists
Constantia Valley Experience 3.0 Wine 3.5

Surprisingly Good – and Not Only for the Red Bus Tourists

Thursday 12 January 2017

Experience: 3/5
Wines: 3.5/5

A red tourist bus was leaving the white gates of Groot Constantia as I arrived. It was a symbolic moment and succinctly captured my apparent reluctance to visit this great vineyard.


The comprehensive website proclaims “We are South Africa’s oldest wine producing estate”. It was founded by Simon van der Stel in 1685. The Constantia estate was his home and where he produced wine for 27 years. Steenberg wine estate might quibble with this claim, being the “Cape’s first farm, established in 1682”. Nonetheless, Groot Constantia is now very modern and with a well directed tourist route through the many historic buildings and places to eat and visit.


I headed for the expansive tasting room. It was not my first time but my first since starting to study wine and so it felt something of a new experience. I chose a table away from the bus load of Japanese tourists to somewhere quieter and where I could concentrate on my tasting.

Not all wines for sale are available for tasting and I selected 5 from the 8 that were (R75, etched wine glass included). I chose both whites and three reds. My hostess, Schauné, understood my desire for ‘blind’ tasting and gave me the wines in a different order.


The two whites – served at room temperature and not chilled – were very similar in colour, the first being more of a straw-yellow and the second a green-yellow. Both had low ‘legs’ that reflected the relatively low 13.8% alcohol content. I struggled to describe the nose accurately but picked out gooseberry and red apple for glass 1 and kiwi, green apple and asparagus for glass 2. These were drinkable wines, simple and clean on the palate, dry and with a crisp finish.

I knew from my tasting selections that one was a Sémillon (so I thought) and the other a Sauvignon Blanc. They tasted similar and I thought they were Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, respectively. Maddeningly, I had them the wrong way round. In mitigation, neither were single variety wines and both from 2016. The Sémillon is blended 53% : 47% with Sauvignon Blanc. The Sauvignon Blanc contained 14% Sémillon.


I knew I had to up my tasting game with the red wines. Surely things could only get better? My heart sank when I saw the three glasses side by side. All three were medium-full bodied and near identical in colour. Glass 6 had a slight bluish tinge but otherwise was much the same dark cherry red as the other two and with similar medium ‘legs’. Glass 4 had the cigar box and dark chocolate nose of a Merlot and was full in the mouth with firm tannin and a medium finish.

Glasses 5 and 6 were clearly different on the nose and palate. The first was full of blackcurrant and blackberry, peppery on the palate and also high in tannin. The second was more red berry with some wood and softer tannin.


My assessment for the 3 glasses was: Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Well, at least I guessed one right today – the Merlot! Schauné was really helpful in explaining why I had had such difficulty. She had good knowledge and was a successful student of wine too.

Groot Constantia’s red wines are all grown on slopes between 50m and 100m above sea level. They are exposed to the cool breezes from the Atlantic Ocean and so not all ripen fully. None of the reds develop their full colour and so are medium in body and not heavily bodied. The Shiraz, for example, is not as peppery as a usual Shiraz. The Cabernet Sauvignon, a variety I have little experience in tasting, has thicker skins and known as the ‘King of Reds’ and is good for ageing.

This makes Groot Constantia’s reds more drinkable to many but darn difficult to pick out in ‘blind’ tasting as I discovered. Schauné’s explanations helped and I learned a lot. After, she poured me a glass of the single variety Pinotage, another wine I have little tasted, which had a nose of strawberries and raspberries together with a smooth, balanced palate. I also tasted the premium Gouverneurs Reserve, a near equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with added Petit Verdot. This was my favourite red – and with a price to match – with a strong nose of blackberries and red cherry, elegant, complex and smooth on the palate and with a long finish.

Groot Constantia was a very pleasant surprise and I had my prior perceptions severely challenged, and not just by the wines. The wines were all of a high quality, many award-winning too. I shall go again but shall choose a moment out of the tourist season when the tasting room is a little less hectic.



The Latin meaning of Constantia means constancy or steadfastness, attributes that Simon van der Stel held in high esteem. They are certainly apt terms for the enduring history of over 330 years wine-growing on the estate.

I did buy one wine. It was one I didn’t taste too which is a first for me on a wine-tasting visit. I bought the last three bottles – yes, the very last three bottles – of 2015 Chardonnay (Platter’s 5 Star rating). Little did I expect that ‘blind’ tasting would end up as ‘blind’ buying.


Wines tasted (bought *):


2016 Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon (53% Sémillon, 47% Sauvignon Blanc) – R86
2016 Sauvignon Blanc (86% Sauvignon Blanc, 14% Sémillon) – R123
2015 Chardonnay – R186 – TASTED later; SOLD OUT at Groot Constantia * FAVOURITE WINE


2014 Merlot – R186
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon – R186
2015 Shiraz – R186
2015 Pinotage – R186
2013 Gouverneurs Reserve (32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 28% Cabernet France, 9% Petit Verdot) – R327


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  1. Always a Favourite -Guaranteed to Delight – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] menu and accompanying literature as we arrived. It surprised me to learn that Steenberg (not Groot Constantia) is South Africa’s oldest vineyard. It was founded in 1682 by Catharina Ustings Ras, a German […]

  2. Excellent Unstated Wines and Service – Naturally! – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] It had an almost strawberry and raspberry nose – reminiscent of the Pinotage I tasted at Groot Constantia – with a sweet plum flavour and light on the pepper spice I usually associate with a Shiraz. […]

  3. Intriguing and Confusing – An Enigmatic Experience – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] has neither the grand historic buildings of nearby Groot Constantia or the superb views of the wine estates high on the Constantia Nek (Beau Constantia and Constantia […]

  4. High Living on the Stoep Sipping Aged, Luscious Red Wines – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] Constantia and so easy to overlook. Blink and you will miss it as you dash past en route to or from Groot Constantia. It was the final vineyard for me to visit – number 13 of 14 (Ambeloui is currently closed and […]

  5. Red and White Wines with Long and Short Frog’s ‘Legs’ – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] guides shuffling round their guests to tight time limits. The expansive facility was reminiscent of Groot Constantia in the Constantia Valley. Only the Red Bus was missing. I could see that Anura was a busy place. I […]

  6. Simonsig shows Excellence Today with Past Legacy and Tradition – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] as if I am tasting different wines to those that were judged. Not all disappoint of course – Groot Constantia, De Morgenzon and Ken Forrester come to mind – and Simonsig didn’t […]

  7. Simonsig Excellence Today with a Traditional Legacy – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] as if I am tasting different wines to those that were judged. Not all disappoint of course – Groot Constantia, De Morgenzon and Ken Forrester come to mind – and Simonsig didn’t […]

  8. Quality Abounds on the Mound at La Motte – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] to recreational or other activities. Meerendal, Constantia Uitsig and Avontuur come to mind, though Groot Constantia – despite the hordes of red bus tourists – surprised by the quality of the wines. La […]

  9. It’s High Time Again – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] Constantia is so easy to miss on the right hand side of the road leading to Groot Constantia. As I wrote before, whilst unassuming from the road, it has a delightful stoep overlooking a lake […]

  10. Straw Berry Wine for e-Ver …. -gelegen – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] and modern books located in the original winery that was built in 1816. Like La Motte Estate, Groot Constantia Estate and Solms-Delta Wines, one needs the best part of a day for the full cultural […]

  11. Fun(ny) Times at Lourensford – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] has embraced the current fashion for ‘vinotourism’ as have other vineyards like Boschendal, Groot Constantia, La Motte, Meerendal, Solms-Delta and Vergelegen. The many visitor attractions mean that a whole […]

  12. Not So Grande at Grande Provence – Cape Wine Lovers Society

    […] front, is commonly seen in the wine books of South Africa and other publications. It reminded me of Groot Constantia. The farm dates back to 1674. Pierre Joubert, the original French owner fled from his home town of […]

  13. Better than a Fair View Where the Goats do Roam! – Cape Wine Lovers' Society

    […] visit wine farms that are popular and with a touristic reputation. Some work for me (for example, Groot Constantia and Boschendal) while others do not (Meerendal, Babylonstoren and Avontuur). Much depends on the […]

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