It’s curious how some new farms instantaneously enjoy a high profile and others wallow in obscurity for years. When Constantia Glen released its maiden vintage 2007 reds last year, it had most critics gushing, no doubt partly persuaded by the eloquence of Karl Lambour as winemaker while the involvement of Dominique Hébrard, former co-owner and manager of Château Cheval Blanc as consultant only re-enforces seriousness of intent.
It perplexed me when I did not share quite the same enthusiasm as some of my colleagues for these wines and I asked Lambour if I might re-look them as well as see how subsequent vintages are shaping up.
The first of the two wines currently available is Constantia Saddle 2007 (priced at R150 a bottle) consisting of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Cabernet Franc and 23% Merlot, and having spent 13.5 months in oak, 100% new. On the nose, ripe red fruit and an attractive herbal note. The palate shows good fruit expression, gentle acidity and soft tannins. Overall, I thought it represented fair value for money, well made without being spectacularly good.
On to the Constantia Glen 2007, which originally went on sale at R350 a bottle but was then subsequently repositioned to sell at R245 – draw your own conclusions. The blend in this case is 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 11.5% Petit Verdot and 11.5% Cabernet Franc and the wine again spent 13.5 months in barrel, 100% new. I found this wine less convincing, ripe on entry but with a green, almost astringent finish.
Lambour only arrived at Constantia Glen in Novemer 2006 and says that up to 2007, grapes were sold off, the vineyards consequently managed for high yields and there’s a sense that the vines were still adjusting to being farmed for top-end wine. It is also noteworthy that he describes 2007 as his “most difficult” to date with intermittent rain throughout harvest.
While cool-climate Constantia is generally celebrated for its white wines, the focus at Constantia is on red varieties, these making up 80% of the 120-ton production. The property sits in the saddle between Table Mountain and Constantiaberg and the generally north-facing vineyards receive more afternoon sun than most farms in the area, allowing for optimal ripeness of red varieties which can otherwise be “green”.
When Lambour presents the yet-to-be released 2008 and 2009 vintages, there are some dramatic quality improvements to be noted and it’s clear that he’s already got a much better fix on what the property is capable of.
Constantia Saddle will be remained Constantia Glen Three, the Constantia Glen to become Constantia Glen Five, the two wines supposedly differing only in stylistic rather than qualitative terms. The price differential will however remain on the basis that consumers need a “stepping stone” from one tier to the next.
As for stylistics, the Three might be viewed as reminiscent of Bordeaux Left Bank and Five of Right Bank. If you like your wines to show fruit purity, freshness and firm but fine tannins opt for Three; on the other hand, if you prefer them to be fleshy, voluptuous and smooth textured, choose Five. I think 2008 is a definite step up on 2007, both wines showing great intensity of fruit and hence could be described as rather modern (Lambour admits that he tried to “push the envelope” in terms of ripeness) while the wines of 2009 really are excellent and get me truly excited about the potential of this property.