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1821 Grand Constance to go under the hammer

An exceptionally rare bottle of Grand Constance 1821 – one of only a dozen in existence – is to go under the hammer at the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction.

The bottle is being put up for auction two centuries after the grapes that went into the South Afican sweet wine were harvested from the vineyards of Groot Constantia.

“The opportunity to present what is arguably one of the most precious, scarce and coveted wines in the world at the upcoming Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction is an incredible moment.

“A treasure of this calibre presents itself perhaps once in a lifetime, and anyone lucky enough to secure this wine at auction will be rewarded with a valuable piece of wine history,” said Niel Groenewald, managing director of Nederburg and head of the CFRWA.

By 1821 Grand Constance had already made a name for itself as a favourite among royal and political circles, attracting the interest of everyone from Napoleon and Marie Antoinette to George Washington.

The dessert wine even made a cameo in Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, where Austen wrote of “its healing powers on a disappointed heart”.

Much of the 1821 harvest of Grand Constance was due to be shipped to St Helena, for the exclusive enjoyment of Napoleon. His death on 5 May meant the wines were brought back onto the market.

According to the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction, there are only a dozen bottles of the 1821 vintage left in existence. On the label the words ‘décanté en 1883’ suggests that the wine was decanted if not cellared in France.

The bottle that will go under the hammer on 22 May at the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction.

The time capsule wine was recorked in 2019 at a recorking clinic overseen by Amorim’s CEO, Joaquim Sá.

Housed in a black glass bottle, the sweet wine was also numbered with a unique seal bearing a traceable, alpha-numeric number to ensure its authenticity.

“From the late 17th century, black glass was produced to protect bottle contents from light exposure and spoilage,” Sá said.

“Traditionally coal was added to give it a dark colour. The one selected for the upcoming auction seems to have been produced using the rudimentary free-blown process, which was used until the mid-1800s,” he added.

“As Napoleon breathed his last on St Helena in 1821, the grapes for his favourite wine were just ripening on the vine.

“The chance to acquire and drink a bottle of wine 200 years after its birth is sensational. I can imagine the honeyed, spun sugar and hazelnut depths of this wine. Very few bottles still exist – it’s a unicorn wine,” said Christie’s auctioneer Charlie Foley, who will be manning the gavel at the this year’s auction.

The estimated price for the Grand Constance 1821 is R80,000 to R130,000 (£4,000-£6,500).

The Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction was established in 1975 as the Nederburg Auction and has grown to become one of the most prestigious events on the South African wine calendar.

This year the auction, in partnership with Christie’s, will take on a hybrid format that will allow for live bidding online from anywhere in the world as well as in person.

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