22 Jul Amorim Puts a New Cork on History
The Amorim Re-corking team, which has since last year been breathing new life into vintage Cape wines, rolled into Klein Constantia last week to put new corks into one of South Africa’s most famous wine brands. Vin de Constance, made in the style of the sweet wine for which Constantia has been famous for since the 18th century, was launched under the current label in 1986, and Klein Constantia cellar master Matthew Day had asked Joaquim Sá from Amorim South Africa to replace the weathered stoppers from these earlier Vin de Constance vintages with spanking new natural corks.
This was going to be one of the re-corking team’s most revered assignments. Since its launch in 1986, Vin de Constance has captured the imagination of the wine world, and continues to do so.
The elegant, classic bottles sought to emulate the original containers from which Napoleon, among others, had poured this golden sweet elixir. From the outset, the style and quality of the natural sweet wine made by Klein Constantia from Muscat de Frontignan grapes presented itself as a drink that was uniquely South African, yet pure world-class.
Thus it is no surprise that Vin de Constance is today a revered wine on any a world stage, being both enjoyed at fine restaurants and stately homes as well as featuring in the cellars of discerning collectors.
For the Amorim re-corking exercise, Matthew had selected a line-up of Vin de Constance wines from the maiden 1986 as well as the following 1987 vintage. Although not yet commanding the prices of Constantia wines from the 19th century, these vintages are rare and sought-after, so the team knew that particular care had to be taken in the procedure.
First step was to remove the wax seal, carefully scraping off any hardened dust and other residue particles on the old cork and the bottle neck. Then the old corks were deftly removed by Joaquim, who has proven to have the finger-skills, the patience and the timing of a heart-surgeon. He uses a special instrument that both slides prongs between the edge of the cork and the bottle as well as screwing into the cork through the centre.
Some of the corks, more than 30 years old, were extracted with ease, while others had not aged so well. These tended to break, forcing the team to use elongated tweezers, some good lighting and skill to get the broken bits out of the wine.
Once open, the bottles were filled with argon gas to prevent oxygen getting into the wine. This meant the contents are kept in their original condition – once oxygen gets into an old wine like this, the wine’s health can change in an instant.
The next step was for Bruno Maia from Amorim to step up to the single-corking machine Amorim had brought along. A brand new NDtech cork is inserted into the machine, a button pressed and the cork slides into the Vin de Constance bottle while at the same time drawing out any air between the level of the wine and the cork.
Then the neck of the bottle received a wax covering, and the older Vin de Constance is good to go for another few decades with its brand new cork.
Each bottle re-corked is logged onto the Amorim digital re-corking directory to ensure that Klein Constantia has a record of the new closuring process.
One step omitted until now was the one whereby the bottles are tasted to ascertain their condition before the new cork is inserted. Matthew was responsible for this, but the rest of the team were offered a peek from a few selected bottles. As those Constantia selections from the 19th century have proven, the ability of these wines to age is phenomenal.
Some of the 1986s and 1987s were markedly darker in colour than one would find from a current vintage, the brilliant golden, sunny hues having grown deeper, more mysterious with the onset of the years. Others were as bright and gleaming as on the day they had been bottled.
But it was the tasting that amazed everyone. The complexity of the natural sweet Muscat de Frontignan made in the Vin de Constance style had increased over the years, with an array of spicy, nutty tastes complementing the burst of sappy sweetness. But fresh acidity, almost citrusy, ensures a liveliness in the wine that most 30 year olds would be happy to show.
This was hard-work, as anyone present on that day can attest to. A lot of concentration and some deft handling was involved, as Amorim and the Klein Constantia team were working with historical items.
But the immense satisfaction to be involved and to have accomplished this task successfully made it an experience to be cherished. As well as being a real honour for Amorim to be involved with.