Liquid history: Vin de Constance


Simon Berry, our former Chairman, delves into the collections at No.3 to reveal the story behind one of our most remarkable bottles

The historic bottles that line the Directors’ Dining Room in St James’s Street have one thing in common: they come from an era when glass was so expensive that – no matter how precious the wine – the bottle was always worth more. As a result bottles were re-used many times, and the “label” on the outside indicated the owner of the bottle, not the origin of the wine.

There is one exception to this rule. Dating from approximately 1800, this rather elegant bottle is the earliest known to us when the wine was expensive enough to warrant its own name on the outside. Curiously, it’s a wine from South Africa – Cape Town, to be exact. In the local Cape Dutch, the medallion reads Constant Wyn – Wine from Constantia. At the time it was the costliest wine in existence – sweet, intensely grapey and from an exotic part of the world. However it was produced close to an Atlantic port, and therefore reasonably easy to transport to important markets. Furthermore (and whisper this to your French friends) Napoleon had pronounced it his favourite wine. In the six years he spent on St Helena before his death, the equivalent of five bottles a day were shipped from Cape Town to ease his exile.

With celebrity endorsement like that, no wonder this was, at the time, the only wine in the world expensive enough to have its own bottle.

The same style of wine is today made by Klein Constantia – its iconic Vin de Constance. Find out more about Constantia here.

This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of our No.3 magazine.