Cocktails of the Rich & Famous – Vin De Constance

 

This is the first in a new series of occasional articles entitled “Cocktails of the Rich & Famous”*, which will investigate products that were favoured by, invented for, or otherwise closely associated with some prominent character from the past. To kick off, I shall be featuring a drink favoured by Napoleon, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

In 1685, Simon van der Stel was granted a farm near the Cape Peninsula in South Africa by a Dutch East India official. Van de Stel named the farm Constantia (after the official’s granddaughter) and found the decomposed granite soil and shelter of the coastline valley productive for growing grape vines.

In 1776, Hendrik Cloate purchased the Constantia Estate and increased the winemaking. When Hendrik died in 1818, his son, Johen Gerhard Cloate, inherited Klein Constantia (the upper part of the farm) and, by this time, there were 33,000 vines there. The popularity of the sweet wine soared, with it was being enjoyed by the social elite and many of the crowned heads of Europe.

Phylloxera (the wine blight) struck Constantia in the late 1860s, signalling the beginning of its demise. Eventually, the estate was sold and, soon after, their acclaimed wines disappeared.

Then, in 1986, Klein Constantia saw the first vintage of a recreated sweet Constantia wine, now known as Vin de Constance. This project was initiated by new owner, Douggie Joost.

Napoleon Bonaparte a great fan of Constantia

Napoleon Bonaparte a great fan of Constantia

What about the fame?
As I  mentioned during the 19th century, Constantia was favoured by heads of Europe, such as Prussia’s Frederick the Great and Napoleon. Such a fan was the former emperor of the wine that, when he was exiled following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo to St. Helena, he had some shipped in specially.

In Jane Austen’s ‘Sense & Sensibility’, Mrs Jennings reflects upon her husband’s fondness for the wine, claiming that it benefits his “colicky gout”. Elinor Dashwood is given some of “the finest old Constantia wine … that was ever tasted” (originally intended for her now sleeping sister) and reflects to herself of its “healing powers on a disappointed heart”.

But what does Vin de Constance taste like?

On its own
Nose: Dry grape, followed by sweeter honey and spice notes, such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Very inviting.
Taste: The wine’s texture is smooth and silky and, in terms of taste, an initial dryness leads to some sweeter honey notes, followed by the flavours of fresh, succulent and juicy grapes. There is a plummy jamminess towards the end and a hint of copper on the finish. Lightly chilled, this a crisp and refreshing drink and very pleasant to savour.

Martini

I used a 4:1 Gin to Vin de Constance ratio. The wine adds a sweet, creamy note with a hint of spice, slightly reminiscent of homemade rice pudding. The finish is slightly herbal with some higher floral notes. The drink is like a cross between a dry and a sweet Martini.

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Emperor Napoleon

This makes a rich and flavourful drink that has strong, warming Cognac on one side, the juicy and sweet Mandarine Napoleon sitting on the other, neatly bridged by the Vin de Constance. There are herbal elements, too, as well as a lot of sweet citrus. For a tart and extremely refreshing drink, add 10ml of lemon juice, to make an “Emperor’s Vacation”.

Collins

With the lemon and the honey notes from the wine, this is reminiscent of a hot toddy for the summer: long, cool and refreshing, but you can still appreciate the finer points of the wine. It’s also not too heavy, alcohol-wise, so perfect for a scorching afternoon.

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Adonis

A full and rich drink that’s full of flavour: there’s hints of anise, wormwood, basil, rosemary, a touch of mint, bitter orange peel, lemon, green apple, vanilla, orange blossom, honey and a spicy mead with cinnamon. Refreshing, but with so much depth of flavour; this is one of the best vermouth cocktails that I’ve ever had – simply sublime.

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Vesper

Initially dryer than a Lillet Vesper, with a flavour of milk & honey that then builds toward the end. Whilst not as crisp, it’s much more complex and – overall – rather a good drink. Very, very tasty.

*It was originally “drinks of the rich and famous”, but I preferred the sound of “cocktails”; I hope you will forgive the indulgence.

Cocktails with… Oliver Twist Gin

Being based, as we are, near Portsmouth, you can’t help but know some of the city’s famous residents, such as:Conan Doyle, Peter Sellers, Brunel, Chritsopher Hitchens, HG Wells and Charles Dickens. It is the last of these great men who is of particular relevance today, as we look at a gin named after one of his most famous creations, Oliver Twist.

Oliver Twist Gin was created by the Guernsey-based SD Spirits Ltd. The gin is unusually described as a “Distilled London Gin”. Technically, it is also a London Dry Gin, but the Spirits wanted to emphasise the fact that the gin is made in London; this is a similar idea to that of “London Cut”, which is another geographical moniker.

The gin is made at Thames, is bottled at 40% ABV, and contains four botanicals.

Own
Nose: Classic gin; dry juniper and coriander, a little salty, too.
Taste: Strong juniper with some lighter floral elements. Very dry coriander and bitter herbs on the finish.

Gin & Tonic
No nonsense, good strong juniper, with some sweetness at the end. All-in-all, a good classic-style G&T.

Martini
Very smooth, but still flavourful. The gin lets the vermouth come through, so there is synergy between the two. Soft initially, crisp at the end and pretty easy to drink.

Negroni
Intense and quite sweet, but very herbally bitter on the finish, which is quick. Overall, this came across as being a rather extreme (intense) drink; it’ll knock your socks off, but, if you love Negronis, this is for you.

Pink Gin
Rounded and powerful with a juniper kick. This works quite well, but is quite strong, both in terms of flavour and of perceived proof. The herbs and spice of bitters come through and the texture is silky, almost syrupy.

Gin Old Fashioned
A smooth, but spicy number, I found this easy to drink and a great way of enjoying the characteristics of the gin.

In the spirit of invention, here are some more unorthodox cocktails:

Mr Bumble’s Bongo
Gin and Umbongo; an unlikely combination, but one that was recommended by the folks at Oliver Twist Gin. It works surprisingly well and I really like it. The combination seems to bring out grapefruit from somewhere, but neither the gin nor the juice contain any. Very refreshing, easy to make and really worth a try.

What the Dickens?
This is a recipe that I came up with recently, but hadn’t found a name for. It looks like it won’t work on paper, but, once in the glass, it is pretty tasty.

[35ml Oliver Twist Gin, 15ml Lemon Juice, 5ml White Creme de Cacao, 5ml Creme de Menthe 100ml Soda Water]

The drink looks like a normal Collins and, initially, that is the flavour that you get: a fresh, dry mix of gin and lemon juice, but after the lemon, juniper and coriander, you get a subtle finish of dry mint chocolate. It works surprisingly well and makes you keep on sipping.

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The Artful Dodger (Gin & Jam)
A variation on a drink from the 1930s Savoy Cocktail book, The Marmalade Cocktail. I’ve substituted the marmalade for jam in a nod to the Jammy Dodger biscuits.

[35ml Oliver Twist Gin, Juice of Half a Lemon, 1tsp Jam – SHAKE]

This works well, although it’s important not to overdo on your measure of gin, so that you just get a jammy, strawberry finish subtly in the background. There’s a good amount of fresh tartness form the lemon juice, which works well with the angelica and coriander in the gin; to top it off, juniper comes through too. Scrumptious.

In Conclusion
Oliver Twist Gin has a small number of botanicals, but is still very flavourful. It is of a classic style of gin that works well in the traditional cocktails, such as a Gin & Tonic, but I also found that it made some delicious contemporary drinks such as the combination with Umbongo and in The Artful Dodger.

Oliver Twist Gin is available for around £26 for 70cl from The Whisky Exchange