Climbdown in Constantia

There must be many wineries at present wishing they were brave enough to reduce the prices for their non-selling smart wines, while they hold on grimly until the market (hopefully!) picks up again. But it’s a tricky thing to do – it’s a humiliating climb-down for one thing – and few actually do it. That’s why it raised a few eyebrows last week when the distributors of Constantia Glen announced radical reductions in what you can expect to pay for their wines.

Of course, if you’d bought the stuff at the previous exalted levels, you’re going to be pretty irritated at the move – and the same applies to retailers holding stock at the old levels. Perhaps the latter at least can get some sort of refund; I don’t know. Raising resentments like this is one of the reasons why price-cuts are so rare.

Constantia Glen has not been around for all that long, however, which makes things a bit easier for them – just as entering the market with a pair of expensive reds at a time of crunch was pretty bad luck (the Sauvignon Blanc had been around a little longer). But, as they are realising now, it was with a bit too much chutzpah that the maiden red Constantia Glen 2007 came out at about R100 more than its well-established and excellent near-neighbour, Buitenverwachting Christine, also a Bordeaux-style blend. A Cape Town retailer is still listing the Constantia Glen at R376, also nearly R100 ahead of icon Meerlust Rubicon, and not far short of Kanonkop Paul Sauer (R404), probably the finest of this genre in the Cape.

Also heavily outpriced is another Constantia red – one of my favourites, in fact, since it cleaned up some cellar problems that made it a bit too funky for even someone like me who doesn’t shriek with horror any time a bit of brett is spotted – High Constantia Sebastiaan. That now retails at the same outlet for R233. And Klein Constantia Marlbrook – a hugely improved wine in recent vintages, since Adam Mason took over that cellar and worked hard at this – is a positive snip at R198.

Actually, Constantia Glen’s other red blend, called Constantia Saddle, was also pretty good value, compared with the estate’s top wine. I rather preferred it in fact, finding it a little tighter and more classic though still in the modern Bordeaux mode, and also ripe, concentrated and dense, but a touch less lush.

Constantia Glen red is an extremely good wine of its type, but, rather surprisingly, it hasn’t performed well in most of the competitions it has entered, even if it does seem designed for showing well early in its life. Certainly not as well as its producers must have hoped for, to help justify the big price – two stars in Wine magazine, a sub-bronze “Commended” for Decanter, for example. In sighted tastings and considerations it has done much better, and the poor big-tasting results reflect more on the competitions than the wine, as so often.

Anyway, now’s your chance to buy the Constantia Glen range at a big discount from what you would have paid – and a chance to gnash your teeth in anger if you bought it at the previous prices. The  following are the prices per bottle (including VAT) that the distributor is now charging:

  • Sauvignon Blanc R72-91 (was R92-59)
  • Constantia Saddle R112-74 (was R185-18)
  • Constantia Glen R184-18 (was R262-66)

To which you should add 30-40% for retail prices.

(See the Constantia Glen website for the prices they are charging.) That’s quite a climbdown. And it’s hard to imagine that the other Constantia producers are not going to have a quiet snigger at seeing the brash new kid on the Constantia block being brought back closer to reality. Not that many winery owners are smirking all the way to the bank right now.

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