A 200 year old bottle of South African wine – still in drinkable condition – just sold at auction for a record price

Multiple records were smashed during a virtual live auction facilitated by Strauss & Co this week, featuring five iconic single bottle lots of South African wines.

The marquee lot and expectedly the star of the sale, a bottle of Grand Constance 1821 fetched a staggering R967,300 including commission, doubling an earlier auction record in April this year.

This extremely rare bottle of sweet wine, likely destined for Napoleon before his death in 1821, is in fine condition and was owned by the Malan family.

Notably, all 5 wines sold are in fine and drinkable condition, having all been tasted recently with high acclaim by local and international critics, Strauss & Co said.

The coveted 1957 vintage of South Africa’s oldest red wine – Chateau Libertas and the iconic GS Cabernet Sauvignon 1966 both achieved R91,040.

The former, a 100 pointer from Greg Sherwood MW, and the latter 20/20 from Jancis Robison are record prices for red South African wines. Both bottles have recently been re-corked, ensuring perfect condition and longevity.

The night belonged to the sweets though, Strauss & Co said, firmly establishing South Africa’s status as a producer of world-class sweet wines.

The first commercial vintage of the Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 1987 achieved R34,140, while a 275ml bottle of the Jaubert Family Muscat d’Alexandrie, drawn from a 115L barrel in care of the Joubert family for more than 200 years and seven generations, fetched R91,040.

Auctioneer’s note on Grand Constance 1821 – 1 x 375ml

By 1821, Constantia wine was arguably at the height of its fame, universally known ‘to soften the temper of ministers, and to sweeten the lips of royalty itself’ – Groot Constantia

A handful of bottles remain from a collection purchased by three South African wine personalities on auction in London in 1983. The late Frans Malan’s share was carefully cellared at Simonsig Wine Estate and Strauss & Co is proud to offer a pristine bottle 200 years after harvest.

The 1983 auction bottles were likely from the cellars of Apsley House, home of the dukes of Wellington. The labels stating ‘décanté en 1883’ suggests that their bottling might have taken place in
France in 1883, before being sold to English provenance.

Research compiled by Joanne Gibson for Winemag.co.za earlier this year suggests that Constantia sweets would have indeed changed French hands.

From Frederick the Great of Prussia to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France, from American founding fathers George Washington and John Adams to Britain’s mad King George,
possession of ‘the sweet, luscious and excellent dessert wine’ was craved by all.

It was sold ‘on allocation’, with much of the 1821 harvest allocated to St Helena, where for five years it had been reserved for the exclusive enjoyment of Napoleon – a bottle a day, in fact.

However, the exiled emperor died on 5 May 1821 – his last request a glass of his beloved vin de constance – which resulted in a supply of Grand Constance 1821 vintage to enter the market.

The Grand Constance 1821 is held in its original, hand-blown glass bottle, each of the bottles taking a unique shape, and presented in a wooden case. Bottles from the London auction have been recorded, with a recent note below by Michael Fridjhon and Jean-Vicent Ridon.

Due to the uncompromised condition of this bottle, the auctioneer has decided not to interfere with the closure and sell in its original state.

At the buyer’s discretion, a complimentary professional recording service can be offered as part of the sale.

This service includes alphanumeric identification on the new closure and a seal to ensure traceability going forward.


Read: A look at the Morgenhof Wine Estate in Stellenbosch which is set to go on auction

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A 200 year old bottle of South African wine – still in drinkable condition – just sold at auction for a record price