An incredibly unique 200-year-old wine, believed to have been bottled especially for French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte, sparked an intense bidding session at the recent Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction (CFRWA) in South Africa. As one of the world’s five major wine auctions, the annual event has frequently been cited for uncovering and selling some of the most distinctive wines in the world, but never before has one – in this case, a Grand Constance 1821 – been tied to military history like this.
The Grand Constance 1821, a South African blend of red Muscadel and Pontac, was reportedly part of a case of rare sweet wine that was due to arrive on the island of St Helena in late 1821, intended to keep Bonaparte company who had been living there in exile. As history buffs would note, the war strategist would have been long gone by the time it arrived anyway. He died a little earlier that year, hence never getting to taste the wine that was meant just for him.
Regardless, the Napoleon Bonaparte wine fetched a hammer price of $420,000 rand (AU$40,000) at CFRWA, a bidding frenzy no doubt fuelled by the auction house’s claims that a glass of Vine de Constance was Bonaparte’s final request.
“It’s a true unicorn wine,” said Christie’s auctioneer Charlie Foley, who directed the the sale on May 22, which apparently saw the wine ship to a UK-based Christie’s client.
According to reports, the sweet South African blend comes to market exactly two centuries after the grapes for the vintage were first harvested from the vineyards Groot Constantia, which is the country’s oldest wine estate and is located just outside of Cape Town. Despite it’s age, the wine was carefully re-corked in 2019 along with 2 other bottles that are still being stored by South African drinks maker Distell.
If nothing else, the fact that this Napoleon Bonaparte wine caused such an apparently frantic bidding war highlight how much command this old-world South African winery still has for wine collectors the world over. Groot Constantia first laid roots back in 1685, and by 1821 its hero products had become so revered around the world that they were known favourites of George Washington, Marie Antoinette, Frederick the Great, and King George III.