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The Choicest Wine

British Master of Wine Tim Atkin profiles a 2012 Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, the New World's most historic wine, immortalised in 19th-century literature.

Wine has been made by most civilisations throughout history, and in every part of the world. It has inspired artists, thinkers, writers, theologians and poets through the ages, and is deeply connected with the story of recorded human history. In this series, five wine critics offer personal reflections on the personal, political, and historical stories of bygone bottles.

In today's episode, British Master of Wine Tim Atkin profiles 2012 Klein Constantia Vin de Constance. Klein is the New World's most historic wine, made on an estate that was created by Simon Van der Stel, the last Commander and first Governor of the Cape Colony, in 1685. Constantia wine became a favoured tipple of kings and emperors - Napoleon asked for it on his deathbed - and it is immortalised in print from Jane Austen "for its healing powers on a disappointed heart", to Charles Dickens in his final and unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Charles Baudelaire in his most famous volume of poems Les Fleurs du Mal, in which he compares Constantia wine to his lover's lips.

This bottle is also a great story of resurrection. Following the arrival of the vine louse, phylloxera in the upper foothills of the Constantiaberg, production ceased in 1865. Klein survived only in the poetry and prose of the 19th Century and in the illustrious cellars of Europe's great wine collectors. In 1986 it was relaunched and reclaimed its position as one of the Cape's greatest wines.

An SPG production for BBC Radio 4.

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12 minutes

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