A passing mention of Napoleon’s favourite sweet wine – Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance – in E L James’ novel 50 Shades Darker has sparked unprecedented interest in the South African sweet wine. The 2004 vintage appears in the second novel of the 50 Shades erotic trilogy at a masked ball attended by protagonists, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.
The elixir is enjoyed with the third course at the event, paired with sugared-crusted walnut chiffon candied figs and maple ice cream. According to The Telegraph, restaurants in the US have begun staging Fifty Shades evenings with replica menus. The sweet wine’s cameo has also led to daily requests to try the 2004 vintage at the estate in the Constantia Valley near Cape Town.
"We're asked every day by people coming into our tasting room about the wine appearing in Fifty Shades Darker," managing director Hans Astrom told The Telegraph, adding, "We were surprised to discover that Vin de Constance was featured in the book, but as a result many new people are discovering one of the great wines of the world,” he added.
The Constantia valley is the oldest vineyard region in the Cape with vines first planted in 1685. Napoleon is said to have drunk a bottle of Vin de Constance a day while in exile on the island of St. Helena, and every day in the week leading up to his death. French poet Baudelaire claimed that only the lips of his lover surpassed the “heavenly sweetness” of South Africa's “honey-coloured” Constantia wine.
And in 1811, the golden elixir was prescribed for Jane Austen's heroine Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility for its "healing powers on a disappointed heart.” Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr. of Le Gavroche has even written a cookbook devoted to the wine. "Vin de Constance’s romantic qualities were recognised by Jane Austen, eulogised by Baudelaire and have now been taken to a new level by E L James,” co-owner of the estate, Charles Harman told the DT.
Production of Vin de Constance ceased at the end of the 19th century after a Phylloxera epidemic swept through the Contantia Valley. The sweet wine was revived 30 years ago when the Vin de Constance vineyard was redeveloped. Up to 30,000 bottles of Vin de Constance are produced per year, depending on yields. The wine is now selling as fast as the estate can produce it, at around £35 a bottle in the UK. The 50 Shades trilogy has sold 65 million copies worldwide.