Rot. Fungal infection. These are not the most attractive of terms, but when it comes to the effect that “Noble Rot” (Botrytis Cinerea) can have on grapes when properly controlled, it can be quite a wonderful thing.
So, how does this rot work on healthy grapes to make a delicious drink ? Like any good fungal infection, it likes heat and moisture. The fungus essentially sucks all the water from the grapes, leaving behind goodies like sugars and acids. This results in a more concentrated and intense juice from the grapes. Usually white grapes that have high natural acidity, such as Semillon and Riesling, are chosen to become “stickies.” Botrytis wines also have a very unique aroma, over other “stickies,” that of apricot marmalade or jam.
Some the most expensive wines in the world are made from Botryitised wines, as the conditions for good growth vary each year and rely on many factors. Chateau d’Yquem is by far the most well known of these “sticky” wines from Sauternes in France, where the wines are usually made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The Aszu wines of Hungary’s Tokaji mostly made from the white grape Furmint, have a very strict grading criteria (puttonyos) about how much sugar is left after the grapes have been pressed. Long lived, due to the amount of acid, they are exceptionally high in sugar (usually well over 150 grams per litre) and low in alcohol, sometimes not even reaching double digits for ABV (Alcohol by volume)
Not everyone wants Botrytis in their vineyard, so great lengths are reached in order contain it if not wanted, usually through sulphur sprays and dropping (cutting off) infected bunches before, literally, the rot sets in.
Here’s 3 Australian “Sweet” wines that don’t reach the dizzying dollars of the d’Yquem, but are still “sweet as.”
Berton Vineyards, Reserve Botrytis Semillon, Riverina, NSW 2013
From the Riverina district of NSW, home to Australia’s most awarded Dessert Wine. Bright gold in colour: distinct honeysuckle, apricot, dried pineapple, citrus, almonds, popcorn kernels and toffee. Well balanced on the palate, sweet but not quite luscious. Richly fruited with preserved lemons, grapefruit and apricot jam, matched with plenty of zesty acidity. Could handle a little short term cellaring, but a good one for the upcoming silly season that won’t break the bank.
Wine sample courtesy of Berton Vineyards
Singlefile Wines, Botrytis Riesling, Frankland River, WA 2014
From a single vineyard, the Riversdale Vineyard in Frankland River, all the way down in the Great Southern district of WA. Not quite at the end of the International Riesling scale of Dry/Medium Dry/Medium Sweet/Sweet…but there’s little room to move. Floral and expressive nose. Flinty riesling with baked lime tart and lime marmalade, a little tropical sweetness yet balanced with some hay. On the palate, The sweetness doesn’t interfere with incredible pure riesling fruit. Lovely juicy lime and soft sweet tropicals. Acid is still razor sharp, there’s not a line out of place here. Class act and excellent value.
Wine sample courtesy of Singlefile Wines
Gramps, Botrytis Semillon, Barossa Valley, SA 2011
This little baby won the International Sweet Wine Challenge in 2014. Pernod Ricard is the parent company of Jacob’s Creek and the old Orlando, which this label falls under.
Mushroom cap, honey, apricot jam, glacé ginger, candied lemon and a tiny bit of distinctive “White Board Texta” aroma. Exquisite with lemon curd, honey flavour spreading out through the viscous palate. Tropical ripe and fresh pineapple with fleshy stonefruit. Strikes the right balance between sweetness and still having acidity: that Semillon providing natural cut and thrust. Perfect for lunchtime cheese platter dessert: pair it with dried apricots and a light blue cheese.