A few hundred years ago a German Count fell in love with a woman during his travels and forgot to return home in time to give the order for his grapes to be harvested. The workers fretted as their beautiful bunches of ripe grapes slowly began to rot. They couldn’t harvest the grapes in the Count’s absence. As Rainer Erlinger wrote in the Guardian, “When it comes to clichés, the Germans are extremely diligent, efficient and disciplined about living up to them.”
Eventually the Count came home. The grapes were completely rotten but he instructed them to be harvested anyway. The resulting wine was declared to be the best that anyone had tasted. Either the love of a woman, a disregard for time or the workers’ disciplined attitude had produced nectar fit for Gods.
Similar stories may be found in Italy, Hungary, France and any other European country that claims to have harnessed the concentrating powers of a beneficial vineyard mould called botrytis cinerea. Given the right sort of weather botrytis can double the flavour and sweetness in grapes. The resulting brown, furry bunches look like dead rats hanging by their tails but the resulting wine can be fantastic. If the weather doesn’t co-operate the entire harvest may be lost. Serious sticky is a risky business.
New Zealand makes great sweet wine from botrytis-affected grapes although we can’t claim to have invented the process and don’t have any colourful stories about their origin in this country. However a bit of Kiwi ingenuity in the vineyard helps reduce the risk of failure and has resulted in some truly great wines.
Many top dessert wine styles were made in 2011, a vintage that in most regions produced enough botrytis to work its magic on the grape crop when it was needed. Marlborough, in particular, is a hot spot for sweet wine lovers.
Forrest Botrytised Riesling, Marlborough 2011 (375 ml) – $40
Forrest earns my vote for making the country’s best sweet wine over the past decade. They certainly came up with a winner in 2011. My tasting notes reveal, “Very strong botrytis influence with pure honey flavours although varietal citrus/tree fruit characters still emerge with strength. The wine has a great texture – smooth, mouth-filling and not at all cloying. Superb botrytised Riesling.” – view on bobcampbell.nz
Giesen The Brothers “The Sticky”, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (375ml) – $29.99
It is unusual to find a very good example of sweet Sauvignon Blanc – this is an outstanding example. Very intense wine with pristine, pure honeyed botrytis characters that allow varietal flavours to show through. Though very sweet the wine is not at all heavy or cloying but maintains an unusual and appealing lightness. Truly delicious. – view on bobcampbell.nz
First published in KiaOra Magazine – May 2012.