Furry mould on grapes or cheese can disguise a heart of pure gold. In the case of grapes the beneficial mould is called “noble rot”. Its official name is botrytis cinerea, a Latin term meaning “grapes like ashes”.
Making great sweet wine is a hit and miss business. Winemakers need a little rain to develop the beneficial vineyard mould botrytis cinerea, a necessary agent in the production of serious sweet wines. If the weather is too dry, the mould can’t form and grapes won’t achieve the extra concentration of flavour and sweetness that botrytis is capable of giving them. On the other hand if it is too wet the mould can spread too rapidly and is joined by other less desirable moulds that put the crop at risk.
New Zealand’s sweet wines are one of the wine world’s best kept secrets. That’s partly due to the fact that until recently they were banned from being exported to the EU, possibly to protect the interests of sweet wine makers in Europe. Another reason for their avoiding the spotlight is the fact that they simply can’t be made every year. They are the hand-made product of nature and cannot be produced with production-line certainty.
Since the Romans and ancient Greeks started making and writing about wine the greatest wines have always been sweet. It’s easy to understand why. Pull the cork on a Vinoptima 2007 Noble Gewürztraminer and you’ll discover a sort of wine essence that continues to deliver wave upon wave of exotic flavours long after it is opened. I shared the leftover tasting wine with some friends and didn’t bother to replace the cork on the small amount left in the bottle. When I came into my tasting room the following day the air was heavy with the wine’s sultry scent.
I’m in a euphoric mood. I’ve just tasted 61 sweet wines the best of which are fantastic. No, I promise I didn’t swallow a drop although I do plan to re-taste one or two of the winners this evening. I can’t remember a collection of local sweet wines ever reaching such a high standard. Even the worst of them were mostly pretty good while the best are truly world class wines.
There’s something magical about great sweet wines. I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill, sugary, supermarket specials but the hand-made heavyweights in half-bottles that will set you back at least $30. That may seem like a lot of money for a syrupy 375mls but I suspect few winemakers make a profit on their stickies.
Once a year I review sweet wines. It is the favourite date in my tasting calendar. Sweet wines encompass such a fascinating range of styles that I guarantee there’ll be something for everyone in my list of top wines.
There are two sorts of wine drinkers in the world: those who love Riesling with a passion and the rest who have yet to discover the delights of the world’s greatest white wine grape variety.