Wine Time – Dessert Wines

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It seems the majority of customers visiting our cellar door have a bottle or two of  “sticky” tucked away in a cupboard, ready to share at the next dinner party at the end of the night.

It also seems the majority of these customers tend to forget about these carefully tucked away bottles of nectar on these occasions and so they remain unopened, waiting for the next social occasion. So get the bottle of “sticky” out of the cupboard now, and maybe it will be shared with friends this weekend.

Love that term, STICKY – a highly technical term used by many Australians when referring to the luscious dessert wines that have a texture not dissimilar to honey i.e. sticky!

Australia produces plenty of lovely stickies which are enjoyed with fruit based desserts ideally, and a personal favourite is when matched with a “stinky” blue cheese (stinky – another technical term!)

Stickies are made from a range of grape varieties including Riesling, Semillon, Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc – the main distinction between stickies is whether the fruit used to make these sweet sensations are either shrivelled or botrytis affected.

Botrytis (also called Noble Rot) is a naturally occurring fungus that appears as a result of grapes being exposed to a combination of rain and warmth, where the water is drawn from the berries and the resultant berries have increased   sugar and acid intensity. This sounds simple enough and very convenient when a vineyard has had the “misfortune” of lousy weather; however, there is a fine line between good rot (noble rot) and bad rot. Too much moisture turns the berries grey and unusable, so the weather conditions need to be ideal with the right amount of moisture ideally during the night and early morning, with a good amount of sun to follow. Winemakers also have the option of spraying harvested grapes with the botrytis spores and followed with exposure to both humid and dry conditions. A controlled botrytis is preferred, as the naturally occurring can be hazardous.

Botrytis dessert wines can have a golden hue with an intense orange and honey aroma with mouth filling flavours and an acidic finish.  Late harvest dessert wines have very similar characteristics to Botrytis dessert wines; however, to achieve the same result the berries have been left on the vine to shrivel naturally (without any rot), or the fruit is left to dry out in the sun after harvesting, resulting in juice of a thicker texture and with the characteristic concentrated flavours.

Obviously it takes more berries to produce a single bottle of dessert wine, which means a dessert wine is typically more expensive. It will also have a higher alcohol content and usually will come in the smaller 375 ml bottle.

Eiswein (ice wine) is another style of dessert wine made primarily in Germany and Canada, where the grapes are harvested when frozen and gently pressed to yield a highly concentrated, syrupy juice high in sugar and acidity. A traditionally made Eiswein is very expensive and is worth seeking out if you find yourself in an Eiswien producing region.

It’s an interesting exercise to do a tasting with a botrytis, a late harvest and an Eiswein side by side and note the variations in texture, aroma, colour and flavour.

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