Noble rot

Flagship wines 04.07.13

Flagship wines 04.07.13 - Credit: Archant

WHEN visiting Clark Estates in the Awatere valley in the Marlborough region of South Island, New Zealand, owner Peter Clark showed us the section of Pinot Gris Vineyard where in 2011 the fruit was nearly left unpicked due to rot. It was only when they went back to prune off the rotten fruit that they realised that it was affected by noble rot that had caused the grapes to shrivel and be covered with ugly mould.

At first sight you’d be likely to throw them away but these infected grapes can produce liquid gold that is a delicious luscious complex dessert wine after sluggish difficult fermentation. This is the story behind the limited production of 3,600 half bottles of the Clark Estate Noble Pinot Gris 2011 that is full of honey, dried apricots, mangos, marmalade and spice and a fresh balancing acidity that has the potential to age for up to 10 years developing the distinctive complex botrytised nose that has nutty overtones.

The conditions for development of noble rot are not present every year and botrytis can ruin a harvest if conditions are wet for a prolonged period. If the wet, tort producing conditions are followed by dry sunny days the botrytis works its magic underneath the rotten mouldy appearance. Only small quantities are made as the juice runs out as the skins are pierced by the filaments of the botrytis spores allowing the concentration of the sugars inside the fruit and the rot digests this and the fruit acid leaving glycerol so the wine tastes quite silky, and other reactions reduce the bitterness producing the honeyed rich flavour notes.

This is the story behind some of the classic regal dessert wines of regions such as Sauternes near Bordeaux in South West France where the luscious expensive Chateau d’Yquem is produced, and surrounding regions including Barsac, Loupiac, and St Croix du Mont. In the latter regions less prestigious but no less intriguingly rich fine dessert wines are produced such as those from Ch Loupiac Gaudiet. They are fresh, low in alcohol, well balanced and lusciously honeyed and rich.

German wine producers along the Rhine and Mosel Rivers long for the botrytis-producing conditions to appear to allow production of some of the wines on which they have built reputations. Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese wines are some of the greatest examples of botryised dessert wines that can last for many decades increasing in complexity and richness whilst retaining underlying fresh acidity. Some of the best Hungarian Tokaji wines, known as the wine of kings and which is golden nectar, is also a result of the presence of pourriture noble.

Dessert wine can sometimes be a misnomer for these wines for besides being a great accompaniment to all types of desserts as there are so many styles of these wines available they are also a fabulous complement to paté. The richness of many patés matches that of the wines and the spicy nuttiness is often present in both wine and paté. As dessert wines age these latter elemnets often become more obvious and create a wine that can be a great match for mature hard cheeses too.

So don’t turn your nose up at the sound of botrytis cinerea – check if it is noble rot capable of making some of the most lovely wines to be savoured throughout a meal. They are sweet wines that are not sugary but offer a mouthful of soft, luscious honeyed nectar that lingers on the palate!