While crisp ice wines will always have the delicacy of snow it’s the sweet wine made from Botyrtis grapes that have extra pungency and depth – but perhaps I’m talking rot?
I recently had a glass of Canadian Inniskillin Ice Wine 2006. This wine made from grapes left hanging on the vines until the winter following harvest. When the temperature drops, and the fruit is frozen, they are picked quickly in the early dawn and crushed. The resultant juice is intensely sweet with the purity fresh fruit and snow. The glass I enjoyed had the bracing freshness of a winter morning.
And now I am going to sound churlish, especially as this glass was generously given to me, but it was too clean, too pure, there was something missing. The taste of decay.
I am very fond of botrytis wines: Sauternes, Tokaji and the great sweet whites from the Loire Valley e.g. Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. All of these are made from grapes affected by noble rot.
Noble rot is the benevolent form of botrytis cinerea, a mould which settles on bunches of grapes, creeping in with early morning fog, piercing the skins of the grapes, leaving them convulsed with decay. Just picking these grapes takes extra time as only those berries which are perfectly rotten can be harvested. Then when these grapes are crushed spores of mould fly up from the vat in a grey cloud, but the juice that runs from off from the crushed fruit is pure alchemist gold. The wines that are made from such grapes have a decadence that other sweet wines made from ice, drying or fortification can only shudder at.
At a recent tasting of 2006 Grands Crus from Bordeaux I enjoyed a sweet run of Sauternes. All had the classic mellifluous flavours. Two wines confirmed their status as my long term favourites, namely: Château Guiraud with its added aroma of Darjeeling tea and Château Doisy Vedrines which has a delicious note of linseed oil on the nose. But all of these Sauternes have the extra dimension that comes from noble rot – a dangerous touch of decay.