As beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, the same can be said for the definition of dessert wines. In the UK a dessert wine is considered any wine served at the end of a meal, while in the United States, any wine over 14% alcohol by volume is considered a dessert wine. What can be agreed upon is that dessert or sweet style wines are amongst the most exotic, flavoursome and alluring wines you will ever taste.
While dessert wines are typically high in sugar, high natural acidity is required to balance out the palate and deliver elegance, richness and complexity. Many techniques can be used to enhance this sweet balance:
As is the case with many wine discoveries, ‘botrytis’ was stumbled upon by accident. Legend has it that back in 1775 the grapes on the famous German Rhienglau estate of Schloss Johannisberg were left to rot on the vine due to a late arriving messenger. The owner of the estate, as was the tradition, had to wait for permission from the Prince-Abbot of Fulda to harvest his grapes. Reasons for this delay have been attributed to many things, but the one involving ‘highwaymen’ has a nice romance to it. The result was a delightfully sweet and concentrated wine that has been replicated across the world.
The most famous of all dessert wines hails from the estate of Chateau d’Yquem in Bordeaux, France. Vineyards dating back to at least 1711 can be found on this 126 hectare property in Sauternes. It is considered one of the world’s true wine icons. The favourable climatic conditions due to Sauternes’ ‘terroir’ allow morning autumn mists and warm humid afternoons, perfect for encouraging the botrytis fungus. American wine critic, Robert Parker, famously gave a rare 100 point score to an 1811 vintage when tasted in 1996!
Along with the famous dessert wine styles in Germany and France, the rest of the world has laid a claim for great sweet style wines.
Hungary’s Tokaji Aszú wines profess a history longer than that of the Rheinglau, with botrytised wines having been made since the 17th century, and a similar story of delayed harvest being the cause. Here Furmint grapes are used, due to its susceptibility to botrytis.
In Austria, Germany and famously in Canada, the unique practice of leaving grapes on the vine until into the winter months to literally freeze the fruit is used, creating ‘ice wine’. After ice forms on the grapes themselves, the juice that results is concentrated, rich and sweet. Perfect for a dessert wine.
In Australia, the Riverina region produces our most famous dessert wine, the De Bortoli Noble One. Winner of 100 trophies, 335 gold medals and 113 international awards it remains one of our true wine treasures. Made from 100% Botrytis Semillon, it displays all those classic flavours of dried stone fruits, apricot and honey with clean acid balance and a fantastic length of flavour. Not only is it available at Dan Murphy’s, it’s also available in 750mL bottles, a rare commodity in dessert wines!
Lifted apricot marmalade with hints of toffee and fig on the nose lay a path for a palate full of dried apricot and orange blossom honey. An outstanding expression of Botrytis affected wine, and a must have for any cellar!
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