Fine wine used to be a minority pursuit but these days very few of the world’s top rated wines are affordable. The one part of the market that has not gone completely crazy is dessert and fortified wines simply because they are out of fashion.
Our dislike of sweet wines is a late 20th century phenomenon and one I fail to understand given the sheer unadulterated pleasure the best wines can bring. These wines are not just for dessert but work with pâté and rich starters and as both an aperitif and a digestif. In my house they are most frequently served with cheese. Blue is the classic match but washed rind, hard cheeses, goat and sheep cheeses — all work brilliantly.
A few weeks ago in London I was lucky enough to try 11 vintages of DeBortoli Noble One with 22 different perfectly ripe cheeses in Neal’s Yard Dairy in Borough Market. The decadent pleasures of the event were heightened for me by the fact that our mere presence thumbed the nose at the terrorists that had attacked the market just weeks earlier. Noble One was first produced in 1982 by Darren DeBortoli, a newly qualified third-generation winemaker who was thought quite mad until the wine began to win awards and fans — it is now an icon wine. Riverina in New South Wales has a warm dry climate but high humidity in the Autumn creates perfect conditions for Botrytis Cinerea the “noble rot” fungus that changes the flavour and intensifies the sweetness in Noble One’s Semillon grapes, just as in Sauternes.
The occasion was to celebrate the 30th vintage (1989 and 2012 were skipped) and it was particularly pleasing to try the 1982 which had intoxicating aromas of ripe pineapple with hints of caramel and baked apples. Levels of Botrytis varied but every wine had that tell-tale beeswax and honey character. The 2010 was darker and brought sweet hay aromas, the 2001 even darker with heather honey and caramel and a lighter 2006 had pleasing confit fruits. The 1984 had almost bitter botrytis intensity, the ’86 was grassy with sweet lemon and the intense fortified Black Noble finished the evening.
Wines this week are all from DeBortoli’s Irish importer Febvre.