TASTING PANEL – SWEET WINE
Get your sweet freak on with the top of the crop from the judges’ deliberations on sweet and fortified wines.
If there's any time of year to get your sweetfreak on, it's now. Our judging team gave their tooth cavities something to scream about – all in the name of hunting out New Zealand's most luxuriously lovely, sweet and fortified wines just for you dear reader...
Iadore a good, sweet, sticky wine. To be honest it doesn’t even faze me when someone at the table refuses a glass because that generally means more for me. Many people refer to these wines as ‘dessert wines’, but I think that’s terribly unfair. Kiwis have this habit of hiding these wines away (often in the fridge – eeek!) and not bringing them out until the very end of their big, often very boozy, dinner parties when (regrettably) brains are often too foggy and taste buds too tired to really appreciate them. I suggest opening the bottle right at the beginning of the evening to give everyone a sip or two as an aperitif. The sweetness will excite your taste buds, making you eager for great flavours, and you’ll still have enough left over to give everyone a taste at the end of the meal. One of the great misconceptions about dessert wines is that they’re loaded with alcohol; not true. As a rule they’ll contain between eight and 12 per cent alcohol – less than most dry whites. They’re also not fortified with extra alcohol like ports, sherries or liqueurs (we’ll get to those later). Another misconception is that they’re made by adding sugar to a wine – wrong.
The theory is to concentrate the natural sugars in the grapes and then try not to ferment it all away into alcohol. So how do they end up so sweet?
THE 3 MAIN METHODS:
Encouraging botrytis cinerea (noble rot) infection of the grapes on the vine.
Delaying the harvest of ripe grapes (late harvest).
Freezing the grapes (ice wine).
Many winemakers feel the botrytis method produces better-balanced wines, and on the shelf those bottles with ‘botrytis’ or ‘noble rot’ on the label are a wee bit pricier. So what is it? Well, it’s a fungus. If botrytis spores take hold in the vineyard during periods of high humidity and it’s uncontrolled, the results can be disastrous because the grapes will rot. However, if suitable conditions prevail (misty mornings, clear fine days, low humidity) then the results can create magic in a bottle.
Botrytis dehydrates the berry, increasing its natural sugar concentration. It also metabolises tartaric acid, which helps maintain the acid balance, plus it increases glycerol levels, creating wines with a more ‘silky’ mouthfeel. The berries end up looking like dusty, grey, mouldy raisins – heinously ugly – but containing precious drops of liquid gold.
Our blind-tasting of 60 entries was carried out under competition conditions and expertly coordinated by Janet Blackman at AUT University in Auckland. The majority of entries were traditional noble or late-harvest styles; however, our judges also assessed a selection of fortified wines. ‘Fortified’ wines have had ‘spirit’ added, raising the alcohol level of the wine to between 17 and 20 per cent and are commonly presented as ports, sherries, liqueurs and Muscat de Beaumes-devenise styles. The judging was tough, yet a whopping 62 per cent of wines earned medals, 13 scored silver, and our seven gold medal winners would have lovers of the world’s finest sweet wines scratching their heads with disbelief at their value for money. Riesling clearly ruled the roost, but our judges were thrilled to see sensational examples of gewürztraminer, pinot gris, viognier and even an outstanding blackcurrant liqueur in the mix. We are absolutely oozing with excitement at being able to announce our Top 12 New Zealand Sweet and Fortified Wine Panel selection for Christmas 2018 – enjoy!
“Many people refer to these wines as dessert wines, but I think that's terribly unfair"