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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?


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"

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