Sweet, Sticky and Endlessly Satisfying
Whilst some would happily have a glass of desert wine every evening, for many it is only at Christmas that they indulge in a glass or two with pudding. Either way, sweet wines tend to be some of the best value wines around.
The most recognised sweet wines are reliant on noble rot, the Botryitis fungus that feeds on the moisture in the grapes taking away most of the acidity and concentrating the sugars that remain. The conditions needed for this rot to take hold are fairly precise and therefore found in particular regions of the world: Sauternes, Tokaji, Alsace and the Mosel Valley being the most well-known.
Sauternes is probably the most recognised style of sweet wine. Produced in and around Sauternes in Bordeaux from Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon grapes. These are wines of exceptional depth and body that offer sweetness without being sickly – complexity is key.
Dark amber in colour, full-bodied and unctuous on the palate with a just a hint of savoury cutting through the sweetness. 1996 was an average year in Sauternes but as always, the care and attention paid to these wines make even the average years great quality.
2001 was a great year in Sauternes with masses of Botrytis to be found. De Malle have produced a wine that lacks subtlety but not to its detriment, this is a bold, rich and creamy wine that will satisfy the hardiest of Sauternes fans.
Every vintage of Yquem is good but some will be heavier, sweeter, or fresher than others depending on the conditions that year. 2003 was a hot year with little botrytis yet Yquem produced one of their best wines of the last 20 years. An endless array of flavours and textures that keep developing year on year.
Hungarian Tokaji gained a reputation for the world’s greatest sweet white wine long before Sauternes. However, they suffered a dip in fame thanks to the state monopoly enforced during the communist-era. A return to quality over quantity back in the 1990’s has ensured the wines produced now are of greater purity and individuality. Made from Harslevelu, Furmint and a little Muscat, these are full-bodied, sweet and complex like Sauternes but with very different characteristics.
Lauded by critics yet still under the radar Szepsy’s wines are exquisite. The level of quality is hard to match both in the dry and sweet wines. But the Tokajis tip into the genius bracket with exceptional depth and complexity. The 1998 is dark and rich with candied apricots and a touch of freshness just keeping it from being too heavy.
A region that has grown rapidly and created some of the largest producers in Germany. Large scale production is common but runs alongside the smaller, more precise and quality conscious producers that create some exquisite sweet wines.
Auslese wines are made using late harvest grapes and can contain some botrytized grapes. They will all be labelled Auslese but the presence of a gold capsule in the name and on the bottle will denote the presence of Botrytis. This 1998 offering from Joh Jos Prum is a Goldkapsel and has a wonderful balance of sweetness and acidity with great purity of fruit.
Like all regions that produce both sweet and dry wines it’s helpful to know what to look out for on the label before choosing. Selection de Grains Nobles in Alsace means the wine has been made using grapes selected for their noble rot; Vendanges Tardives means the grapes were harvested late in the season meaning the sugar concentration will he higher.
A good example of a botrytised Riesling from Alsace although not the most complex. Jean Becker do a good job of keeping things balanced and the 2007 has all the lush sweet fruit one would expect along with a smooth texture.