Noble Rot Makes Sweetest Wine

The Journal (Newcastle, England), October 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Noble Rot Makes Sweetest Wine


Byline: HELEN SAVAGE

THE best sweet wines are made from the most disgusting, rotten grapes. It takes considerable willpower to put one in your mouth, the kind that's normally reserved for the more horrid challenges designed for celebrities abandoned in the Australian bush with nothing but a television crew for company.

But this is not any old rot, it's noble rot, or to be technical, botrytis cinerea. It forms on fully-ripened, sugar-gorged grapes. It weakens the cell structure of the grape skins so that the water content evaporates, further concentrates the sugars and, by a magic of nature, also raises the acid level slightly. Thin-skinned varieties like Semillon are ideal; the thicker skins of Chardonnay are not.

Top estates, including Chateau Yquem in Sauternes, which makes the world's most expensive sweet wine, employ teams of dedicated pickers who select only the nobly rotten bunches, and even, sometimes individual berries. During harvest, they may visit the same patch of vines six or seven times. Not surprisingly the yield is derisory. A vine at Yquem will produce just a small glass of nectar.

Botrytis does not occur every year. In the baking heat of 2003 in South West France, sweet wine was more often made from raisined rather than botrytised grapes. And a few days of heavy rain can destroy the fragile berries. That's been the fear of growers this autumn.

A little dampness followed by warm autumn sun is needed, but instead, after a magnificent growing season, the latter part of September turned cool and damp. This continued into October, but a return to warmer, more settled conditions has raised hopes. If all goes well, harvest might have begun by the time you read this.

Last year's vintage was a great success. Pierre Carle, who makes delectable sweet Saussignac from botrytised grapes near Bergerac, told me: "The grapes were so ripe they had a potential alcohol of 30%. I decided to add some greener grapes to bring the alcohol down to a potential of 23%, but after 10 months fermenting in barrels, the alcohol has still only reached a little over 10% - and we need at least 11% to enable us to sell the wine as Saussignac."

He's in no hurry and thinks that the wine will eventually reach the minimum strength the local laws demand. His problem is that the yeasts in the wine are overwhelmed by so much sugar, compounded by the fact that an enzyme in the botrytis also inhibits the action of the yeasts in converting sugar to alcohol.

One of his neighbours, and another leading producer of Saussignac, is Patricia Atkinson. Pierre generously suggests that her sweet wine is even better than his own, but they're different and I like them both.

Pierre's is often richer, Patricia's the more elegant. Her 2005 is now available locally at Majestic (pounds 19.99 for 50cl). It's unctuous, magnificent and very sweet, with a smell of butterscotch and barley sugar mingled with fleeting hints of overripe melon, apricot, peach and hazelnut. A bottle of 2005 Chteau Yquem, should you be lucky enough to find it, will cost you a small fortune, but Clos d'Yvigne will give almost as much joy.

The challenge for Sylvain Labardant, who co-owns Chteau Gravelines, just across the Garonne from the vineyards of Sauternes and Barsac, 40 minutes' drive from Saussignac, is to produce high-quality wine at an affordable price. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Noble Rot Makes Sweetest Wine
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.