It doesn’t look all that appetizing, but trust us, noble rot is vital to making some of the most delicious sweet wines in the world, including Sauternes, Tokaji, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese.
Noble Rot, also known as Botrytis Cinerea attacks healthy ripe grapes. It weakens the skins of the grape which in turn accelerates the evaporation of the water causing the grapes to shrivel.
However this process also concentrates the sugars and the acids, as well as adding its own unique flavours. This all combines to make a pretty delicious sweet wine.
There are certain conditions needed to allow this to happen. Which include a problem free ripening season to produce the grapes, damp misty mornings to encourage the mould, followed by dry afternoons to dry the grapes.
These very specific growing conditions can’t be found everywhere and certainly can’t be relied upon to occur every single year. This makes producing these wines very temperamental.
As you can see from the picture, noble rot doesn’t spread to every single grape, so to make the best sweet wines the grapes need to be hand-harvested. This means that careful selection is needed and several passes through the vineyard may be necessary. Due to the hand harvesting and the specific growing conditions needed, some sweet wines can cost a pretty penny.
If you ask someone to explain the flavour that noble rot imparts on the final wine, you’re likely to get a variety of answers. Some will say orange marmalade, apricots and pineapple. Some will say rye bread, cabbage and mushrooms.
All sweet wines are different, depending on the grapes used and where it was produced. How much care was taken with grape selection and how the conditions fared in that vintage. So we suggest picking up a couple to try, and seeing what tickles your fancy.
My absolute favourite sweet wine is the Tabali Late Harvest Muscat. It is absolutely delicious and completely addictive. Rich, complex, smooth and balanced.
So next time you’re drinking a nice Tokaji or Sauternes, you’ll know where it all started.