A sweet wine tasting

Dessert

There's a wine for every dessert.

Our coach and Senior Member of the Blind Tasting Society, Hanneke Wilson, treated us to a fantastic sweet wine tasting recently. I outlined some of the more common methods of creating sweet wines in a previous post; this tasting covered many of the sweet wine styles.

The first flight of three wines consisted of perhaps the better known styles. Each of these wines had seen at least some noble rot to dry the grapes on the vine and thus concentrate the sugars. To my mind they all exemplify the classic features that can help identify these wine styles blind.

The first wine was ‘La Montagne’, vintage 1996, a sweet Chenin Blanc from the Bonnezaux region of the Loire. A deep golden colour, bright with a distinct watery rim. Very aromatic with classic botrytis notes – the ‘antiseptic’ note I pick up on – along with apricot sauce and butterscotch. While the dominant note was crème caramel on overdrive, there was an appealing fresh ‘grassyness’ as an undernote. The palate showed high alcohol (14.7% a.b.v.), a full body, but typically for a Loire chenin, crisp acidity and only moderately sweet.

Next up was a classic Sauternes: Château Rayne-Vigneau, vintage 1990. This is a premier cru property and the wine made up of 71% Sémillon, 27% Sauvignon Blanc and the remainder Muscadelle. In appearance: a deep golden colour, leaning towards orange, with a thin watery rim. An incredible, complex nose of caramel, dried apricots, old books, twigs and a minty character. Moderate alcohol, medium acidity with a full body. Papaya came through on the palate, and orange peel on the finish. The sweetness was moderate, and there was a slightly bitter edge to the very long finish.

Finally in this flight: Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttunyos, vintage 2006, from the Royal Tokaji Company. Tokaji is made primarily from the Furmint grape; this example has some Hárslevelü and Muscat de Lunel as well. This wine was the lightest of the three, but still a bright, deep gold colour. It had a distinct note of ripe peaches, a metallic note and vibrant honeysuckle. Clearly the sweetest of the three, with a medium body, firm acidity and moderate alcohol.

The next flight consisted of some less common wines. Firstly a vin santo to illustrate the method of winemaking by drying the grapes on straw mats to concentrate the sugars. This example was Vin Santo di Montepulciano, vintage 2001, from Crociani. Made primarily from Malvasia del Chianti; after the drying process and fermentation, the wine is stored in small oak casks which are not completely filled. The resulting oxidation from the presence of air in the casks gives the wine a mahogony brown colour – not unlike a madeira. The nose was raisined, with prunes, grass, leather and licorice. The wine is high in alcohol (16.5% a.b.v.) with high acidity and a medium body. A note of cooked milk, or malt, comes through on the very long finish. Only medium sweet.

The Jurançon ‘Cuvée Jean’, vintage 2008, from Château Jolys, was an example of late harvesting, allowing the grape berries to dry on the vine. This wine is made in south-west France, from a grape known as Petit Manseng. A very bright, canary yellow in the glass, with an interesting nose of lemon custard, golden apple, gooseberry and tomato leaf. The last two descriptors are perhaps more familiar to Sauvignon Blanc drinkers, and indeed, a dry Jurançon can often be confused with a Sauvignon. There was a butteryness on the palate, indicative of some oak aging. This wine had moderate levels of alcohol and sweetness, crisp acidity and a moderate body.

To round out the tasting, we were treated to a fortified wine from the south of France. Maury is a classic style of wine made from the red grape, Grenache Noir. This example was from Domaine Pouderoux, vintage 2005. The pressed juice is fermented until alcohol levels have reached about 5% a.b.v., then fermentation is stopped by adding a neutral grape spirit. This ensures that much of the grapes’ natural sugars remain in the wine, rather than being converted to alcohol. This is similar to how port is made, although the resulting wine has less alcohol than port (15.5% a.b.v. compared to up to 20%). This wine was a very deep, almost opaque, purple in the glass. The nose consisted of blackcurrant cassis, boysenberry, pine needle and caramel from oak aging. Notably high in alcohol with a crisp acidity to balance out the palate. The wine was moderately sweet and had soft, drying tannins.

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
This entry was posted in Blind Tasting, Bordeaux, Hungary, Italy, Loire, Oxford Wine Events, Wines by Region and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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