These wines were given to me several months ago to taste. I tried them all and made my notes. When making wine notes you always think you’re saying enough to bring your future self right back to the experience. In this case I think some of the refined detail has faded, but the overall impression has stayed intact. Here is my study in stickies.
Dessert wines are a sweet class of wines, they may also be called stickies as the concentrated flavours makes for a very sweet and sticky wine. (I love it when life just does what it says on the tin.) Stickies are generally enjoyed as an aperitif or digestif, so before or after a meal, as they’re usually too sweet to enjoy with a meal.
There are different types of methods for making sweet wines. Different grapes and different regions are better suited to different methods, but ultimately any grape can be turned into a dessert wine.
Like all wine, a dessert wine will be influenced by the type of grape used, the region where it’s grown and how it’s produced. As a wine drinker you’re still looking for the complexity, balance, texture and finish that you would expect with any wine. Without the structure and flavour what you’re left with is simple and cloying.
The trick with dessert wines is that the wine needs high levels of sugar and alcohol, but as the alcohol is made from sugar this means a whole lot of sugar is required. When made naturally, dessert wine produces its sugar in the vineyard. (As with most things in this modern world, the same effect can be manufactured artificially.)
Late harvest is the easiest, natural method to understand. The grapes are left on the vine beyond the natural harvest period allowing the sugars to condense in the grapes.
The first two stickies I tasted were late harvest wines.
Wooing Tree Tickled Pink Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2012
The 2012 Tickled Pink is very sweet and bursting with ripeness. You’re hit with fresh notes of rhubarb, strawberry, peach and cherry, making this wine appear juice-like. Spending some time with the wine, the Tickled Pink expresses a fair balance with the bitterness of orange peel, the spice of cloves, a hint of forest floor and a smooth acidity. This wine would be a brilliant digestif, the predominant sweetness would offer an elegant cap to any meal.
The technical bits: 10% alc/vol, RRP $38.00
Mondillo Nina Bendigo Late Harvest Riesling Central Otago 2012
A wonderfully textured wine with a full-bodied mouthfeel. Dry, sweet and syrupy with a fresh acidity. This wine has an intense array of flavours and aromas. Opening with the sweetness of strawberries, nectar and delicate flower stalks, this wine becomes musky and herbaceous. In the mouth this wine is grapefruit and lime, pineapple and honey with a rich, long finish. In the simplest terms, this wine is très yum. My favourite of the lot for what that’s worth.
Very limited quantities, released in November 2012. Get it while you can.
The technical bits: 9.5 % alc/vol, RRP $28.00
The final dessert wine tasted was affected by Botrytis cinerea, a fungus also known as noble rot. Most botrytised wines are late harvested to allow the fungus to really take hold. Grapes quite literally shrivel up and appear mouldy and a bit furry.
Noble rot which loves the damp can produce beautiful wines, but the risk is that if the season is too wet an entire crop can be lost to the fungus. As the rot takes hold the water is sucked out of the grapes leaving concentrated flavours and adding notes of honey and apricot to the future wine.
The Clark Estate Noble Pinot Gris Awatere Valley, Marlborough 2011
The Clark Estate Noble is an example of a botrytised wines.
Botrytis lends notes of honey and apricot to a wine, these are naturally found characteristics in a Pinot Gris. This handcrafted wine has a rich expression of honey and apricot as expected but it’s well balanced by a mild spice, a hint of hay and a vibrant acidity. There was a hint of cider vinegar about this young wine, I would expect that to mellow as the wine ages. Ultimately this dessert wine reminded me of a full, sweet mead with an invitingly long finish.
The technical bits: 10.4% alc/vol; RRP $30.00
Harvesting the grapes late or encouraging botrytis as with those tasted aren't the only natural examples of creating a sweet wine. In frosty climates – like Germany and Canada – the grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine at the end of harvest resulting in eiswein or ice wine. Ice wines, as with most dessert wines, produces a small yield as there is only a small amount of sugary juice that can be pressed when the water is frozen or removed via rot.
Dessert wine can also be produced via chaptalization, when sugar or honey is added before fermentation to ensure there is enough sugar present for alcohol and sweetness. This technique is generally used to boost the alcohol in unripe, or flabby, wines. Or after fermentation fermented must (grape juice) can be added to the wine to increase the sweetness of the final wine, and dilute the alcohol, in Germany this is known as Süssreserve.