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Who Would Have Thought: A Rot That’s Actually Good for Wine
12 Apr, 2016

botrytis

Botrytis grapes

‘Bad’ grapes that make good wine. This time it’s different.

You don’t throw away grapes with this rot. It is so prized that winemakers purposely look for conditions that allow their wine grapes to be infected by it.

We are referring wine made from grapes infected by the fungus ‘Botrytis Cinerea’ (pronounced ‘boh-TRY-tis sin-eh-REH-ah’).

If you’ve tasted a sweet wine from France before, then you’ve likely tasted a wine made from grapes that have rotted from the benevolent form of this fungus. It is also known as the ‘Noble Rot’.

The Noble Rot does fascinating things to the wine. It both increases both its sweetness and complexity of flavors.

The sweetness increases because the Noble Rot dehydrates the grape, thereby concentrating the sugars in the wine. The acids in the wine are also more concentrated due to this dehydration. Both sugar and acid levels are heightened and the end result is a wine with an amazing sweet-acid balance. Drinking a well made sweet wine is akin to eating a strawberry that hits this wonderful balance really well.

Because of the rot, the flavors and aromas of the wine are also chemically affected. The Noble Rot imparts interesting flavors into the wine. It’s common to hear a sweet wine being described as having the savoury flavors of honey, ginger, apricots, and marmalade. This is a wine that you really need to taste to know what it’s all about.

Having said that, an amazing wine like this is challenging to produce.

sauternesglass

Firstly because the Noble Rot has an evil twin, the ‘Grey Rot’. Also from the main fungus Botrytis Cinerea, this malevolent form of this fungus can destroy the whole crop of grapes and render it unusable.

Thus, the conditions have to be just right for the Noble Rot to flourish and the Grey Rot to be avoided. The Noble Rot, requires a moist but partially wet, partially dry condition to grow. The is brought about when early mornings are humid and misty, and the afternoons are dry, warm, and sunny to dry off the grapes.  If the weather stays wet throughout the day, the Noble Rot can turn into the Grey Rot.

Another challenge is the harvest of the grapes. Because of the dehydration caused by the rot, each grape shrivels and less juice remains in the grape. Hence, more grapes are needed to make a certain amount of wine.

Also, because the Noble Rot infects each grape individually, each grape on the same bunch may become infected at different times. This means that during harvest time, the grapes have to be hand-picked, one-by-one.

So next time you take a sip of this magical wine, savor it’s unique flavors and appreciate its difficulty to produce.

The Sauternes region in France is famous for sweet wines. Curious about the actual taste of a Sauternes? Check out the Sauternes Grand Cru Classe, Clos Haut Peyraguey, 1999 on our store.

Wine novice or interested in discovering wines you do not have access to?  Every month receive two bottles of exclusive French wines at home with our sommelier’s tasting guide. Find out more