botrytis cinerea

Rot and mould

Continuing on the sweet theme, if you enjoy wines made from frozen grapes, then chances are you’ll love wines made from rotten grapes too.

Yes, you read that right; some of the most prestigious sweet wines in the world are made due to a certain type of fungus that grows on the grapes.  

noble rot

In order for noble rot (latin name: botrytis cinerea) to grow, you need very particular conditions in the vineyard, for which you’re completely at nature’s mercy. The reason it’s known as ‘noble’ rot is because it’s a good rot that we want to encourage; without it it’s not possible to make these styles of sweet wine!

Essentially a damp misty morning will encourage the rot to take hold on the grapes. This mould weakens the skin of the grape and so when the sun (hopefully!) comes out in the afternoon the grapes begin to shrivel. This process of drying out the grapes is crucial, as it concentrates the sugars, hence why you can make them into sweet wines.

The thing about noble rot is that it doesn’t affect a bunch of grapes evenly. In fact, some grapes will be completely raisined while others on the same bunch will be completely unaffected (see image above).

Come harvest time, this means that the pickers must pick individual berries, rather than whole bunches. And they have to go through this process up to seven times to make sure they collect all the grapes once they’re raisined. Naturally, the increased labour makes the price of these wines skyrocket.

In some years though, disaster will strike and the rot will fail to materialise. I’m sure you can imagine how devastating it is for the producers in those years – especially financially.

So what should you look out for if you want to try these wines? Well, most of the famous names such as Sauternes, Tokaji and even Trokenbeerenauslese, are made using this method so you’ve got lots of options to choose from.

By the way, the wines don’t actually taste like mould! The rot gives the wines a very unique character which shows itself as dried apricots, marmalade, ryebread and mushroom. It adds a wonderful complexity which makes these wines a pleasure to savour.

Of course, they tend to work very well alongside desserts such like syrupy tarte tatin (such as the beaut below, eaten at Galvin). But, they’re also a great match for savoury dishes such as foie gras and a cheeseboard.

tarte tatin