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Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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The second method for producing sweet wines is to allow noble rot—the fungus Botrytis cinerea—to accelerate desiccation of the grapes by perforating their skin. Simultaneously, an enzyme released by the fungus oxidizes many substances in the grapes. A wine utterly different in aroma results, one that is also richer in flavor and body to that made from similar grapes unaffected by noble rot. A little bit goes a long way, hence the common practice of marketing these wines in half bottles.

Château d’Yquem in Sauternes, Bordeaux, is often cited as the classic example of a wine made from nobly rotten grapes. Its claim as the best such wine is hotly debated (Château Climens is the most obvious challenger in Sauternes, and they are legion in other regions). Like the dry white wines of Bordeaux, Sauternes is also produced primarily from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. It does not have nearly as long a history as is commonly supposed, the method of harvesting Sauternes by pickers making successive passes through the vineyards removing only the nobly rotten grapes having been developed only at the beginning of the nineteenth century at Château d’Yquem. Because making wine from rotten grapes was counterintuitive, European winemakers discovered the possibilities opened up by noble rot comparatively late in the history of winemaking.