Premium wines finessed from hand-picked grapes
Botrytis cinerea — a member of the same family of fungi that afflicts strawberries, bread, cheese and even human feet — is a mold dreaded by winegrowers.
Called “gray rot” or “bunch rot,” it can spread like a virus through vineyards, destroying entire harvests at a rapid pace. During prolonged damp weather conditions, the fungal spores germinate filaments that invade the skins or broken stems of immature grapes, darkening the berries to a brownish-purple color. The blight then sucks out their water content and shrivels them, leaving them coated with a brownish-gray powdery mold until they completely desiccate and drop from their stems.
Sauternes from Bordeaux is one such wine (the most notable example being the exquisite Château d’Yquem), produced from predominantly Semillon grapes often blended with a portion of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Others are Barsac (from Bordeaux, with the same grapes as Sauternes); Loire Valley Moelleux (Chenin Blanc); German Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (Riesling and Guwürztraminer); and Hungarian Tokaji Aszú (Furmint and Hárslevelü). These golden-hued wines are sensuously rich and complex, with nectar-like aromas and flavors of honey, apricots, peaches, pears, tropical fruits, orange marmalade, caramel, nuts, ginger, mushrooms and even beeswax. Because of their significant acid content, sometimes more elevated alcohol levels, and high residual sugar these wines can age for decades.
Noble Rot wines are expensive — and for good reasons. The fungus can be unpredictable and sporadic throughout the vineyard and can appear at different stages in the growing cycle. Berries have to be selected and picked by hand, often in several successive outings, and juice yields are extremely low — it can take one vine to produce just one glass of wine.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• MARIO GRADO
Vintage 53 162 S. First St., St. Charles (630 549-0423)
-2014 Cooper and Thief “Bourbon Barrel Aged” Red Blend (Calif.) $50. A rich, textured and jammy Merlot-based blend showcasing deep ripe aromas and flavors of blackberries, black raspberries and vanilla intermingled with accents of black pepper, spice, and bourbon and oak from aging in former bourbon barrels. Tannins are soft and approachable and the finish is long.
-2015 Silk and Spice Sogrape Vinhos (Portugal) $34. Chock full of black fruits, this ruby blend shows off a nose of vanilla, mocha and spices, then a silky plum-based palate with hints of pepper and spice. Very balanced with soft tannins and a persistent finish.
• CYNDI SCHOFIELD-ALLAS
Tannins 112 N. York St., Elmhurst, (630 834-4800)
-2015 Bellingham The Bernard Series Chenin Blanc Old Vine Coastal Region (South Africa) $28. Scents of apple, peach, citrus, tropical fruits and honeysuckle greet the nose, with a palate backed by hints of buttered oak and honeyed spice, all balanced by racy acidity and a round, creamy mouthfeel.
-2014 Marrenon Ventoux Grenache Orca Vieilles Vignes (France) $27. Bold flavors of cherries, plums, blackberries and currants merge with notes of coffee and tobacco in this powerful Rhône red. This is a balanced medium body, with supple tannins and good acidity.