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Prince Albert
Sunday, April 14, 2024
Home Opinion Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy


Hello Prince Albert! This time of year calls for beverages that warm the soul and delight the senses and while some may reach for a creamy glass of stout, a smoky whisky or perhaps a snifter of brandy, I tend to choose something that pairs well with desserts and decadent foods. What I’m referring to is dessert wines!

The obvious choice for a dessert wine from Canada is Ice Wine but there are many other options out there like late harvest wines or wines that contain a large amount of residual sugar. The bottle of Quail’s Gate Late Harvest I tasted this week is rare because it is totally Botrytis affected. What is Botrytis?

Botrytis Cinerea is a fungal growth also known as “noble rot” and only occurs when certain conditions in the vineyard are perfectly met. For grapes to undergo Botrytis, the vineyard requires cool nights and hot mornings with direct, warming sun. The grapes are often grown in a valley or cradle shaped area where fog can gather and the combination of heat, fog and aspect of direct sunlight causes the fungus to form on the skin of the grape.

Two things can happen at this point, Botrytis Cinerea can begin to form or grey rot occurs which means the grapes are ruined. If the noble rot takes hold however, tiny tendrils begin to grow from the fungus forming on the skin of the grape. The tendrils reach into the grape and begin extracting its moisture. As the liquid/water is removed from the grape, it concentrates the sugars and flavor into the remaining juice in the grape and creates a small but incredibly potent amount of concentrated juice.

To properly pick and handle the Botrytis affected grapes, many pickings are often required as the fungus does not affect all grapes on the bunch evenly. All picking and sorting is done by hand as machines can easily damage the delicate grapes and sorting machines cannot sort the Botrytis grapes from moldy or unaffected grapes.

The process to create a beautiful dessert wine is already quite expensive but also consider that since the grapes have lost most of their moisture, each grape only gives up a few drops of precious juice to be fermented. This is why theses wines usually come in a 375 ml bottle and cost so much.

Both wines this week were a real treat and the bottle of Sauternes I tasted was kept in my cellar for almost 8 years. I preferred the Quail’s Gate Optima’s intense flavors and rush of mouthwatering acidity but the Chateau Androyse showed its maturity with its long, complex finish of savory flavors. Both wines paired exceptionally well with creamy cheesecake and salty snacks like genoa salami, cervelat (French salami) and prosciutto.

It should also be noted that while Sauternes wines are almost always 100% Botrytis affected, Late Harvest wines are not. The 2017 Quail’s Gate is in fact 100% Botrytis affected which is rare and should be tasted before its gone. The achievement of producing a wine of such incredible quality from the Okanagan Valley is a worthy moment of celebration and a chance to taste some incredible dessert wines.

Botrytis affected wines have an alchemical magic to me. The process transforms healthy grapes into something which at first seem bad or unwanted (mold/rot) and in turn creates flavors that would have not existed like mushroom, rich mossy earth and even animal flavors like cheese or leather. Celebrate this incredible style and try some with good friends and family. Here are my wine picks of the week!

Quail’s Gate Optima Late Harvest TBA 2017: (VQA Okanagan Valley, Canada). Sweet white dessert wine, deep gold color. The bouquet leaps out of the glass with balsamic pineapple/lychee and mango, concentrated golden raisin, apricot preserve, honey and an intriguing note of engine oil or petrol smoke. The wine is thick and luscious on the palate with a syrup-like quality. Full-bodied, high intensity flavors of fruit preserves (apple, apricot, pineapple), sultanas and dried tropical fruits are balanced out by high acidity which transitions into a long finish. Cooked mushroom and a delicate earthy moss sweetness follow on the aftertaste mingling with Christmas/fruit cake flavors. Pair with cheesecake, prosciutto, red Leicester cheese or sauteed mushrooms. Can age several years. Outstanding! $40, 10.5% ABV

Chateau Androyse du Hayot Sauternes 2009: (AOC Sauternes, France). Sweet dessert wine, medium gold color. On the nose, there are some interesting sea spray/brine and oil notes at first and then orchard fruits, sliced apple, lemon icing, citrus peel and pear drops come in as the wine breathes. To the taste, the wine is full-bodied and silky with some earthy moss hints and sweet crystalized/candied lemon peel. Freshly sliced apples, fruit syrup and a slightly floral honey are upfront on the mid-palate with a long, complex finish of leather, cooked mushroom and nutty, burnt toffee. Honeycomb and leather smoke linger on the lips. Medium acidity and medium-plus intensity. Pair with sweet, creamy desserts like panna cotta or smoked cheeses/meats. Very good! $45, 13.5% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!