A tasting of some of the best sweet wines of the world was my first vinexpo event yesterday. It was held at Chateau La Tour Blanche in Sauternes, and was the fifth edition of the tasting. Organised at this chateau because there is the school of viticulture at La Tour Blanche, and part of its mission is teaching.
I have meant to go for the last two editions, so was determined to actually get there this year, and it was very busy (particularly around the non-Sauternes stands). There were some drawbacks - no seeming order to how the tables were laid out, and only one table for a laptop in the whole place (but this was not a journalists tasting of course!!). More annoying was that there was a distinct lack of spittoons (as Robert Joseph said, ‘when did they put a tax on spittoons?’).
However, logistics apart, the wines were very interesting - from eight different countries, 22 differnt producers and around 50 different wines. Fascinating to see so many different styles of sweet wines, some from botryised grapes, others late harvest, ice wine or from stopping fermentation to retain residual sugar. There were a few that were too syrupy or lacked complexity, but on the whole it was a great selection of wines. A few tasting notes below.
Domaine Pierre Bise, Coteau du Layon, Quarts de Chaume 2007
This appellation, in the Loire valley, uses chenin blanc. The sweet wines are made by pallisserage (drying out the grapes so they effectively turn into raisins), and are aged for 18 months. This example was very sweet, with low acidty or acidity masked by very high residual sugar. Attractive orange marmalade flavours, but really too syrupy to be completely successful.
Chateau Laville, Sauternes 2003
I didn't try all the Sauternes on offer, as was here to taste wines from other regions than Bordeaux, but I enjoyed this wine. Good complex nose and structure. Almost dry undertones, really like this, although still needs more lift and freshness to really stand out, no doubt because it is a 2003. 85% semillon, 12% sauvignon, 3% muscadelle.
Tokaj Oremus 2002, Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos
Shame that there was only one Tokaj producer, but still wonderful to taste (this region is getting increasingly popular in the UK and giving Sauternes a run for its money). The flavour and taste profile is very different from the others on display, has a lovely sweet and sour thing going on. 70% furmint, 30% harslevelu – and could never mistake this for a Sauternes. Great length, no dip in mid-palate, and like the dry finish. This will be almost entirely noble rot berries, but not all.
Tokaj Oremus 2000, Oremus Tokaji Eszencia
The richest of all Tokaj styles, and I'm afraid for me this is too sweet. But that's not to do down the quality - it has wonderful mouthfeel, you could have a satin blindfold in your mouth a la Kim Basinger, or rather less dramatically drinking honey. It’s certainly different, and very distinctive. But you would need to have a thimbleful of this. The sugar concentration of eszencia is typically between 500 g and 700 g per litre, although apparantly the year 2000 vintage produced eszencia exceeding 900 g per litre.
Domaine des Tilleuls, Malvoisie Vetroz 2004
Above the Rhone is heart of Swizz Alps, the Valais producers 75% of Swiss wines. Noble rot, or late harvest, or mix. This has much less obvious sweetness, and I like its almost restrained, subtle feel. Not exactly high acidity either – more aromas of hay and straw, with sprinkling of lime blossom. Good length. Pinot gris.
Domaine des Tilleuls, Amigne, Vetroz 2005
Enjoy the very silky mouthfeel of this one – you can feel the weight, it is almost slippery in your mouth, and clearly has high sugar concentration. But the texture is again satiny, and there is a good lightness to it, so not too sweet. These don’t feel like showy sweet wines. Grape variety Amigne.
Azienda Agricola Maculan, Acininobili 2004
Region Bianco Passito Veneto
Northern Italy, from the village of Breganze just above Venice. This one is lovely, very different again and was a popular choice around the room. Softer and more gentle than many of the wines here, it floats along. Perhaps lacks some acidity and certainly lacks complexity, but it is very charming. The wine is made from passerillage of the local Vespaiola grapes, which can also make dry wines.
Canada Inniskillin, Icewine Vidal 2006
This ice wine wine was draw enough to get me to the tasting. From the Niagra Peninsula, Grape variety Vidal, kept on the vine until December or January in the heart of winter. The effect of alternative frost and thaw dehydrates the grapes and concentrates the sufar and acidity. On the nose straight away this is unctuous and has an enveloping aroma. It has this wonderfully almost dry, sour edge to it that counterbalances the enormous sweetness. Gorgeous. Beautifully clean finish, very well defined, but intense, sour oranges, sour lemons.
Austria – Burgenland
Chardonnay Trockenbeerenauslese No 7 ‘Nouvelle Vague’, 1999
Grape variety chardonnay. Totally different taste profile and unusual to get a noble rot grape from chardonnay. I think it lacks the acidity to be a truly successful sweet wine for me – it has good flavours of honey and walnuts, and some wholemeal toast, but it needs crisping up.
Welschrisesling Trockenbeerensauslese No 8 Zwischen den Seen, 2005
Burgenford, Neusledlersee. Much more interesting than the chardonnay. This has a delicacy, yet the intensity creeps up on you.
Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese No 11 Zwischen den Seen
Wonderful nose, cloves and Christmas oranges. Warming and spicy, and exciting. I would rather a little more freshness on the end, but this is sweet and supple and very seductive.
Chateau Yquem 2005
There's a subtelty and lightness to this that is surprising. It is closed (not surprising for a 2005 at this stage), but you can feel the depth and how the aromas gain in intensity ib the mouth. One to stay with for a while, and then revel in. Good for them to be here also, you don't often get Medoc first growths at open tastings like this.
Weingut Dr Loosen
Urziger Wurzagarten, Auslese Goldkapsel, Mosel 2007
Grape variety Riesling. This is just so wonderful – light and fresh and delicate, very floral, white flowers, there is a sweetness but it is barely caressing your palate. And you know it is light in alcohol, and will not cloy after a glass, as so many of these would do.
Graacher Himmelreich, Beerenauslese, Mosel 2006
These are what sweet wines should be for actually being drinkable in a meaningful and regular way by consumers – expertly executed, a barely there sweetness that is so perfectly balanced by very crisp, well defined acidity. Riesling (as they all, Ernst being Mr Riesling).
Bernkasteler Lay, Trockenbeerenauslese 2005
On the nose, there is blue cheese and a definite whiff of old socks, but the palate it is crisp and fresh, with fresh elderflower – amazing for such a sweet, intense wine... this is a great, but my favourite of the Loosen wines was the first.
Domaine Cauhape, Quintessence of Petit Manseng, Jurancon 2005
Passerillage again, drying out the grapes traditionally, on the petit manseng grape. I like this appellation, and this particular wine is full of rich rich oranges and lemons, very clear citrus. Underneath that, there almost petrolly, Riesling edge to it, and it has a lightness and deftness that is enjoyable. A good sweet wine, but doesn’t soar above everything else.
Domaine Zind Humbrecht
SGN Niesling Brand Grand Cru, Alsace
Riesling. That’s better. As soon as you go this far north, and add in the Riesling grape, you get these soaring acidities, and the proper balance between alcohol, sugar and freshness. Clean, fresh, but powerful and the aromas persist, revealing a spice in your mouth.
SGN Gewurztraminer Hengst Grand Cru, Alsace 2007
This one is very sweet, high sugar content with real spice and a very silky mouthfeel. That very enjoyable if slightly disconverting gewurstraminer blend of sweet and sour, with lots of minerality coming through also. Very good, and the acidity keeps the whole experience lively and refreshing.