THE warm weather of late September signals action on a host of fronts – among them football, young love and, of course, the wine industry.
And while I may be a part-time footie fan and am surely getting a little long in the tooth for young love, I am the full bottle when it comes to wine.
And I’m not alone, for there’s a bunch of us wine industry scribes who look forward to this time of year with unbridled optimism.
Unfortunately, such a dedicated and professional approach often leads to confusion, with some unkindly suggesting that those of us who imbibe for a living may, on occasion, approach our job with the enthusiasm of a toper.
I prefer to say it’s about commitment, and when you commit to a life in liquor there will always be some drawbacks.
That said, back to spring, which signals the beginning of the festive season. There is a flurry of activity in the wine industry at this time of year, as wineries release their new products into a thirsty market.
Wine shows are in full swing, awarding a plethora of medals to adorn bottle after bottle, and regional festivals fill the calendar.
Having just returned from a weekend sampling the offerings from more than 30 producers at the Great Southern Wine Festival, I was reminded of an invitation to attend a 21st birthday party.
Not having attended a 21st for a while I was unsure what to expect, but imagine my delight when I discovered it was a celebration of the 21 vintages of De Bortoli Noble One.
It was in 1982 that Darren De Bortoli released a Botrytis Semillon Sauterne (Noble One), which in many ways launched Australian stickies, as we tend to call them, on to the world stage.
In fact that release went on to become one of Australia’s most awarded wines – winning a staggering 10 trophies and more than 45 gold medals.
The quality of the De Bortoli Noble One is well known throughout the world and since the release of that 1982 has continued to set the standards for Australia wines of this style.
The monks from the French village of Sauternes were the first to document and refine the techniques of making Botrytis-affected wines.
It was in Sauterne that the world’s benchmark sticky, Chateau Y’quem, was born and still reigns as a leader in Botrytis-affected wines.
Here in Australia Glen McWilliam is credited as having made Australia’s first Botrytis-affected wine (it was a semillon) in the late 1950s at McWilliams’ Hanwood winery.
Although there are recorded incidences of Botrytis-affected grapes in the vineyards at Milawa around the mid 1930s but it is likely that the mainly riesling grapes would have been blended into fortified style wines at Brown Brothers.
These days the region around the town of Griffith in New South Wales has become Australia’s best known sticky region, producing wines that vie with the best Botrytis styles produced anywhere in the world.
What is Botryis cincerea? Basically it’s a parasitic fungus that endears itself to grapes, given the right humid conditions.
The fine rootlets of the fungus pierce the tender skin of ripe grapes and begin thirstily sucking the moisture from them.
As a result, individual grapes are left with the concentration of the grape sugar that the winemaker needs to produce delicious, sweet sticky wines.
Darren De Bortoli explains that, for best results, De Bortoli has found it requires 10 hours of humidity to get the best start to the Botrytis process.
While in most years the Botrytis will occur naturally, it is not uncommon for viticulturists to introduce Botrytis into specific vineyards.
These are my highlights of the 21 wines at the recent tasting.
De Bortoli Noble One 2002 17.5/20
You will just start to see this wine appearing on liquor store shelves. Fresh, clean aromas of orange citrus, cumquats, apricots and slight nutty influences will entice. On the palate the wine shows expressive citrus, lime marmalade with apricots and nutty undertones. Quite an expressive youth with plenty of time on its side.
De Bortoli Noble One 1999 17.75/20
I found dominating nutty aromas with some violet perfume and a note of lanolin that appealed. Sprightly acidity is a feature. Lemon, almost lime, citrus with an inference of mandarin and apricots, tremendous length with acidity that flows right through the wine.
De Bortoli Noble One 1990 18.75/20
What a treat. The aromas showed little signs of its age. Fresh stewed apricots with a slight mealy character and earthy undertones featured. Complexity and balance highlighted the wine, with powerful molasses notes, marmalade citrus and integrated acidity. This is a structured wine that still has plenty of life.
De Bortoli Noble One 1984 18.5/20
Delicate fruit aromas, nutty with underlying apricots and an inference of lanolin development lead into a palate with lime marmalade and powerful apricot flavours. Integrated acidity leads to the wine’s relatively youthful notes. This one is delicious from start to finish and worthy of a few more years’ cellaring.
As far as 21st celebrations go, this one ranks right up there with the best I’ve ever been to.
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