This week our wine writer Greg Landman raises a glass to the delicious sweet wines we make right here at home.
There are some things which, once tasted, can never be forgotten. One of these is so called “sweet” wine. Here I am talking about Noble Late Harvest and Natural Sweet wines. These are not fortified – that is a completely different ball game which will get to soon. Late harvest wines are made from the grapes that have been allowed to remain on the vine to intensify the flavour and increase the sugar levels resulting in a much sweeter wine.
You also might like: Best Rosé Wines for this Summer
There’s a very important thing that accompanies this process and it’s called rot. Noble dry rot, Botrytis cinerea, is a most desirable fungus when making Noble Late Harvest wines. It settles on the grapes and starts drying up the juice in the fruit, intensifying the sugar and acids. If not carefully nurtured, this process can take a turn for the worse with gray rot taking over and leading to a kind of slime on the fruit. It’s a fine balance of damp, misty mornings coupled with warm sunny days to prevent gray rot from ruining things.
As you know, time in the wine business means money, hence the high price of most of these wines. Some of the finest in the world, like Sauternes from Chateau d’Yquem can set you back R6 000. Luckily we have some superb ones right here and at much more reasonable prices. But like all things in life, you get what you pay for. My advice in all things vinous is drink what you enjoy and what you can afford – and never be reticent to try something new. Who knows? You might just love it. All these wines should be drunk cold – not from the freezer. A good half hour in the fridge should do it perfectly. The alcohol content is generally low. Grab a couple of small glasses and enjoy.
You also might like: What’s the Best Wine Glass for the Job?
11 of Our Favourite Sweet Wines
Backsberg Kiddush Sweet Red 2018
Rich flavours of plums and other red fruits assail the palate in this Shiraz-dominated Jewish sacramental wine. It has a higher alcohol content (at 14%) than others here and should be drunk with caution. Over consumption could lead to a ka-doosh – not a kiddush – with the emphasis on the last syllable. It’s best on its own served cold before a meal. Pick up a 750ml bottle for R70 and toast to life – l’chaim!
Backsberg Special Late Harvest 2018
A delicious very well priced blend of Gewürztraminer, Viognier and Roussanne with typical rose petal fragrances and some litchi on the nose. It’s succulent and not overpoweringly sweet. Serve it very cold with a light Thai curry for a match made in heaven. Pick up a 750ml bottle for R70.
A 100% Sauvignon Blanc charmer, this vintage from Flagstone wines uses grapes that have been pinched by a pair of pliers at just the right stage to desiccate the bunch and stop further development. This intensifies the juice already in the berry, an ancient method perfectly used. Here the result is a gorgeous wine, intensely flavoured, which they say is designed to be drunk over ice, not my take at all, but there you have it. Bottled in a vessel that’s quite gorgeous and at the perfect size to pop into a handbag. Tuck into a bottle at R120 for 375ml from the cellar only.
Nederburg Noble Late Harvest 2017
This is a multi-award winner synonymous with this style of wine in SA. It’s a trailblazer made from Chenin, Muscat de Frontignan, Grasă de Cotnari and Rhine Riesling. Totally delicious, you’ll find this wine has dried fruit flavours on the nose and in the mouth making it succulent and ever so moreish – a classic. Dip into a 375ml bottle for R120.
De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc Noble Late Harvest 2015
Made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes – quite unusual for this type of wine – this dessert wine is vibrant and alive with sweetness while being perfectly balanced by a fruity tang. Pair it with some duck liver pâté and crackers at R150 for a 375ml bottle.
Boplass Ouma Cloete Straw Wine 2016
This totally irresistible award winning wine is named after the Nel family’s great grandmother who was a Cloete from Groot Constantia, and what a fitting tribute it is. Boplaas have made this wonderful creation from Viognier and Muscat de Frontignan grapes that air dried and then crushed to get the precious juice from the raisins. It’s just the thing to sip on after lunch on the stoep while you contemplate the country before you gently nod off in your chair. And you can do all this for R154 per 500ml bottle.
Steenberg Constantia Natural Sweet 2017
Matured in old French oak barrels for more intensity, this 100% Semillon has a fabulous floral nose that’s very peachy and irresistible to taste. It’s citrus marmalade nuances make it heaven with gorgonzola. Find it for R195 for a 375ml bottle.
Vondeling Sweet Carolyn 2017
This is another Muscat d’ Frontignan knockout from a single vineyard on Matthew Copeland’s Agter Paardeberg piece of heaven. It is superbly fragrant on the nose with a very appealing colour. Get yourself some blue cheese or a really ripe brie and tuck into a bottle at R250 for 375ml.
TOKARA Reserve Collection Sauvignon Blanc Noble Late Harvest 2016
The Sauvignon Blanc grapes, which were infected with noble Botrytis rot, were fermented in French oak barrels for seven months before fermentation stopped naturally. The wine is magnificent – a superb golden colour – with very intense fragrances on the nose while remaining rich and complex in the mouth. Really at its best alone as an after dinner digestive, maybe with a square of white chocolate. Pick up a 375ml bottle for R300.
Paul Cluver Riesling Noble Late Harvest 2017
Paul Cluver produces one of the most superb examples of this type of wine that we have. Made from Botrytis-infected Riesling grapes and very carefully handled to make sure no wet rot gets inside to mess up things, this wine is intensely flavoured with a very apricot sweetness and plenty of dry fruit tang to carry it all. It’s fabulous with duck liver pâté – not foie gras. You’ll find it for R330 for a 375ml bottle.
Groot Constantia Grand Constance 2016
As the granddaddy of all sweet wines in SA, this particular bottle has a long history. It is based on the famous Constantia Wyn which was drunk by Napoleon in faraway exile at St Helena, written about by Jane Austen and favoured by the Emperors and Kings of Europe. This well-loved wine is unbelievably delicious. It is naturally made using the Muscat de Frontignan grapes that come from a single block adjacent to the Groot Constantia Manor House. It’s the perfect gift for someone special and comes presented in a classic wooden box at R721 for a 375ml bottle.
Words Greg Landman