DNS Wine Club were recently treated to a sneak peak of the sweet wines shown to the Irish press. The trio below were the standouts, but please remember – sweet wines are not just for dessert!
Château Rieussec Sauternes 2014 (14.0%, RRP €50.00 (375ml) at O’Briens)
We start with the smallest bottle and lowest abv yet highest price – and all these facts are related. Sauternes is an expensive wine to produce, as botrytised grapes (shrivelled by noble rot) contain less juice than normal grapes, and picking them at optimum levels often requires several passes in the vineyard.
Château Rieussec is one of 11 Premiers Crus (just below the sole Premier Cru Supérieur of Château d’Yquem) established by the 1855 Classification. It was bought by the Lafite branch of the Rothschilds in 1984 and benefitted from their marketing and distribution efforts, though (thankfully) pricing is still a fraction of Lafite-Rothschild’s Grand Vin. A second sweet wine (Carmes de Rieussec) and a dry white (R de Rieussec) complete the range.
This 2014 is made from the traditional Sauternes blend of Sémillon (93%), Sauvignon Blanc (5%) and Muscadelle (2%) and is an exuberant delight for the senses. Still very young, it has a highly perfumed nose of stone fruit, whisky marmalade and ginger. The spice is somewhat muted on the palate at present, as apricot, peach and citrus dominate, wrapped in an envelope of sweetness that is cosseting but not cloying. As one DNS member put it “this tastes of money” – it’s a fabulous, beautiful wine.
Gérard Bertrand Banyuls 2011 (16.0%, RRP €23.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)
Along with Maury and Rivesaltes, Banyuls is one of the three Vin Doux Naturel producing areas in Roussillon, French Catalonia. As with the VDNs produced throughout France, grape spirit is added early on during fermentation to kill the yeast, leaving plenty of sugar left in the juice – and plenty of alcohol too! This is the same method as used in Porto, so the end result is not unlike Port.
Grenache is the king in these parts, not least because of the grape’s ability to produce high sugar levels and moderate tannin levels. Bottling is relatively quick after mutage as Grenache is susceptible to unwanted oxidation if left in oak, but once under cork the wine can last for decades.
At 16.0% Gérard Bertrand’s Banyuls comes in at around the same as some Californian and Italian wines – and tastes lighter than the vintage Port it was tried against. Grenache Gris supports the mainstay Grenache Noir and adds elegance. Fruit is the key here, both dried and fresh, with a little tannin and acidity supporting the show. This would be superb with some fruit cake but perfect for contemplation on its own.
Bethany Old Quarry Tawny NV (19.0%, €24.95 (750ml) at O’Briens)
Most of us don’t associate fortified wines with Australia, but for the majority of the twentieth century locally produced “port” and “sherry” dominated the market. Once dry table wines had taken off, the Grenache and Shiraz vines that were the source of grapes for fortifieds were still used to some extent, but as varieties they fell behind Cabernet Sauvignon in the fashion stakes, so many older vines were sadly ripped up and replaced. Thankfully, some still survive and make brilliant port style wines – though of course they can’t be labelled as such in the EU – and are the highlight of many winelovers’ discoveries on visiting Australian cellar doors.
This is a rare example which is available up here – in Ireland at least. Produced by the ever-excellent Geoff Schrapel at Bethany in the Barossa, it is a blend of late harvested Grenache and Shiraz, aged together in old oak casks for an average of ten years before bottling. As with tawny Port, this gives a lighter – almost brown – colour to the wine, with dried fruit and nutty flavours. This is a delightful drink, especially in the coming darker months, and has more flavour than most Ports at this price.