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Chardonnay and Botrytis

Typically when we think of botrytis, it’s with respect to Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Chenin Blanc. When "noble rot" comes together with those grapes, the result can be some of the world’s very best dessert wines, including Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Sauternes and Quarts de Chaume. Chardonnay is less vulnerable to botrytis than those varieties, but it’s not impervious.

I spied noble rot hiding in scattered Chardonnay bunches while touring some vineyards just before harvest began this year. Fortunately, botrytized Chardonnay provides attractive flavors. And, since the amount of affected grapes in any one block or vineyard is typically quite low, the bunches with botrytis can be fermented with unaffected grapes and the resulting wine will still be dry and very much a typical Chardonnay. Some winemakers appreciate the added complexity botrytis provides. Others instruct pickers to leave afflicted bunches on the vine or simply remove them or  specific berries during sorting.

 Botrytis-on-Chardonnay-3
Botrytis on a Chardonnay bunch about two weeks before harvest.  Photo: Fred Swan, August 2013

Botrytis-on-Chardonnay-closeup
A magnification of the same botrytized Chardonnay bunch. Photo: Fred Swan, August 2013

While botrytized grapes make their way into both dry Chardonnay and traditional sparkling wines, some vintners do produce late-harvest Chardonnay dessert wines. The ones I’ve tried were quite sweet and full-bodied but retained plenty of acidity. Flavors included ripe apple, peach, nectarine, pineapple and spice, plus botrytis’ own signature notes. The most recent bottles I enjoyed were from Sonoma Coast Vineyards. I highly recommend those, but they’re not on the standard list of available wines so you’ll need to contact the winery for availability.

 

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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