Monthly Archives: June 2011

What is Late-Harvest Wine?

Question from Renee: Hi! I was at a friend’s house for dinner the other day and she served a really sweet wine from a small bottle called Dolce. I don’t usually like sweet wine, but this was delicious! She said it’s a late-harvest wine and I didn’t want to look like an idiot so I didn’t ask what that means. What is it? 

Reply: Hi, Renee. Thanks for writing! You have a very generous friend. That’s an expensive bottle of wine – I love it, too – I think of it as liquid gold…

Your friend was right – Dolce is in a category of wines referred to as late-harvest or botrytized wine. If you’ve ever heard of Sauternes, that was the model. This category also includes late-harvest, sweet German wines such as Beerenauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). From Hungary, there’s the famous Tokaj. Ice wine (eiswein) isn’t usually botrytized, but it certainly qualifies as late harvest since the grapes are picked and pressed in a frozen state. 

The term is quite literal. The grapes are harvested much later than normal – so late that they’ve begun to dehydrate and, in fact, begun to rot. Botrytis cinerea is famous in the wine world (the French call it the “noble rot”) for compounding the dehydration which concentrates the sugar, acid and flavors. This is because the rot perforates the grape skins and the watery juice seeps out. Botrytized wines have an unforgettable honeyed character, which I’m sure you noticed in the Dolce.    Continue reading

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