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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beneficial Diseases?

It still amazes me how some diseases can be beneficial in winemaking, that is, if they’re properly understood and used to the winemaker’s advantage.  The two I’m thinking of, responsible for some of my favorite wines, are commonly known as “noble rot” and “dead arm.”
“Noble rot,” very briefly and without getting too technical, is a form of the fungus Botrytis cinerea, which occurs in damp conditions.  The infection generally affects already ripened grapes, and after the grapes become raisined, the process of drying is the noble rot.  The flavors become concentrated, and the wines become sweet yet balanced with proper acidity, and some of the better known examples include Sauternes and Tokaji.
Some of my favorite wines are French Sauternes.  Sauternes, from Bordeaux, and consisting of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle, are often regarded as dessert wines, due to their sweet taste.  As for me, I tend to enjoy my Sauternes with an appetizer of pan seared Hudson Valley foie gras, as foie gras is a classic pairing for the sweet golden Sauternes.
My most recent experiences with Sauternes include the 2003 Castelnau de Suduirat and the 1998 Chateau d’Arche.
The 2003 Castelnau de Suduirat, absolutely golden in color and a bit on the syrupy side, displays the expected characteristics of sweet orange and apricot with just a hint of wood.  The wine is slightly less balanced than I thought it would be, due to its lack of acidity, and it is also slightly lacking on the duration of the finish.  WHile the wine was paired with a pan seared foie gras, it did purport to be more of a dessert wine due to its sweetness and thick texture.

2003 Castelnau de Suduirat Sauternes

The 1998 Chateau d’Arche, a Second Cru Classe and also made up of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, is a bit more food friendly than the Castelnau du Suduirat.  It is also a lovely golden color, as expected, with a floral and fruity aroma that is quite exotic and lovely, and flavors of peach, apricot, sweet orange with a hint of zest, light nuttiness, tropical fruits, and natural honey.  The texture is so smooth and luscious, and the finish is respectable.  This was also paired with foie gras, and appears to be a good choice for the appetizer, as opposed to dessert, based upon its good balance of sweetness and acidity.

1998 Chateau d'Arche Sauternes

The other disease that comes to mind which affects wine and can bring about a positive result is “dead arm,” also known as grape canker.  Dead arm, unlike noble rot, affects the wood of the vine, whereas noble rot affects the grapes directly.  Dead arm occurs when two fungi, Eutypa lata and Phomopsis viticola, cause a disease to rot the wood of the grapevine, which causes one or more arms of the vine to die.  This allows the grapes growing on the healthy arms of the vine to intensify, producing a rich flavored wine.
d’Arenberg, a winery in McLaren Vale, South Australia, produces an excellent Shiraz known as The Dead Arm for this very reason - the grapevines are affected by the disease, causing the grapes on the healthy arms of the vines to intensify.  Dead Arm Shiraz is a wonderful wine, made entirely of Shiraz from the affected vines.  It is very deep in color with a more ruby rim, and displaying characteristics of rich fruit, spice, earth, and warmth, and the full, bold wine occupies the entire palate until it winds down with a long, spicy finish.  Bold and fruit forward though it is, The Dead Arm is a distinguished and elegant Shiraz with excellent aging potential.  In our household, the pairing is Beef Wellington, cooked medium.  This wine will probably always be one of my favorites.

2005 d'Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz

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