Sweet wines, or dessert wines as they're sometimes known, come in a variety of guises in Australia.
I think you could categorize them into two distinct groups. There are those who produce relatively light, sugary sweet wines at lower price points, such as moscato and late harvest frontignac, and there are those who do it seriously, with the intention of producing exceptional wines.
The best examples of great Australian sweet wines usually come from botrytis influenced semillon grapes, although riesling and sometimes gewurtztraminer are common also.
For those unaware, botrytis is a natural mould which can occur on grapes left hanging on the vine after harvest. Botrytis (or noble rot) kind of raisins the grapes, concentrating their natural sugar levels. The resulting wines are lusciously rich and sweet, but a great irony of sweet wines is they mustn't be too sweet or cloying, as their natural sweetness must be offset by cleansing, refreshing acidity.
For my reviews here I've chosen four current vintage Aussie 'stickies'; Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora 2008, De Bortoli Noble One 2006, Gramps Botrytis Semillon 2006 and the Joseph LaMaglia 2008.
BROWN BROTHERS ORANGE MUSCAT AND FLORA 2008
- Region: Murray Darling, VIC
- Price: $7-$15
Brown Brothers make this affordably popular sweet wine form a blend of two unlikely grape varieties in orange muscat and flora. As the name suggests, orange muscat is a member of the muscat family, while flora is a hybrid variety created in the 1950s by American scientists who crossed semillon with gewurtztraminer.
Smelling sweet and musky, the 2008 displays a pleasingly gentle, floral nose of rose petals and lychees overlying notes of dried apricot. Unexpectedly well balanced, its delightfully refreshing palate delivers a clean expression of lychee juice and rose oil, before it finishes moderately long with slightly tart, ripe apricot flavours and a lingering sweetness.
ü+ Much to my pleasant surprise, Brown Brothers' perseverance with the adventurous and experimental has produced one of the most delicious moscato style wines on the market. Cheers to Brown Brothers. Drink to 2011.
DE BORTOLI NOBLE ONE BOTRYTIS SEMILLON 2006
- Region: Riverina, NSW
- Price: $26-$41
The only sweet wine included in Langton's Classification of Australian Wine is De Bortoli's highly regarded Noble One. Since its first release in 1982 it's been the measuring stick for all Australian 'stickies'.
Beset with a beautifully composed yet precise measure of botrytis, the 2006 Noble One reveals a perfectly balanced aroma scented with rich marmalade, creme brulee and citrus infused notes of mineral. Incredibly rich yet eloquently sophisticated, the immaculately structured palate builds with citric acids flowing off a delicious core of stonefruit, lime and marmalade flavours. It finishes long and clean with one of the most refreshing cuts of post-botrytis, pink sherbet-like acids you could hope for.
ü+ After a couple of vintages which didn't quite live up to expectations, the 2006 Noble One is right back on song. A breathtaking dessert wine; a near ultimate expression of the Australian style. Drink to 2014.
GRAMP'S BOTRYTIS SEMILLON 2006
- Region: Griffith, NSW
- Price: $14-$23
After an exceptional 2004 release (94pts), it seems Orlando chose not to release a Gramp's dessert wine from 2005. I do wish more producers would consider not releasing wines in unsuitable vintages.
In true Gramp's style the 2006 Botrytis Semillon is bright, vibrant and laden with scents of honeyed sultanas and orange peel. Full, smooth and luscious, its rich palate delves with sweet flavours of roasted toffee nuts, honey and nectarine, leaving the mouth refreshed with lingering notes of apricot.
ü+ The 2006 is another deliciously rich and luscious dessert wine from Orlando's Gramps brand, one of Australia's best labels for botrytis semillon. Drink to 2011.
JOSEPH LA MAGLIA BOTRYTIS RIESLING TRAMINER 2008
- Region: McLaren Vale/Coonawarra, SA
- Price: $26-$36
In reading a newsletter from the Italian inspired Primo Estate/Joseph camp, it enthralled me to hear how excited they were of their La Maglia dessert wine being served to the Pope Benedict during his Australian visit. The 2008 wine incorporates a 15% component of raisined gewurtztraminer grapes from Coonawarra.
A genuine influence of botrytis introduces the nose, followed by vivid aromas of white nectarine, orange marmalade and fresh citrus. Its full, rich and concentrated flavours work with great intensity, delivering viscous yet cleanly balanced tones of white stonefruit, melon and sweet lemon butter, with a penetrating finish where its sweetness is wonderfully offset by clean, uplifting acidity.
ü+ Utterly brilliant; is there anything Joe Grilli can't do? Drink to 2015.