Sticky Wines – all you need to know
08 March 2016
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Jenny Crwys–Williams : So, Carrie Adams and I sitting in front of a fire –
Carrie Adams: There’s so many things that you can do at night when it’s cold.
JCW: Like what Carrie?
CA: Like sitting in front of this fire, with some delicious sticky wine in front of us.
JC: Are these the wines that we would necessarily drink out of somebody’s navel or would we defer that and do it with other sweet stickies?
CA: Now you’re raking up memories because about 10 years ago you and I chatted on a 702 wine slot about Ken Forrester’s tea. I said to you: I’m going home this Friday, I’m taking a bottle of Ken Forrester Tea sticky with me. I’m going to make my lover lick it out of my navel all weekend. On that next Saturday morning Normal Goodfellows sold about 20 cases of Ken Forrester Tea –
JCW: I’m not surprised because that wasn’t the only thing that was said, it did go on.
CA: It was the only thing, we were no more lewd than that.
JCW: No, we weren’t lewd at all, but it did sound like fun, let’s put it like that.
CA: It did sound like fun and it is enormous fun, whether you’re licking it out of each other’s navels or not. It is delicious, nectar of the Gods. Chateau D’yquem is one of the most sought after, most expensive revered noble bottles of wine in the world and it’s a sticky wine.
How sticky does a sticky wine have to be?
JCW: How sticky does a sticky wine have to be?
CA: Well, if I tell you, for example, how can I make it easy for you? If I tell you for example that Coca-Cola has 108g of sugar per litre in it –
JCW: You’re going to upset me now…
CA: Hold that thought, 108g of sugar, per litre, in Coca-Cola. Some of these sticky wines that you and I are about to drink can be up to 220g of sugar per litre.
JCW: I’m Banting she said! Tim Noakes is going to find out.
CA: No, he’s not listening, is this a health feature we’re on –
JCW: No, no.
CA: Oh, it’s a drinking feature, so it can be anything from 120-230g per litre of sugar. When it gets into the Noble Late variety, that’s what the legal minimums and maximums, 220 I think is the max it can be.
JCW: How would a straw wine then compare?
CA: Well, straw wine is probably in the region of between 120-200g, straw wine. But there are different types of stickies that people don’t really know about. Our most famous sticky as you and I chatted about many times is Van Der Constance from Klein Constantia and it is a most delicious wine –
JCW: But it’s not fortified.
The noble rot
CA: It’s not fortified and it’s not a Noble late harvest. It is actually a natural sweet which is why this evening I’ve brought along a natural sweet from Backsberg for you to taste. The difference because there’s a special viscosity and a special texture and a special way it sits.
There’s a palate weight that you get from a Noble rot and I’m making it sound so disgraceful. Noble rot, I’ll tell you about it, is nothing to be ashamed about. It’s the best kind of rot that you ever want in your life, but natural sweet is just a particularly sweet wine.
People have either left on the vine to ripen and to dry out because what happens is, when the liquid in the grapes starts to dry out, it intensifies the sugar levels. You end with a raisin basically, or a sultana and the sugar levels in that have been intensified by the evaporation of the water from the grape.
You’ve now got massive sugar in this grape. Now you are going to ferment it and it’s going to turn into an alcoholic dream of stickiness, that’s what ends up happening. But the next thing you can have is somebody who is going to make a straw wine. We’ve got quite a lot of straw wines, it’s an ancient form of winemaking, it’s an ancient winemaking practice. It’s pre-Roman times they’ve seen sticky wines.
Straw wine is normally made out of, in this country it’s made out of Chenin Blanc or Semulance white wine grapes. What they do is they whole bunch pick and they lay the bunches on mats of straw to dry out. This gorgeous golden herbaceousness seeps into the grapes whilst they crinkle up and dry out and become syrupy sweet, straw-like bunches.
You can imagine trying to press juice out of raisins, it’s seriously difficult, you don’t get many drops out of a raisin. The wine that we’re talking about is so special and it’s to be revered and it should be a million times more a bottle than what it is. South Africa makes incredibly good sticky wine for unbelievably good prices.
JCW: Do we make any ice wines?
CA: No, we did, we made one nice wine from recollection. I can’t remember the producer at this stage of the game. But we made an ice wine that came out of the Karoo somewhere, I think. Straw wine is pretty much like ice wine, that’s what they do. They actually let the bunch freeze on the vine rather than letting it dry up and crack up and become sweet.
JCW: It’s a wonderful thing to be involved in and I was told that sales of stickies are not terribly high in South Africa.
What makes sticky wine so special
CA: They’re not and it’s such a shame. Everybody who comes to visit me at that shop gets a bottle of sticky rammed into their suitcase or their packet or their ‘whatever’. Because you just should enjoy these absolutely beautifully crafted wines. We’ve done natural sweet and we’ve done straw wine. But the most noble of all is the Noble Late Harvest which comes from a grape that has been attacked by the Botrytis fungus.
There are two types of Botrytis fungus, the one is sometimes you’ll buy a punnet of strawberries from Woollies. Deep in the centre of the punnet is this ghastly furry thing with a little grey beard that’s smiling at you and he has got himself Botrytis of the nasty kind. You don’t want that because it’s just grey, it’s called grey mould, or grey fungus and it’s just not good.
Botrytis, I never know how to say it, Botrytis Cinerea, I think it is. I always think of Cinerea that you put in the garden, it’s sort of similar to that. But the Noble rot which comes from the same Botrytis fungus will attack the bunch.
But what it does, it basically also extracts the liquid from the grape and intensifies the sugars. But because it is a fungus and a bacteria, it imparts, what should I say, flavours and textures to the resultant wine. That it wouldn’t have had, had it not been attacked by the Botrytis fungus.
What they do is, you can actually inoculate for Botrytis, it happens naturally in some vineyards and in some parts of the world. But if you don’t get it and you want to make a Noble Late Harvest wine, you can actually inoculate the vines to catch Botrytis so you can make these delicious wines. Once you have got Botrytis in your vineyard, it starts attacking the grapes from the inside of the bunch out.
You obviously doing sugar tests and when your little bunch is completely and utterly riddled with this dreadful grey fungus, but you know that it’s working wonders inside the grape, you pick, you press. The problem with Botrytised grapes is that the Botrytis fungus also can sometimes be an impediment to fermentation. It has a property in it that actually kills the yeast.
So whilst, first of all, there’s a big – hold your breath – are we going to get Noble rot this year. Then you get it and then you pick the grapes and you take them into the winery and then, oh, is it going to allow us to ferment. It’s a bit of a bitch of a thing this Botrytis. But when it works, it works brilliantly.
There’s gorgeous stories about farmers in Tuscany – where you I have also spent some lovely time – who have actually taken their fermenting Botrytised grapes into their houses at night, in tanks, in little bowls and barrels and baskets. To actually nurture and puff and blow over to make sure that the fermentation process continues through the night. They don’t want to lose their Noble Late Harvest.
JCW: There are wonderful stories about it and I love it that again and again and again some of these stories go back to the Romans and what the Romans have done for wine, in South Africa or New Zealand or Australia or Chile or wherever. Because you can actually trace that path, it is so romantic. I think that you can take it even further back than the Romans, you can take it to the Persians.
CA: Persians, that’s where we think Shiraz came from.
JCW: It’s a lovely idea anyway. Let’s start drinking.
Special Late Harvest from Backsberg
CA: I think we should start with the Special Late Harvest which is from Backsberg. Backsberg, I think I might be telling you a fib. But I got an invitation in my email inbox the other day from the darling Simon Back, I think Backsberg is celebrating 100 years of making wine –
JCW: Oh, how wonderful.
CA: I have to stand corrected on there, somebody might shoot me down in flames but it’s a very special birthday. Backsberg is a major, massive contributor to the South African wine industry and we love them. They have made this Special Late for many, many years. This particular one is made out of Gewurztraminer grape.
There are obviously some grapes that lend themselves to this style of wine better than others and there’s the Muscat Alexandria, which in this country we call Hanepoot. There’s Muscat de Frontignan, there’s Gewurztraminer, there’s Reisling’s, there’s some grapes that just lend themselves to stickies better than others. This is a Gewurz, a natural sweet Gewurztraminer from Backsberg.
JCW: You can smell the perfume.
CA: It’s just like Turkish Delight and marshmallow, isn’t it delicious? Rose geraniums, don’t you love it?
JCW: That is lovely!
CA: And it finishes peachy dry.
JCW: That is absolutely lovely.
CA: How delicious is that?
JCW: I sometimes find Gewurztraminer too sweet, too perfumed, too Turkish Delight, too rose petallish, I really don’t enjoy it.
CA: How delicious is this wine and nobody buys it. It’s a 750ml bottle of perfectly crafted, natural sweet, Gewurztraminer for R60 a bottle or something, it’s just delicious.
JCW: Could we persuade people to buy it because would this not work really well over crushed ice and served as an aperitif?
CA: We could have it like that or we could have it exactly like you and I are enjoying it in front of the fire place right here. Before we’re about to have some kind of dessert or with a dessert or take it to bed with you. Take it to bed, while you’re reading a book. It’s so palatable on its own and it’s just got so many gorgeous layers of flavour on it, can you taste them all?
JCW: I can think of one book that this would work with?
JCW: It would be Bongani Madondo’s Sigh the Beloved Country.
CA: I heard you reviewing –
JCW: It is a gem and the more I read, the more of a gem it becomes.
CA: This is Backsberg, Special Late Harvest Gewurz with Bongani Madondo’s new book. Can you feel, there’s a lightness, there is a feather lightness –
JCW: It is light.
CA: And there is a savoury end, but there’s this beautiful, beautiful complexity of flavour that’s come from these very sun kissed grapes. That they’ve obviously allowed to hang on the vines and just become beautifully old and crinkly.
JCW: I think it’s a lovely wine and it does feel light, so it’s not that unctuous thing.
CA: It’s not a cloying, heavy, if you’re looking for a beautiful light, after dinner or whenever, this is it.
JCW: It’s absolutely gorgeous.
A straw wine from Rustenberg
CA: We’re going to do another one now and you’re going to compare more the palate weight and the body and the guts and the glory of the next one. We are going to do straw wine and I chose one from Rustenberg. Just because I love Simon Barlow, as do you.
Simon has got a very smart young son called Murray who went and studied in Australia – just whilst we’re dishing out trivia. Murray has come back to South Africa and I think he’s making such a difference to the Rustenberg winery.
JCW: You need oomph every now and then, but the same thing has happened to Neil Ellis hasn’t it?
JCW: Also a son, coming in: Come on dad, let’s do this.
CA: Thelema, Gyles Webb, Thomas, same thing, so nice. So, this is a straw wine, now you’re smelling more apricots, you’re smelling that hay, that sort of barnyard smell, can you smell it? It’s a haystack.
JCW: It’s a haystack, but it’s also apricots in your mouth, it really is wonderful.
CA: And it’s much more viscous.
JCW: It is farm yard’y, isn’t it?
CA: It’s got freshly cut hay. If anybody has ever had a farm and you go and they’ve got those hay bailing machines. They go in the fields and they cut it, it’s just what it smells like.
JCW: All I know is that gives me asthma, but I love the thought of it. It’s almost an Enid Blyton wine, that five got on a castle of adventure and they go through the fields. They didn’t have rolled hay then, they had stacks of hay.
CA: And bales. This is medium, we had light, we’ve got medium and we’re just about to get the grand dame.
JCW: But it’s palpably different in terms of weight.
CA: Completely, can you feel that? For people who don’t know too much about the technicalities and really couldn’t give a damn, if you are looking for something light and airy, accessible. Which I think is one of our big things, you and I always buy something that’s accessible. That you’re going to love, Special Late Harvest or Natural Sweet is entry level, cause it’s light and flirtatious and easy. Straw wine is much more serious, but medium bodied and medium palate –
JCW: Well, you certainly know you’re drinking a dessert wine.
Nederburg Noble Late Harvest
CA: You know you’re drinking a dessert wine. We’re going to move onto some Nederburg Noble Late Harvest and I just have to say that, well I keep saying, Nederburg is so cool and retro at the moment, I love it. It’s just old and tried and tested and trusted and recipe never gone wrong. Razvan Macici, a master in the cellar. For R90 a bottle, I defy anybody to get a better value for money bottle of sticky wine anywhere in the world of this quality.
JCW: Also, it’ll keep, it’ll keep for 50 years, just the corks have got to stay –
CA: And thank God they do still put a cork in the Nederburg. I see that the Rustenberg has got a screw cap because Murray obviously got bashed over the head by the Aussies. Simon Backs has got a cork in his Special Late Harvest, so you can keep these wines for long. Once you’ve opened them, you can keep them for a lot longer as well.
JCW: For about six weeks maybe?
JCW: In that sense I think this is the most gorgeous wine, I love it.
CA: We love it, it’s a medium bodied apricot soufflé. My granny used to make like a foof pudding, do you remember foof puddings? It was like carnation milk and jellies and things and it used to be foof pudding, ideal milk?
JCW: I used to do it for the children.
CA: Everyone called it a different name, ours was foof pudding. She used to, we had an apricot tree in our garden that was amazing. It was so productive, it used to make enough apricots for the entire suburb to have canned apricots, apricot jam, apricot juice, apricot – you name it – for the rest of the year. So she used to bottle these apricots and then she would make apricot foof pudding during the course of the year from these apricots. This Rustenberg straw wine is a bottle full of apricot foof pudding for me.
JCW: It certainly is a lovely wine, it’s elegant, I mean both of them are elegant. The Nederburg, it hits you between the eyes, doesn’t it? With that gorgeous Botrytis taste.
CA: This is the difference between the Noble Late rot, the Botrytis rot and the natural sweets and the stickies that haven’t had this fungus.
JCW: For somebody who has never had a sticky-sticky, this is the sticky-sticky.
CA: This is the sticky-sticky, you can even smell it –
JCW: Of course you can smell it, but how would you describe it? I don’t know how you would describe that smell to somebody who hasn’t smelt it?
CA: There’s honeysuckle for a start because one of the by-product smells of the Botrytis fungus is honey. So you’re always going to pick up honey and it’s a sweet honey. We always like to think of it as like a honeysuckle or a jasmine blossom, it’s honey and jasmine. It is really indescribably gorgeous. It’s also apricots because there is that apricot sort of blanket that covers all these sticky wines.
JCW: It’s like apricot puree and it doesn’t have too much sugar. Like those French jams, where they make them almost without sugar, but this is just gorgeous.
CA: You know what the other thing is? The natural acidity on this wine is what pulls it into balance so brilliantly. That’s what this Botrytis does to this grape. It allows it to become A, beautifully old and wrinkled. Really, if I could look like an old grape that had been infected with Botrytis, I would far rather be a Botrytis grape than a botox’d Kardashian, do you know what I mean? You are beautiful when you’ve been stung by the Botrytis fungus, cause you smell gorgeous, you taste gorgeous, you’re highly intellectual, you are layered with flavour and aroma. You are just, you’re undeniably beautiful.
JCW: And you’re ready for picking.
CA: You’re ready for picking and you do impart huge amounts of pleasure.
JCW: Let’s have a little bit more of this because this is just, isn’t it, it’s so classic.
CA: Just classic and the viscosity, can you feel the palate weight of this? You know it’s in your mouth, it can coat your whole mouth with this most glorious honeysuckle, sweet honey, jasmine smells, apricot flavours, shortbread, there’s shortcake and apricot, butteriness, oakiness.
JCW: Almost butterscotch.
JCW: The smell is just too wonderful for words.
CA: Then, on the finish, like a Seville marmalade that you might also have bought from, maybe Harrods or Fortnums. A beautiful classy Seville marmalade with thin slices on a gorgeous slice of toast with some butter, it’s nutty.
JCW: Slightly bitter.
CA: It’s buttery, well the skin, the pith of that Seville marmalade, it’s all in here, all in this glass.
JCW: Carrie, as always, thank you very much indeed for this, just wonderful sticky wines.
CA: Pleasure, fun, thank you.