by Fred McMillin
The Bad & The Beautiful
Botrytis cinerea (bow-TRY-tihs sin-eh-RAY-ah) is a fungus that grows on the skin of grapes. ("Botrys" is Greek for "cluster of grapes.") It can attack the vine at flowering, leading to the death of the bunch before the grapes have even begun to form. On ripe grapes, if conditions are warm and moist, gray rot forms, destroying the grapes. (Johnson & Halliday, Vintner's Art)
When Botrytis forms on ripe grapes under the proper conditions (moisture followed by dry heat), it alters the grapes so they produce some of the world's greatest dessert wines, honeyed, complex, luscious. (Bespaloff, Encyclopedia of Wine)
The Rest of the Story
I'm trying to identify a California white wine...
A Chenin Blanc?—Way too intense for Chenin.
A Dry Gewürztraminer?—Nope. No honeysuckle.
Sauvignon Blanc?—I can't find the herbs.
Semillon?—No figs or wax.
Chardonnay?—Neither melon or pineapple.
So I'm stuck. The dominant characteristic is PUNGENT POWER. There's some lemon and grapefruit and cloves...I GIVE UP. Let's take it out of the sack.
WOW! I can't believe it. It's a Chardonnay from the renowned Carneros District by ace winemaker Jed Steele. How did I flunk that one??
The fine print gives the answer. Jed says, "The Chardonnay has been concentrated and made more complex [amen!] by the effects of Botrytis. Here's the wine. If it's sold out, the winery may have another Botrytis beaut.
1997 Shooting Star Chardonnay
I should have paid more attention to Johnson & Halliday's fine book. Further on it described today's wine perfectly. "A small degree of Botrytis in white grapes may be no bad thing. In making a wine such as Chardonnay, it accentuates and adds to the complexity of the total flavor." RIGHT!
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