As a winemaker, what you do when tastes change and the style of wine you make is no longer fashionable?
Answer – you get everyone to start pouring your wine over ice.
I think that’s a terrible idea (why water down great wines? Just drink them how they’re meant to be drunk) but the bid to stay relevant/reinvent is real. And for producers of rich, sweet wines, the numbers don’t lie – consumers just aren’t drinking ‘dessert wines’.
So why not try something new?
Indeed even Grand Cru Sauternes producers are getting on this train, encouraging consumers to ‘try on the rocks’ and pour into cocktails. What a waste of magnificent sweet wine…
Anyway, De Bortoli recently recommended trying the new 2016 De Bortoli Noble One over ice, and over the weekend I gave it a red hot go.
Here’s a wine regularly cited as one of Australia’s top sweet wines, with a legacy of show awards that is unrivalled. So why not try it over ice? This ’16 is another typical example too. It’s a thick, dense, intensely sweet botrytised Semillon matured in barrel for 12 months, carrying the expected flavour and overwhelming richness.
Team De Bortoli even sent over some whisky stones/stainless steel ice balls for this experiment, which means no dilution.
To give a thorough ‘on the rocks’ assessment, I tried this ’16 release in as many different ways possible. Ideally, I would have done this blind (or as blind as can be with stainless steel balls in your wine), but at least I gave it a thorough attempt.
Firstly, I cracked the lid and poured as if it was another Noble One – straight out of the fridge and into a glass. I then put the bottle in the freezer and chilled it down until it was starting to freeze (which took ages) and poured another glass. Next, I poured more over the ice balls for reference. Another sample I put some water in the glass to simulate what would happen with some ice melt. Finally, I poured another glass and left it on the bench to try it warm.
The results, sadly, were underwhelming. Crucially, I find this ’16 Noble One way too heavy and simply sweet/cloying, so the experiment was probably doomed from the start. At every point the wine was a blunt instrument – the sweetness is more raisins and caramelised than something ethereal. The concentration and length impressive but the flavours tend largely to simple cooked marmalade and raisins.
The warm glass was the worst – like drowning in alcoholic treacle. Diluted was second-worst as it just seemed like half a wine – out goes the flavour length and nothing comes in its place, just water (duh Andrew). Conversely, I liked the glass straight out of the freezer almost frozen best – it toned down the sugar, and preserved the aromatics. Frozen balls came second, normal glass third.
Ultimately, all this tasting did was reminded myself that I’m a purist. Please, give me a great glass of wine that tastes right poured from the start. Maybe I’d recommend chilling certain sweet styles until almost frozen, but that’s kind of defeatist as you don’t taste much when a wine is 1C.
In conclusion, however, the answer is no – Noble One doesn’t work better on the rocks.