An early winter walk in the vineyard is usually calm, as the leaves rustle on the ground and the vines prepare for dormancy. You turn your head, you see a bunch of grapes – full, too meaty, ready to pop, maybe looking a little funky on the outside. have they been forgotten? Rejected?
No. They are only waiting for their moment, the moment when they can be picked and transformed into a late harvest wine. After the end of the regular harvest, but before the vines are closed for the winter, a winemaker has one more chance to put his finger on the almost completed vintage with a late harvest offer.
âLiquid goldâ is how Cara Morrison, Chardonnay winemaker for Sonoma-Cutrer, describes her late harvest Chardonnay. âOkay, being more technical, it’s a sweet wine made from grapes picked much later and much more ripe than the typical wine,â she explains.
Grapes for a late harvest wine are usually picked between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sonoma-Cutrer celebrates the harvest of the holiday season as a team: âWe have a group of tasting room, reception, administration and cellar staff to pick the grapes,â says Morrison. âWe provide coffee and donuts to organize a fun event for employees who normally don’t have the opportunity to choose. It’s a fun, festive and cold occasion.
Plus, Morrison sticks to the tradition: âWe pick grapes with a lot of botrytis. They don’t look too pretty, but they taste fantastic, like pure honey.
âBotrytis is a fungus that can have a negative impact on some wines, but it is a positive component of late harvest wines. It intensifies the sweetness of the wine and adds a honeyed characteristic, âexplains Katy Wilson, winemaker for Anaba, who produces a late harvest Viognier. âViognier is a great variety for late harvest becauseâ¦ [itâs] a very aromatic variety and has a great texture. This gives a balanced and complex wine.
Stew Lauterbach of Lauterbach Cellars likes to compare his late harvest Syrah to his port style Syrah dessert wine so that guests can appreciate the difference. “With port-type wines, I stop [traditionally harvested] Fermentation of the Syrah at 12% sugar by fortifying it with wine alcohol, which increases the alcohol to 19%, and keeps all the sugar unfermented, âhe explains.
But with late harvest wines, âbecause of the higher sugar content at harvest, the yeasts will stop fermenting naturally. All the sugar that is left is left. You have no control. The result is a wine that is less sweet than the dessert wine.
Lauterbach’s 2013 late harvest Syrah is a true holiday wine, harvested on Thanksgiving eve and pressed on Christmas eve. âMy wife, Barb, loves this dark, bitter chocolate wine,â says the winemaker.
Three to try
Sonoma Cutrer 2018 Chardonnay Late Harvest
Very aromatic, with notes of fresh fruit and flowers and an incredibly viscous and lush mouth feel. Its sweetness is balanced by lively acidity. Notes of white peach, dried apricot, baked apple, toasted almonds, honey, citrus zest and quince jelly.
Great with: Lemon cakes and pastries, especially when topped with cream and baked fruit. Also goes well with the traditional holiday fruit cake.
$ 36 for 375 ml. 707-237-3489 / sonomacutrer.com
Viognier Late Harvest Anaba 2018
Aromas and flavors of apricot, pear, jasmine, white tea and peach as well as hints of botrytis honey.
Enjoy With: A glass alone can often suffice for dessert, but be sure to pair this beautiful wine with a pumpkin pie! Or, do like the French and finish with a cheese dish and the soft Viognier. Winemaker Katy Wilson loves this wine with Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk.
$ 34 for 375 ml. 707-996-4188 / anabawines.com
Caves Lauterbach 2013 Syrah Vendanges Tardives
Intense aromas of fig jam and plum jam, complemented by savory notes of cloves, nutmeg, spicy chili chocolate and roasted coffee.
To taste with: Bitter chocolate, as suggested by the winemaker’s wife. Or go for the savory route and try this “dessert wine” with a roast rack of lamb.
$ 28 for 375 mL, $ 50 for 750 mL. 707-578-0537 / lauterbachcellars.com