Just when you thought you had a bad name, along comes Botryotinia Fuckeliana. Gotta love when research has a good sense of humour. But this is no joke. It truly is noble rot’s more formal, scientific name. Apparently, this spore-forming bacterium was only lucky enough to inherit ‘rot’ as its nickname. B. Fuckeliana is clearly more sophisticated, or, at least, it certainly produces a perfectly priceless paradox.
For those of you who haven’t been properly introduced, noble rot (Botrytis, Botrytis cinerea, B. Fuckeliana, what have you) is an asexual organism that is much sought-after in dessert wines. This fungus, a product of carefully intentional just-so rotten grapes, has given way to the most intellectual wines in the world. One cannot simply let their fruit rot, bottle it and declare it liquid gold. That would, in fact, likely make one ill.
Noble rot is a noble process that is achieved under ideal conditions. Humid, damp mornings settle themselves upon the grapes skins. This act must soon be followed by the sun’s warmth baking this dampness off, drying the skins of the potential for mushy, rotten rot. What happens then, as opposed to grey gooey mold, is a dehydration process, leaving the grapes void of water but rich in sugar.
They are not a beautiful sight when ready for the picking. But again, tapping into my weakness for paradox, it is provocative to imagine some of the most gorgeous, sophisticated wines come from such a horrid, dirty childhood. Remember, it is usually quite alright to judge wine bottle labels by their cover (ie catchy ones like Big Ass Cab and Fat Bastard typically put me off even before uncorking them), however, one can never tell a wine by its ugly outfit in the field.
Some of my favorites find their roots in the French soils of the south: Banyuls, Beaumes de Venise, and Monbazillac. Though I could prattle on forever, as I do, about these all, I will instead just take a few moments to discuss one of these regions a bit better: Monbazillac. Don’t let the name intimidate you. It is pronounced: moh-bah-zee-yak. Got it? Phew. Now that that’s clear, let’s learn about who and where Monbazillac is…
First of all, feel lucky…Monbazillac is a wine the French want for themselves. Only 20% is exported, of which 5% is held for Americans. Monbazillac sits on the left Bank of the Dordogne, closer to Bergerac and Bordeaux than Provence, really. Like Sauternes, dessert wines from Monbazillac must be affected by noble rot. As a result, it is a wine that is reminiscent of the floral, honey sweet wines of Sauternes—sharing the similar varietals of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon—but it is lighter on the palate and often carries with her the addition of Muscadelle. Thankfully, it often wears a lighter price tag as well, like the 2005 Chateau Tirecul Le Graviere ‘Les Pins’ checking out at only $20. This one sees no Sauvignon Blanc, only a heavy dose of Semillon (80%) and the rest in Muscadelle.
Others to be sure you try at some point: Chateau Belingard, Chateau le Thibaut, Domaine de l’Ancienne, Chateau Theulet, and Chateau de Monbazillac (a place to see if you are in the area as well). Other regions and styles that showcase botrytis affected dessert wines include Sauternes (of course) and Tokaji, though areas all over the old world and new have exquisite examples of these lovely rotten grapes.