Late Harvest

Wine in South Africa has a history almost as old as the country itself.

Late Harvest

One of the many blends of wine made in South Africa, a Late Harvest wine is named not after a particular type of grape, but after the fact that the vines were harvested much later than usual, allowing the grapes to develop a particular type of disease known as Noble Rot. Late Harvest wines are often known as Noble Late Harvest due to this circumstance, and they are traditionally a much sweeter variety of white wine blend, usually designed to be turned into dessert wines. The complex timing of the vines, needing to be left long enough to allow the Noble Rot to proceed, but not too long in case the rot takes over entirely, means that it is not a common South African wine.

Noble Late Harvest is created by allowing white wine grapes to become infected with Botrytis Cinerea, a type of fungus which gives the wines a very sweet taste, although it can also be done by allowing the grapes to shrivel away completely on the vine, becoming what is known as ‘raisined’. The latter style of Late Harvest has become more common in South Africa since the ending of Apartheid in 1994, and second only to Alsace, the majority of Late Harvest white wines are made in the second manner. Only those with ‘Noble’ in the title suggest that they are still using the fungus to create the sweetness of the wine.

As with the rest of the globe, a Late Harvest wine in South Africa is a very limited product, often resulting in only a few crates of the wine, and sometimes being extremely expensive. Those wineries which use the Noble Rot method of sweetening their grapes may be slightly more cost-effective than those who have to leave the grapes to dry fully by themselves, but both wines are more expensive than might be expected from an ordinary sweet dessert wine.

One of the benefits of a Late Harvest wine is that it can be produced anywhere among South Africa’s winelands, so there is no specific location that is best for these wines. There are therefore a number of producers of Late Harvest wine, the only real difference between them being the methods used to make the wines dry out and sweeten. By comparing Noble Late Harvest with other varieties (such as Special Late Harvest), it is possible to understand how the flavours differ.

The Robertson Winery Gewürztraminer has taken a wine which is already quite sweet, although acidic, and allowed it to dry out naturally. This has allowed their produce to become fruity and flowery. There is estimated to be 244 grams of sugar per litre at harvest, and around 48 grams per litre in the bottle. The 2010 Noble Late Harvest from Paul Cluver is made with 80% botrytis grapes. These are matured in oak for around 6 months, before being given additional tastes through the addition of flowery textures. This wine uses Riesling grapes as the basis, giving the dessert wine a honey, fruity flavour.

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