This year's winner of the Decanter World Wine Awards International Trophy for the Best in Show Sweet Under £15 went to Brancott Estate, Letter Series Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Brancott Valley, Marlborough 2011, New Zealand.
Brancott Estate, Letter Series Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Brancott Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand 2011 (9.5%) Luscious floral nose of peach and mandarin. Marmalade, honey, spiced apricot, fresh tangerine and lemon flavours.
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Tasted against • Château Jolys, Jurançon, Southwest France, 2011 • Monsoon Valley, Chenin Blanc Late Harvest, Hua Hin, Thailand 2012 • Törley, Doux, Tokaj-Hegyalja, Hungary NV • Itsas Mendi, Urezti Vendemia Tardia, Chacolí De Vizcaya-Bizkaiko Txakolina, Spain 2009 • Schloss Schönborn, Hattenheim Pfaffenberg, Rheingau, Germany 2011 • Fleur du Cap, Noble Late Harvest Bergkelder Selection, Western Cape, South Africa 2011 • De Bortoli, Deen De Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon, South Eastern Australia 2008
A final featuring an impressively diverse roll-call of superb wines – not least the late-harvest Chenin Blanc from Thailand and a Txakoli from Spain. The victor, on the other hand, is a country that has carved out a formidable reputation for creating sweet wines of great distinction.
This wine was half cut before the grapes were harvested. By that I mean that Brancott Estate’s viticultural staff employed a very interesting technique to boost concentration and sugar levels. They left the Sauvignon Blanc grapes on the vine for six weeks longer than normal to let them ripen to a point where they had lost any trace of green flavours. The canes were then cut near the head of the vine so the shoots and grapes beyond that point would begin to dehydrate.
This process is very weather dependent. If the weather is too dry to allow the beneficial vineyard mould botrytis to form, the cut canes and the late harvest will still produce heightened concentration and sugar levels. However, 2011 was an ideal botrytis vintage, producing grapes with exceptional intensity and sweetness. The target sugar level of more than 40° brix (that is more than 40% of the grape juice was sugar) was easily reached.
Cut cane grapes tend to produce wines with stronger varietal identity than wines made from grapes that achieved the same sugar level through botrytis. The strong honeyed character of botrytis can easily mask varietal flavours in very sweet wines.
The grapes were finally picked nearly 10 weeks after the normal picking date for Sauvignon Blanc.
Bob Campbell MW
Written by Decanter