“This is one of the best wines I have ever made.”
That’s how Roman Roth, winemaker at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, described his Descenscia Botrytis Riesling/Chardonnay when he emailed me, asking if I’d like to taste it.
I said yes, of course.
When one of the most-respected winemakers in any region says something like that, you want to get that wine into your mouth.
Here on Long Island, it is extremely rare that temperatures dip low enough — before the grapes fall apart, anyway — for traditional ice wine. Instead, many of the dessert wines are made using grapes picked at peak ripeness and then frozen in commercial freezers, often at facilities normally used to freeze just-from-the-bay seafood. By locking the water in the grapes as ice, only the most succulent, concentrated nectar oozes from the grapes when pressed.
Those wines can be delicious, but I prefer another style of dessert wine, one made with grapes picked very late in the season and affected by Botrytis cinera, The same warm, humid conditions that make grape growing on Long Island challenging can also at times give rise to Botrytis cinerea, the mold responsible for Sauternes, perhaps the world’s best dessert wines.
Briefly, Botrytis, also known as noble rot, dehydrates the affected grapes and concentrates sugars and flavors similar to ice wines. It imparts its own distinctive flavor on the resulting wine.
Wölffer’s Descencia is made from 54% riesling grown at Jamesport Vineyards and 46% chardonnay planted in 1993 at Wölffer Estate. Through ripeness and dehydration, the riesling was harvested at more than 73 brix, a measurement of its sugar levels.
Typically, grapes on Long Island are picked when brix levels are in the low-to-mid 20s.
Concentrated and complex, the wine displays classic botrytis notes like hay and honey while also offering floral notes, peach and pear, and vanilla. Mouth-filling and coating, it is decidedly sweet, but vivacious, palate-cleansing acidity brings excellent balance and keeps the wine from feeling heavy or tiresome. Roth has long made some of the region’s best dessert wines. This wine continues that tradition and then some.
Don’t over-chill this wine. As it gets close to room temperature, layers of saline minerality, burnt sugar and fig emerge. Roth suggests drinking it with foie gras or fresh fruits. I like wines like this with quality blue cheese as well.
You can drink this wine now, but it is also a wine that should age exceedingly well. In early November, it will be available at the winery for $40 per 375ml bottle.