Nederburg, the Paarl winery that pioneered the making of noble late harvest wines in South Africa, has won the Old Mutual Trophy for Best Dessert Wine (Unfortified) at the 2019 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. The trophy was earned for The Winemasters Noble Late Harvest 2018.
Now in its 18th year, this Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show has an exceptional reputation for honouring wine excellence, and is chaired by wine authority Michael Fridjhon.
While Nederburg has over two centuries established an unassailable reputation for distinction across its range of red and white varietal and blended wines, there is one style in particular that is virtually synonymous with the famous winery. Say noble late harvest and the chances are most wine-loving South Africans will immediately think of Nederburg.
The winery broke new ground with this wine style in 1969 when Günter Brözel, Nederburg cellar-master from 1956 to 1989, made the first wine in South Africa with grapes affected by noble rot or botrytis cinerea, the fungus attacking grapes under a very specific set of climatic conditions to produce richly-scented, honeyed, complex wines of remarkable longevity.
Noble rot grows in moist, humid conditions, often brought on by summer rains, followed by moderate temperatures and enough of a breeze to ensure good air circulation through the vine canopies. The noble rot literally feeds on the juice of the grapes and concentrates not only their sugars, but their acids and flavours.
“One of nature’s miracles, it depends on a pretty exact sequence of events – a few days, at most, of wet weather and then sunshine – to produce wines of luxurious depth and sweetness. Wet weather, followed by extended cold temperatures, insufficient air movement through the vines, and high humidity or too hot weather, can turn the noble into sour rot, rendering the grapes worthless and totally unusable for any wine at all,” explains Niël Groenewald, managing director of Nederburg.
As the prevailing legislation did not permit for the making of natural table wines with more than 30 grams per litre of residual sugar, the authorities of the day agreed that Brözel’s noble late harvest debut in South Africa could be sold on auction only to members of the trade carrying a liquor licence. And so it came to pass that the Nederburg Auction (known as the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction, from 2019) was established in 1975 as a channel to sell the wine that Nederburg called Edelkeur.
Although the legislation has since been changed to allow for the unrestricted sale of noble late harvest wines, Edelkeur is still made for sale exclusively on the annual auction at Nederburg. However, the winery offers a variety of noble late harvest wines, including the much-acclaimed The Winemasters version that is available on the open market.
Groenewald describes the layered and complex natural sweet wine as elegantly styled and very fragrant with floral notes and aromas of orange peel, apricot, honey and dried peach. The palate, where sugar and acid are in perfect harmony, is luscious but refined with delicious dried fruit, pineapple and citrus flavours.
The 2018 vintage of this wine is made from a blend of Chenin blanc (56%), Muscat de Frontignan (39%), Sauvignon blanc (3%) and Grasă de Cotnari (2%). The fruit was sourced from trellised vineyards in Durbanville and Paarl, and cooled by morning mists and afternoon winds.
It was made by Nederburg white-wine maker Elmarie Botes, who joined the winery in December 2017. “The actual vinification takes enormous focus,” says Botes. “Fermentation is extremely slow given the very high sugar content of the grapes.”
Nederburg’s noble late harvests are always tank-fermented and receive no wood contact, and both the Edelkeur and the The Winemasters version stand out for their luxuriously sweet yet graceful aromas and tastes, tempered by a firm acidity.
Previous vintages of Nederburg The Winemasters Noble Late Harvest have also excelled internationally and locally, earning gold medals on earlier competitive platforms. Awards/ratings during 2018, for the 2017 vintage, include:
- 2018 Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards: Platinum medal (96 points)
- 2018 Tim Atkin South Africa Special Report: 93 points
- 2018 Veritas Awards: Gold medal
- 2018 Winemag.co.za Sweet Wine Report: 91 points
- 2018 International Wine & Spirit Competition: Gold medal
- 2018 Top Wine SA: Top 10 SA Unfortified Dessert Wines from 2008 to 2017; Hall of Fame (non-vintage specific)
Enjoy Nederburg The Winemasters Noble Late Harvest with rich liver pâtés, pancakes served with orange and honey, other desserts, cakes, pastries and tarts. It’s also delicious served with blue cheese, especially Roquefort. Or savour it on its own.
Available from liquor outlets across South Africa, the wine retails for around R120 per 375ml bottle.