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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
10 Feb 2003

This has a strong claim to be Spain's most unexpected wine - a truly delicious young, sweet white that would serve as an object lesson in the smell of botrytis, the famous noble rot so crucial to top-quality sweet wines all over the world. In fact the botrytis element is so strong on this wine that you can, most unusually for a Muscat, hardly smell the grape variety responsible.

It has been made for some years now by the enterprising Chivite family of Navarra on a vineyard very close their old headquarters in the southern, hottest, Ribera Baja part of the region in Cintruénigo (recently they have built a much snazzier flagship winery in the cooler northern part of Navarra). El Candelero vineyard is now 30 years old and they have become adept at controlling the development of botrytis so that they seem to produce this wine every year. The grapes grown are the noblest, smallest-berried sort of Muscat, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, and they in 2000 were picked, in several passes through the vineyard, between mid oct and mid nov. (We tend to forget that, partly because of altitude, many of Spain's more northerly wine regions ripen much later than Bordeaux or Burgundy, for example.)

The 2000 vintage of this wine, part of Chivite's top Colección 125 range, was fermented in 30 new Allier barriques and particularly carefully handled until bottling in July 2001. It is already delicious but thanks to the botrytis effect there is no desperate hurry to drink it. It is a relative rarity and so far from cheap, but I think wine students might find it useful to sniff that vegetable pong that is botrytis on this wine. It's very delicious. In my week at the German Wine Academy decades ago, I think I rather offended Professor Hans Ambrosi by suggesting that the smell of the botrytis on one of this previous Rheingau Beerenauslese reminded me of boiled cabbage but I'm afraid it's the truth. I know that doesn't sound delicious but, believe me, it is - especially when blended with molten honey character and really tense, nervy acidity, for of course the botrytis fungus that makes the grapes look horribly mouldy has the effect of concentrating both sugar and acids in the grapes, as well as imparting its own special, life-prolonging characteristics.

Vendimia Tardía is rare and, like any good sweet wine, not cheap. In Britain it's available by the half-bottle at 11/02/03