Wine Talk

Snooth User: lucto

Where spicyness in Late Harvest comes from?

Posted by lucto, May 6, 2010.

Hello everybody!

recently I have tasted various ( differnt countries, grapes and sugar content. Btw. dry Late Harvest seems to be very interesting. Opinion based on wine of Graf Adelmann, Baden, Germany) late harvest whites in which I have discerned one common taste note - specific horseradish/nutmeg like spicyness. Today I have found it even in an Eiswein ( cheap one, maybe that's why it is so similar to Auslese)  which was the most spicy wine I remember!

Can anyone answer from technical point of view, where spicyness in all Late Harvests comes from? it is simply contected with high level of acidity, compound typical of overripened grapes or something else?


Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, May 7, 2010.

Hi Lucto!


Very interesting question. I'll give it some more thought but two elements spring to mind.


The first is sensory overload due to the concentration of these wines. In addition to acidity, the drying of these grapes increases the skin to juice ration, giving the wines much more extract. That extract can come off as quite spicy.


Another factor to be considered is the effect of botrytis in wines. That nutmeg like spiciness is something I find quite typical of botrytis.

Just some things to consider.



Reply by GregT, May 7, 2010.

I'd like to know exactly what it was that you're finding "spicy".  I drink sweet from time to time but don't necessarily find what I'd call spice. Various flavors of spice can come from oak too - cloves and cinammon for example, so if any of the wines saw oak, that's a thought.  Botrytis is unique and I'm never sure how to describe it.

And super sweetness may have an element that I can almost feel as I'm writing - in the back of the throat there's more of a sensation than a flavor

Reply by lucto, May 8, 2010.


thanks for replies. 

Gregory, unfortunately both Your ideas make sense. Unfortunately because if there is only one correct answer to my question, we are even further from it. I find the first idea more plausible.

I have read that compounds in wine can smell differently due to their contentration in liquid. i.e  4-merkapto-4-methylpentan characteristic for sauvignon in low concentrations smells like grapefruit, when concentration is higher, then like boxwood leaves, and if even higher then we will smell sweat or cat pee. This could prove the point. Do You have access to any hardcore wine chemistry science book/site, that could help?

About botrytis -  do You suggest that these not expensive wines are made from so poorly cultivated vines, that unhealthy grapes  are added to the wine? does overripened=rot in some degree?

But Icewine I think has to be healthy during harvest, so it shouldn't be a point. maybe it IS, and  that's why mentioned one does not cost 20+ euro but merely 7. :-)


spicyness in wine is quite widely understood, that's right.  I ment this sensation kind of spicyness, which tingles back of tongue -like horseraddish. But smells with nutmeg, rotten exotic fruits etc.

But it is different from sugar overload sensation. and cheap, simple, low sugar content late harvested wines have this nutmeg smell too. Lighter, but there it is, so sugar content cannot be the point.

Reply by GregT, May 8, 2010.

Lucto - overripened does not mean rot. There is something the French call  "Pourriture Noble", the Germans call "Edelfäule", and we in the US simply call "noble rot".  It is botrytis cinerea, which is actually a desireable fungus that attacks the grapes and shrivels them while also changing the flavor of the grapes.  

That is found only in certain regions that have certain conditions.  It is what is responsible for wines like Auslese from Germany or Austria, Sauternes from France, and Tokaji from Hungary.  Wines made with that  type of rot are typically more expensive than others.

Icewine is a completely different kind of wine.  The vines may in fact have some botrytis, but that is neither the point nor a requirement.  The point of icewine is simply to concentrate the sugar.  This is also done with other late harvest wines, particularly from drier regions, where botrytis will not appear.

Spiciness is widely understood but it is also widely understood to have very different meanings, depending on who is using the term, which is why I asked. I have had a few sweet wines and late harvest wines over the years and I cannot recall any of them striking me as having been spicy.

It is also true that different dilutions of a compound will cause different sensory perceptions, which partly accounts for the difference in flavor between mace and nutmeg.  Much of the flavor from nutmeg comes from the volatile oils found in the oleoresins, mostly from myristicin, which is also found in black pepper, parsely, dill, celery, and other foods.  Interestingly, nutmeg is often thought to be an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent.  In any event, I can't recall finding that flavor in botrytized wine.

I think we are simply using different words to describe a flavor or impression.  Perhaps if you could list some of the wines in which you found that flavor, it would be helpful?  


Reply by lucto, May 10, 2010.


I am aware that Botrytis cinerea is a "good guy", and we can enjoy in wines from these most famous regions and few others as well. Is bortyris C. really a must in Auslese too? not only in Beerenauslese?

But we have other borytris varieties, which aren't so pleasant for winemakers, and about those I thought and asked about - this would be sad, if grapes attacked with other fungus would be used for production.

I have unfortunately put equal sign. Full thought about over-ripened and rotten grapes looks like this - is rot ( noble or not) unevitable in late harvest? only this would explain influence of botrytis c. on late harvests taste and provide answer for my question.  

I'm pretty sure that we have different wine language and impressions. These are my nutmeg/horseradish wines I have tried recently. Interesting thing is that I have tried few Tokay Aszu as well and I don't remeber this feeling. Maybe it was simply overriden by sweetness or other elements?

Tamaiosa  romanesca (demi?)dulce, Senator Prodimpex, Romania

Chardonnay late harvest, Halewood, Romania

and few other romanian wines from the same event I have attended

Harslevelu late harvest, Beres Winery, Tokay

Kerner Eiswein, Germany ( really strong taste!)

Riesling auslese trocken, Graf Adelmann, Baden, Germany

Riesling kabinett, rudolf muller, Germany


I'm pretty sure there were few more, but I cannot recall right now. If it happens that in US you have some of those, and You have tried them, I would be really astonished that in big world of wine this is possible :-)


Reply by GregT, May 10, 2010.

Some of those wines aren't available in the US.  R. Muller is readily available and it's not expensive - about $20 to $25. 

They are making icewine from Kerner in Canada and I have had that, but not from Germany.  I did not know that the Germans were using this grape as well, since they usually make it from riesling or schuerbe.

Beres is something I've only had in Hungary, with many others.  I don't know if it is in the US or not.

Today I was at a wine tasting and of the  100 or so wines that I tasted, I made sure to taste as many sweet wines as possible, thinking of your question.  Different icewine, vin santo, botrytized wine and several others.  Some were just not very good and in one, which was a terrible wine made from raspberries, I did find a horseradish note. 

When you talk to winemakers, the one thing the great winemakers try to avoid is the bad botrytis.  If it attacks the grapes, the wine is going to be ruined.  If there was rain or any danger of botrytis, some winemakers will actually cut the bunches in half at the sorting table because sometimes the botrytis will be in the center of the bunch and will not be visible from the outside.  But that is a horrible disgusting taste and is not really spicy.  It's just terrible!

Botrytis is not a requirement for Auslese, but the grapes often have some botrytis anyway.  It is possible to have Auslese w/out botrytis if the sugar level is high enough.  I think that is the case with some of the 2003 wines for example. 

If you have a chance to come to NYC, we will open some wine and figure out this taste!  And perhaps we can invite Greg DP too.


Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, May 11, 2010.

I would be happy to join, though sweet wines really are not my thing!


As far as Kerner goes, it's definitely a grape that produces a wine with spice notes, even nutmeg notes, so I am not surprised to see it here at all.



Reply by GregT, May 11, 2010.

Good. So now it's up to lucto!


Reply by lucto, May 12, 2010.

I'm pleasantly surprised that it is possible in big wine world :-)

How did You like Beres wines by the way?

Thanks about bad botrytis knowledge. It is comforting that having such wine is rather unlikely.

I have once again tried German Auslese. Simple and not concentrated, but questioned features were present. Here goes my revised associations list:

overripened grapes ( maybe rotting)

pineapple/lichee/passiflora/general exotic aroma

Nutmeg was rather a suggestion, not note itself ( remeber, simple and unconcentrated wine) But when I put my nose into powdered nutmeg bag and then back into wine it suited very well. Maybe it is rather food pairing suggestion? :-) Finish was bit tangy. Less nutmegish/horseradish style than I expected, but definitely different from nice sweet finish of vino santo, fortified spanish muscats, or Roussilion wines. Maybe this were tannins?

Nevertheless this was exactly the same aromas I smell in most(all?) of late harvests. Nevermind the olfactory associations we can probably agree that late harvests are very easy to recognize, right? And I'm not the kind of guy, who recognizes variety of grape when tasting new wine.

We have diversed subject to identification of olfactory notes, but when we come back to original question, the answer would finally be botrytis rather than  simple overripeness? do You agree?

never the less something must be so influential, that different regions and grapes give generally the same effect. And this is still interesting!

About meeting I would love to taste something with such a noble company, but I'm not planning overseas travels nowadays. I'm just a student not all-the-time-flying businessman. But I take Your word for granted, and one day I'll visit US and find You, so watch out! :-)

Probably meeting somewhere in Europe is more likely to happen, hmm?

Reply by GregT, May 13, 2010.

Just came back from Europe and I may be there in June, but only France.  Probably Hungary  in September again.  Where in Poland are you?  Fathers family was from Wadowice.

You're probably right about the botrytis as it seems to be the constant across several countries and it truly is a distinguishing aroma.  I'll have to check for nutmeg next time I open a bottle - may be this weekend.

Reply by penguinoid, May 16, 2010.

Botrytis cinerea isn't always a "good guy": the same mould is responsible for grey rot and noble rot, it just depends on how the mould develops.

Noble rot is generally a good thing, and produces some of the fantastic sweet wines that have been discussed, and can contribute complexity to dry wines in some regions. Conditions have to be just right, though -- normally rainy or misty mornings, followed by warm, dry afternoons.

Grey rot is a lot more common, and bad news...

Reply by lucto, May 16, 2010.

GregT - Hungary in September sounds very similar to my plans. Somewhere around August and September I'm going to visit Tokay and Eger. Maybe something more. So there is a great chance we will meet :-)

Penguinoid, what You write is very interesting. I was pretty sure that grey rot is different kind of fungus.This would explain why only few places on earth make botritzed wines. Thanks!

Reply by GregT, May 16, 2010.

Good choices - last night I had one of the better reds from Eger and a dry white from Tokaj.  The red, which is from my favorite winemaker when I'm there, never seems to hold up when I bring it back to the US.  It seemed unstable to me, with some acidity that was too lively and the wine fell of midpalate.  The Tokaj, which I had high hopes for, seemed a touch oxidized. Luckily I have an extra bottle so I can double check it.  

Now how to tie this together.  A few years ago, that winemaker in Eger was driving me around to his vineyards and I asked him why people don't make botrytized wine from red grapes.  He looked at me and smiled and said "I do."  Then he let me taste his kadarka which may still rank as the best wine I have ever had in my life.  I think it's the only year he made it and nobody I know is doing it regularly or commercially.  And as I remember it, that particular wine most definitely did have a spiciness which I've completely forgotten about until just now.

On the mountain slopes in Eger, every once in a blue moon, they have the conditions to make that kind of wine if they choose to.  Mostly though, if botrytis arrives, they do what every other winemaker does - they immediately cut the bunches and get rid of them because the rot can spread quickly.

Reply by penguinoid, May 16, 2010.

Interesting. I'd also wondered why there aren't any Botrytis/noble rot-affected red wines out there. Would have been very interesting to try...

Reply by lucto, May 17, 2010.

Which winery is it? it is a must to go there!

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