I adore a good, sweet, sticky wine. It doesn't even faze me when someone at the table refuses a glass because that generally means more for me. When it comes to wine, I'm forever trying to persuade people to "just try it please". But I'm totally selfish when it comes to stickies. I'm just not interested in sharing them with people who don't properly appreciate their brilliance.
Many people refer to these treats as "dessert wines" but I think that's terribly unfair. Kiwis have a habit of hiding these wines (often in the fridge) and not bringing them out until the end of their big, often very boozy, dinner parties. Brains are too foggy, and taste buds too tired to really appreciate it.
How about opening the bottle at the beginning of the evening? Give everyone a sip or two - the sweetness will excite the palate, making you eager for good food and wine - then you'll still have enough in the bottle to give everyone a taste at the end of the meal, and there'll be a load of new aromas and flavours in the wine, too.
One of the great misconceptions about stickies is that they're loaded with alcohol. As a rule they'll contain between 8 and 12 per cent alcohol, less than most dry whites. They are pure wines, not fortified like ports, sherries or liqueurs. Another misconception is that they're made by adding sugar to a wine.
The theory is to concentrate the natural sugars in the grapes, and then try not to ferment it all away into alcohol. So how do they end up so sweet?
There are three main methods:encouraging Botrytis cinerea infection of the grapes on the vine (noble rot), delaying the harvest of ripe grapes (late harvest) and freezing the grapes (ice wine).
Many winemakers feel botrytis produces better-balanced wines, and on the shelf those bottles with "botrytis" or "noble rot" on the label are a bit pricier. So what is this botrytis?
It's a fungus. If botrytis spores take hold in the vineyard during periods of high humidity and is uncontrolled, the results can be disastrous, as the grapes will rot. However, if suitable conditions prevail (misty mornings, clear fine days, low humidity) and the growth of the botrytis is controlled, the results can create magic in a bottle.
Botrytis dehydrates the berry to increase its sugar concentration. It also metabolises the tartaric acid, which helps maintain the acid balance, plus it increases glycerol levels, resulting in wines with a more "silky" mouthfeel. But the berries end up looking like grey, mouldy raisins - heinously ugly - but containing precious little drops of liquid gold inside.
Riesling seems to be the star of New Zealand's premium sweet wines, closely followed by semillon. Chardonnay and chenin blanc can create some incredibly yummy stickies, as can gewurztraminer.
Vinoptima Noble Gewurztraminer 2007, 375ml $250
Could this wine be the most delectable thing ever? Yes, it is an indulgence, and one of the most expensive things I've ever tasted, but its aromas of rose-caramel, toffee, candied mandarin and golden syrup and swoon-inducing, silky, blue-borage honey and fig flavours have pretty much meant I'm now obsessed.
Painstakingly crafted from a tiny amount of botrytis-infected gewurztraminer by Nick Nobilo (the lord of luscious, lychee-laden gewurztraminer production in New Zealand), this seductive wine boasts an unctuous texture. Ginger sorbet, creme brulee or blue cheese with dates and macadamia nuts are what Nick recommends as a food match for this wine - but my perfect pairing would be a deep bath and 1000 thread count cotton sheets. It's that kind of bliss. www.vinoptima.co.nz
Greywacke Late Harvest Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009 $37
This has classic musky ginger and lychee characters, but is armed with refreshing acidity and has real succulence and vibrancy on the palate. www.greywacke.com
Sherwood Estate Golden Drought Late Harvest Chardonnay 2011 $26
Chardonnay fans will look at their favourite variety in a whole new light once they try this wonderful Wairarapa wine. With a heart-stopping 250g of residual sugar, this is not the sort of wine you want to drink if you haven't been to the dentist recently.
It smells like an apricot Danish pastry and has an intense, ultra-concentrated, honeyed stonefruit sweetness in the mouth. Sourced from their Glasnevin vineyard in North Canterbury, this is a wine absolutely bursting with character and I can't wait to see how it develops in the bottle.
Marisco 'Sticky End' Noble Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $33
If you thought sauvignon blanc was all about cats' pee and gooseberry bushes, you clearly haven't tried this. Dessert sauvignon isn't a common thing but this example oozes date, marmalade and honeyed, toffee flavours.
It's luxuriously sweet and oily, yet there's fresh acidity that makes the flavour last. www.marisco.co.nz