TWO OF THE sweetest wines in the world are being made by one of Washington’s pioneer wineries.
Kiona Vineyards & Winery on Red Mountain has long made an ice wine from chenin blanc, and now it has produced an extremely rare dessert wine called Single Berry Select.
Single Berry Select, made from chenin blanc grapes, is a style known in Germany as “trockenbeerenauslese” — which, if you can learn to pronounce, will boost your wine cred. It’s known as “TBA” for short and, in the English-speaking world, those initials have come to mean “total botrytis affected.”
These two wines are distinctly different, yet both came from the same vineyard block, planted in 1972 by founder John Williams. Today, his son, Scott, is the head winemaker, and Scott’s son, J.J., is the director of sales.
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During the 2010 vintage, an unusual event occurred in that block of chenin blanc grapes: A fungus called botrytis invaded. Normally, winemakers don’t like fungus in their grapes, but botrytis is so special, it’s called “noble rot.” It pierces a grape’s skin, causing the fruit to dehydrate and become a raisin on the vine. What is left inside is sweet, spicy nectar.
Scott Williams decided to take a shot at making a TBA, a potentially once-in-a-lifetime wine. So he called in his picking crew that November when temperatures dipped below 20 degrees and asked the workers to separate the whole, frozen grapes from the shriveled, botrytis-affected raisins. The team spent a combined 417 hours picking through the grapes, sorting them into two batches.
The whole grapes that were made into ice wine were 31 percent sugar, while the TBA grapes were a whopping 41.5 percent (by comparison, grapes for merlot are typically picked at 24, and a banana is 8).
The wines turned out entirely different, the ice wine showing off bright flavors of orchard fruit and the TBA revealing extraordinary spices and thick flavors.
The ice wine is made nearly every year, though Kiona didn’t produce one last fall. The TBA, meanwhile, is a rarity. In the Northwest, only a few have ever been made. Chateau Ste. Michelle makes a riesling TBA under its Eroica label and sells it for $200 per half-bottle.
The Williams family doesn’t know if it will ever happen again, which makes this a rare and collectible wine indeed.
Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.