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Home Winners > Winners 2012 > Sweet Wines

Winner Details

Sweet Wines

Our tasters were less effusive than in previous years, but there were some strong Gold and Silver medals here – and one absolute star


The Sweeties section of the Gold List is one where, historically, our tasters let themselves go a bit – quite happy to be seduced by the syrupy murmurings of big money TBAs. Nor are they too hidebound by tradition, happy to pick pretty much anything from anywhere if the contents of the bottle are good enough.

Well, we saw such a catholic approach in spades this year. There may only have been four Golds, which is a little surprising, given that it’s the same as for the past two years, despite submission numbers in 2012 being higher.

So what were the four that made it onto the Gold List? A Coteaux du Layon, a Sauternes, a German Riesling and a Moscato d’Asti?

Hush you and your hidebound ways! This is the Sommelier Wine Awards – home to the unusual and stimulating! We got a sweet Spanish red, a botrytised Kiwi Riesling, a Chilean late-harvest Moscatel and a creation from Slovenia that practically defied definition.

That all the medal winners were worthy isn’t in doubt, but overall there were less positive vibes going around than in previous years’ competitions. While previous SWA judges have found it hard to throw wines out to come up with medal winners, this year it all seemed a bit too easy.

‘There wasn’t enough counterbalancing acidity, so the wines lacked structure and failed to carry through onto the finish,’ sighed Pollen Street Social’s Fionnuala Synott of her non-botrytis flight.

The botrytised wines were also, for the most part, atypically humdrum this year. Perhaps because there were relatively few wines from the Euro sugar-powerhouses of Sauternes and Tokaji, and a surprising number from the New World, which seems to be waking up to the idea of noble rot.

Noble rot or not, too many of the botrytised wines suffered from lack of acidity, too. ‘The worst wines here were sweet, cloying and confected,’ said a disgruntled Hamish Anderson of The Tate Group.

And the problem with lack of structure, of course, is that it makes the wines even harder to pair with food, leaving the tasters to muse on what, exactly, the role of a sticky should be: to be drunk on its own instead of a dessert, or as an accompaniment.

Having said all that, by the end of judging our tasters had managed to put together a very well-balanced (if unusual) sweet section of the Gold List – and some strong Silvers, too, with the Vidal Ice Wine particularly unlucky to miss out on a place at the top table.

The Vistamar was clean, aromatic and fruity and was deemed a good budget option for dishes like apricot tart. The Castaño Monastrell Dulce was accurately described by consultant Caspar Auchterlonie as ‘solving the chocolate conundrum at a stroke’, and the Saint Clair Noble Riesling stepped in to fill the shoes of Germany and Austria with surprising ease. ‘It had real complexity – it wasn’t just sweet,’ said consultant Maria Rodriguez.

As for the Leonardo from Marjan Simčič, it was without doubt one of the star wines of this year’s tasting. Yes, it was expensive, and yes an oxidised Slovenian wine made from dried Ribolla grapes might just be a hand sell. But nobody who tasted it ever spat and every bottle opened was passed from taster to taster like a spliff at a Rastafarian wedding. If we ever saw a sommelier wearing a rapturous expression during the SWA tastings, you could more or less guarantee that they’d experienced the Leonardo.

‘It’s got so many layers…’ sighed consultant Frédéric Jean-Yves Billet.

‘Wonderful. Just wonderful…’ agreed Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson.

Giving it a Critics’ Choice award seemed the least we could do…

‘With sweet wine, you’re looking for it to have that acidity and that refreshment quality. You should want to drink it on its own.’ Emily O’Hare, River Café