Wine Words Demystified: Botrytis

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus – Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word/phrase is Botrytis

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

A beneficial fungus, also known as noble rot, which is necessary to produce many of the world’s great sweet wines, including Sauternes…when the degree of humidity is just right, Botrytis cinerea will attack grapes, covering them with a gray mold.  The mold lives by penetrating the grapes skins and using up the available water in the juice.  This concentrates the sugar, flavor, and ACID so that a COMPLEX wine of exceptional sweetness can be made. Botrytis  is unique in that, unlike other molds, it produces flavors that harmonize with the flavors of particular grapes

So what got me to thinking about botrytis?  I had recently had an excellent Gewürztraminer from Alsace, France that was made from botrytized grapes.  Pardon my digression here, but every time I think about botrytis…the first thing that pops into my head is the phrase “the fungus among us” – I  can’t seem to make it stop, nor am I sure I want to;-).

The most well-known wine produced from grapes infected with noble rot is Sauternes noted above.   Other great examples include Tokaji (which I’ve heard pronounced a bunch of different ways – but from what I can glean from the web, it’s pronounced “Toe-Ki (rhymes with “Hi’)” which been around longer, and German wines classified as Beerenauslese (“selected berries harvest”) and Trockenbeerenauslese (“selected dried-berries harvest”).  What all sweet wines produced from botrytized grapes have is common is that they seem to have a honey component among the myriad of flavors produced as a result of the noble rot.

A bunch of Riesling grapes after the onset of ...
A bunch of Riesling grapes after the onset of noble rot. The difference in colour between affected and unaffected grapes is clearly visible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  1. troystark31608969 says:

    Nice post. I think Tokaji is actually pronounced “toe-kai” – as in the things on your feet and the greeting “hi.”

  2. T. Stark says:

    Thanks for the post. Tokaji is pronounced “toe-kai.” First syllable is like the things on your feet (“toe”) and the second syllable is like when you say “hi” to someone.

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