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De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon

Dream Vertical: De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon


As Australian wines go, few have had as profound an impact on one family’s destiny as Noble One has on the De Bortoli Family. Selector recently headed to Griffith to get closer to the 40-year journey behind this sweet, golden, mould-effected juice.

Consider: of all the human conditions, our fear of failure has to be the most interesting. We know most of our significant leaps forward have come from fortuitous mistakes made on the edge of defeat or after a string of them - yet we are often stifled by the fear of getting things wrong. We know within that achievement lies somewhere on the far side of failure, but still we stall just shy of leaping.

That’s where student winemaker Darren De Bortoli and his father Deen, second-generation principal of the family business, were when trying to convince some of their growers to keep their Semillon grapes on the vine, well past the point of normal ripeness, putting the crop at risk.

“They thought we were crazy,” explains Darren. “But we had made the commitment to try and see what would happen: we didn’t know whether it was going to be a disaster or if it was going to be a great success.”

What Darren and Deen were attempting was to have these grapes infected with a rot. A specific, grey necrotrophic mould known as botrytis cinerea. Most growers do everything possible to avoid, not invite botrytis, as it is one of the most destructive and aggressive fungal pathogens that can completely destroy crops very quickly. Once it takes hold, it’s very hard to stop.

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Botrytis, also known as “noble rot”, thrives in humid conditions. As the rot sets in and moisture leaves the grape there is small window where a highly concentrated mixture of flavour, acid and aromas is left in the shrivelled shell.

Crafting decent botrytis wines requires skill, experience, patience and meticulous attention to detail. It’s risky and expensive: the juice-to-fruit ratio is significantly lower than if you were making table wine; you have to have experienced hand-picking resources at your disposal; and if anything goes wrong in the conditions, you can lose the crop entirely.

The history of botrytis wine traces back centuries, with early references found in ancient Roman texts. However, it was in the wine regions of Europe, particularly in France and Germany, where botrytis wines gained renown. The legendary sweet wines of Sauternes in Bordeaux, Germany’s Auslesen and Trockenbeerenauslese, and Hungary’s Tokaji Aszú all owe their reputations to the fickle, feared, famous noble rot.

De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon tasting line up

A golden transition. The wild colour transformation that occurs with Noble One over the decades.



It was one of these magically sweet and concentrated wines, specifically a 1975 Château Coutet, that inspired Darren to take that leap of faith. “I remember the wine distinctively, a great wine from a great year and it was captivating,” recalls Darren.

“The general wisdom at the time was that Australia was too hot and dry to create the conditions for botrytis, but dad told me that we had botrytis in the Riverina and whilst I was initially sceptical it started me thinking that it might be was possible,” Darren says.

“I can home from Roseworthy to do vintage in ‘81 and we played around a bit with Pedro Ximénez, and that gave us a little confidence, so in ‘82 we had a go with Semillon. No one understood back then what would happen once we started making the wines,” he remembers.

“I had invested in some French winemaking textbooks, but I couldn’t speak French so I got one of the locals to translate and help guide us through. It was so very different and for a whole year we were just learning and feeling our way through.”

Noble One revolutionised us and elevated the De Bortoli name

- Darren De Bortoli, Managing Director of De Bortoli Wines



“Forty years on it’s now second nature, but back then we had very little idea of what to expect,” Darren continues. “The process is unique, while the fermentation is happening. You have this dark, turbid brown juice, and then afterwards, after fermentation, they’re all turned into this beautifully golden, crystal clear liquid.”

The transformation is astounding. The resulting wine, initially named ‘Sauternes’ after the great sweet wines of Bordeaux, captivated wine enthusiasts with its opulent sweetness, vibrant acidity, and luscious layers of honeyed apricot and citrus flavours. Critics hailed it as a triumph. It soon gained a following, started winning awards, and began building the family a reputation as innovators. And, as the wine began to boom through the mid-80s into the ‘90s, lifted the De Bortoli name as one of the best in the country.

“Noble One revolutionised us and elevated the De Bortoli name,” explains Darren. “In the mid-80s I was thinking about a move into the Yarra Valley and Noble One gave the family the confidence to invest and expand in that area. It really did change the landscape for us, it’s had profound impact on who we are and what we have become.”

Senior Winemaker at De Bortoli Wines Julie Mortlock tasting wine

Senior Winemaker at De Bortoli Wines Julie Mortlock tasting wine.

De Bortoli Bilbul Oasis that is Emeri's Garden

De Bortoli Bilbul Oasis that is Emeri's Garden.


For over half of its 40-year life, Noble One has been crafted and cared for by senior winemaker Julie Mortlock. This year will be Julie’s last vintage with the family as she plans to retire. To help celebrate a special wine and a special contribution, Darren and Julie opened a special selection of Noble Ones going back to its 1982 inception.

Anyone who has ever tried Noble One or one of the great sweet wines of the world knows that the magic in the glass lies within a captivating balance of intensely concentrated sweetness, fresh, structure-building acid, and a generous plethora of heady aromatics. According to Julie, the magic of these wines stretches beyond the onset of botrytis in the vineyard into the winery.

“As a wine it goes through an incredible transformation, it’s like nothing else,” explains Julie. “When you crush botrytis-affected grapes it looks like grey mud, and through the process it turns into this clear golden liquid - the transformation is quite magical.”



De Bortoli Sauternes

1986 | 1985 | 1984 | 1982

De Bortoli Noble One

2020 | 2017 | 2014 | 2010 | 2008 | 2004

2000 | 1998 | 1995 | 1993

One of the many De Bortoli Wine Barrel Stores

One of the many De Bortoli Wine Barrel Stores.

Botrytis affected Semillon grapes

Botrytis affected Semillon grapes.



In its youth, Noble One is a vibrant golden colour, nicely demonstrated by the current 2020 release. The aromas are clean, youthful and loaded with fresh orange peel, orange and nectarine marmalade, grilled peach and nougat. The mouthfeel is luscious and soft with fine sheets of honeyed fig, quince, nectarine and a clever sweet/sour balance that rides all the way through its lengthy finish. The structure and finesse in the wine is telling that it’s going to be one of the greats, and as time unfolds and layers unfurl it will grow and develop beautifully.

Transformation in these wines begins around five years in the bottle and is initially noticeable with a change in colour. As the colour flattens and deepens the aromas thicken and the palate becomes richer, more concentrated, the mouthfeel moving from slippery to luscious.

The 2017, despite being lighter in colour than the 2020, has started that journey. Lighter in frame, this wine is still tight and fresh, but showing transformative characters through its savoury peach and pear flavours and white flower aromas. Another keeper.

Darren De Bortoli walking through a De Bortoli Semillon Vineyard

Darren De Bortoli walking through a De Bortoli Semillon Vineyard.

Darren De Bortoli drinking a glass of Noble Botrytis Wine

Darren De Bortoli drinking a glass of Noble Botrytis Wine.


The golds in the 2014 are starting to move into amber, the character a pure and elegant display of sultanas, nuts, stonefruits and soft vanillin oak in the background. The 2010 is for the purists, a special wine characterised by 5-spice and pepper-laced aromas that make way to mouth-watering layers of beeswax, pineapple and apricots.

The 2008’s colour is fully developed with browns showing the way to rich citrus peel and marmalade aromas and a deep, beautifully textured plate. At 24 years’ old the 2004 is regal, showing rich caramelised figs, nuts and honeycomb. Fine detail is still shining through its luscious layers and it flows elegantly across the palate to a soft, delicate finish. The 1998 is beautifully structured and is showing signs that its complex, savoury lines of orange peel are deepening further into layers of orange caramel.

The 1995, 1993, 1986, 1985 and 1984 are all exquisite, unctuous and caramelised. The 1986 is still mouth-watering, the 1995 is youthful and fine, while the 1993 has a funky rustic appeal to its cumquat and fig baselines. The 1984 meanwhile is flinty and fine with a delicate, spirit-like lift across the palate, and the 1985 is a supreme example of complexity, with a sweet/savoury detail that shines through its layers of balsamic, baked almonds and honey.

The 1982 at 42 years of age is a stupendous wine, fine and detailed with delicate layers of acid keeping its unctuous layers of bush honey, dried fig and caramelised peach harmonious and structured. There is a baked, tarte tatin-like quality to this wine that cleverly reminds you that all of these wines, from their youth to 40-plus years, are all incredible food wines, with sweet and savoury possibilities in spades.

Speaking of possibilities, the question that gets asked and that remains is “how long can Noble Ones live for?” Time can only tell in this still-moving, 42-year-old leap of faith, but given the impact it has had on the lives of the De Bortoli family, I’m sure it’s one that Darren and the rest of the family are happy to taste and contemplate often.

Words by
Paul Diamond
Photography by
Wine Australia and Paul Diamond
Published on
23 May 2024


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