What is ‘cane cut’ wine?

‘Cane cut’, ‘cordon cut’, ‘cut cane’ – have you ever been curious about what these wine terms mean?

The good news is the three wine terms above all refer to the same style of wine.

Even better news for Australian readers is they refer to a unique winemaking tradition that produces sweet wines bursting with rich bouquets of candied fruits, honey, caramel, vanilla and toffee.

Cane cut wines are without a doubt the most distinctly Australian dessert wine.

Below, we’ll dig in the history, the winemaking process, the wine profile and give wine pairing examples with our very own UMAMU Estate 2014 Cane Cut made from pioneer Sauvignon Blanc vines in Margaret River.


New World name for an Old World tradition

Are you familiar with ‘straw wines’?

These are sweet wines or dessert wines made from sun-dried grapes (i.e. raisins) and they date as far back as the days of the Roman Empire and ancient Greece.

We can read about straw wines in the writings of people like Pliny the Elder (AD 23/24 - 79) who said that leaving ‘grapes on the vine to dry in the sun’ created a ‘liquor of exquisite bouquet and flavour’.

This is still true today!

The name ‘straw wines’ is because of the technique of drying out grapes on straw mats under the hot Mediterranean sun.

You might know of these Old World straw wines under the following names:

  • Muscadel/ Moscatel/ Muscatel – A raisin wine popular in Spain and made from Muscat grapes.
  • Pedro Ximenez – Famously known as the world's sweetest wine, this raisin wine is typically the base in many Sherries from southern Spain.
  • Amarone and Recioto – These raisin wines are both made in Verona, northeastern Italy, but it's the latter which is typically sweeter.
  • Prošek – A famous, homemade raisin wine made in Croatia.
  • Vin de Paillé – A catchall term which refers to straw wines in France.

In France, the process of producing straw wines is today known as passerilage. In Italy the name for straw wine is passito, while in Spain it’s called vino de pasas

These wines are rich in flavour, very popular and often expensive.

This is because 100kg of dried grapes yields just 25 litres of wine – compared to the 65-75 litre yield of fresh grapes.

There are two main techniques for producing Old World straw wines.

  • The first is where grapes are harvested on the vine and air-dried on racks or on mats under the sun.
  • The second technique sees winemakers twist vines to halt water flow to grapes until they are shrivelled and ready for harvesting.

Straw wines typically have a high alcohol content over 15% due to concentration of sugar. The sugar and alcohol help straw wines have an ageing potential over 50 years.

In Spain, Pedro Ximenez grapes are sun-dried for two days to concentrate sugars and create popular straw wines. After fermentation, the sweet wine base can be fortified with distilled wine to create Sherry. 

How is an Australian cane cut wine made?

The terms ‘cane cut’, ‘cordon cut’ and ‘cut cane’ are Australian.

Here’s what the Oxford Companion to Wine has to say about ‘cut cane’:

“The term originated in Australia, where this technique is typically used to produce sweet wines [...] By cutting the canes almost at the time of harvest, water supply to the fruit is halted, and so the berries start to shrivel (as in the production of dried-grape wines). Sugar concentration is elevated as water is lost through the berry skin and acidity may also be increased. The technique was developed to avert rain spoilage of drying grapes.”

The Australian cane cut technique allows winemakers to play with a wide variety of flavours.

Note the description of winemakers cutting vines before the grapes are ripe. This leaves much more acidity in the grape than if already-ripe grapes are harvested and dried in the sun. Extra acidity boosts the flavour profile and with higher sugar content helps boost the ageing potential of cane cut wines.

Since straw wines are predominantly made from white grapes – which lack the tannins of red wine – extra acidity is vital to give a cane cut wine ageing potential.

Trust me about this last one.

Our UMAMU Estate Cane Cut can stick around in the fridge for ages after opening without losing any of its magical bouquet!

When making a cane cut wine, the canes on a grape vine are literally 'cut' and the grapes left to wither on the vine to concentrate sugars and acidity.

‘Candied fruits, honey and caramel’ – Profile of a cane cut wine

Cane cut wines are by nature sweet, with intense flavours.

They are golden in colour.

This is because it’s usually white grapes which are cane cut – think riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Here’s a list of flavours you will commonly find in cane cut wines:

  • Candied fruits
  • Stewed fruits
  • Dried fruits (apricot, prune, sultana)
  • Toffee
  • Crème-brûlée
  • Vanilla cream
  • Lemon
  • Lemon custard
  • Lime
  • Orange peel
  • Lychee
  • Mango
  • Marmalade
  • Cumquat
  • Honey
  • Honeysuckle

Time in the barrel can also add extra spice and tobacco-like flavours to cane cut Australian wines.

Gold 95 points – UMAMU Estate cane cut Sauvignon Blanc

We are immensely proud of our 2014 Cane Cut.

The cane cut grapes were hand harvested from 1987 pioneer Sauvignon Blanc vines at UMAMU Estate in Margaret River.

Cold-crushed to press, and cold settled before a 12°C ferment in barrel and then aged on light lees for four months before bottling.

Our cane cut received a stunning 95 points Gold Ribbon rating from Huon Hooke:

"Deep golden colour. The bouquet is sharp-edged lemon and orange citrus fruit embellished with toffee, vanilla and crème brûlée, the palate rich and sweet and loaded with honey and toffee-like flavours. Poached peach and stewed apricot, too.  A gorgeous Barsac style. Drink till 2023.”

Our cane cut received 92 points from James Halliday, and 91 points high Silver Medal from Langton’s Margaret River Wine Show 2018 in the ‘sweet table wine’ class.

The cane cut process also helped us keep alcohol content down to 10.2% – muscadel wines typically have a 15-19% alcohol content – and make our Cane Cut a healthier drink with less alcohol (in moderation).

Cane cut wine pairing

In the Recipes and Wine Pairing section of our website we have two stunning wine pairing suggestions for our cane cut:

  1. UMAMU Estate Cane Cut with Angels on Horseback (Rambutan)
  2. UMAMU Estate Cane Cut with Raspberry Ruby Chocolate Panacotta with Hibiscus Flower, Sesame Tuile And Balsamic Toffee

The heightened acidity of the cane cut helps it cut through the fat in bacon and panacotta, while its tropical flavours make a perfect match for a fruit like rambutan as well as fragrances like hibiscus.

Cane cut will make a fantastic wine pairing for many more desserts and aperitifs. During a recent wine event, one of our UMAMU Family suggested cane cut with vanilla ice cream, something to check out!

Don’t forget to email us at umamu@umamuestate.com with your cane cut wine pairing creations!