Australia has some interesting dessert wines that are unique to the area. The area of Rutherglen is know for it’s unique fortified Muscat wines.
For more than 150 years these wines have been made in the same way. Muscat grapes are left to desiccate on the vine for as long as possible – risking spoilage by early autumn rains or botrytis. Once picked, the grapes are pressed for all their sticky juice. The juice is fermented in a mixture of old open fermenters or rotary fermenters until it reaches the desired sugar level of between 14˚ or 17˚ baumé, at which time the fermentation is cut short by the addition of grape spirit (similar to the way Port is made), which kills the yeast and lifts the total alcohol of the Muscat to about 18%. Following the short fermentation period the wines are transferred to oak casks for maturation.
Following fermentation, the new wines are placed in old oak casks of various sizes, to allow the flavors of the Muscat to integrate and mature, but without the overt influence of new oak. The ratio of big or small oak casks depends on each winemaker’s blending program, as the smaller the cask, the quicker the concentration and development of the wines.
Evaporation plays an all-important role in the Muscats of Rutherglen. On average the maturing casks of Muscat lose 5% of their volume each year to the sun. Over the warmer months the air in the cellars is rich with the aroma of Muscat.
The real art of the Rutherglen Muscat is in the blending of the various lots of various ages. Some employ a process of a modified solera system where each of the estate’s Rutherglen Muscat products is drawn down through a series of barrels into which selected parcels of new vintage Muscat or a range of matured wines have been added from time to time. This means that each vintage has a little bit of every past vintage.
Alternatively some winemakers prefer to segregate every parcel of Muscat, only adding suitable new or matured wines to the master blends when Muscat of just the right quality is available. The master blends of the great Muscat houses of Rutherglen have been built up over many generations, and to maintain their consistency a strictly limited quantity of each master blend is drawn off for bottling – as little as 3 to 5% a year.
While this Muscat from Yalumba is not technically labeled with the Rutherglen appellation, it is very much in that style.
Sandi’s (my wife) tasting notes: The wine is very port-like, with aromas of pipe tobacco, mushroom, caramel, redwood planks, wet soil, and mesquite honey. It reminded her of pecan pie in a glass. She felt it would b good with good with a dark chocolate or hazelnut dessert. She loves muscat when it is made in a style like Asti, so didn’t really care for this wine.
My tasting notes: Aromas of butterscotch, caramel, candied oranges, apricot kernel, chocolate, cherry cola, licorice, crème brulee, and bourbon barrel. It had a nice warming alcohol on the palate and a lingering sweetness. I happen to love this style of wine. While this wasn’t my favorite example, it was still quite delicious.
Appellation: South Eastern Australia
Blend: 100% Muscat a Petite Grains
Vineyard: Rutherglen and other traditional areas of northern Victoria
Cases Produced: ??
Bottle Size: 375ml
Suggested Retail Price: $20
More info is available from the Yalumba website.