April 29, 2009

Rutherglen Muscat

Astute Elevage readers will notice a general lack of tasting notes here on Australian wines. One might infer that I'm anti-Australia, in with the "I hate big ass shiraz" crowd. No, not at all. There's so much more to Australia, a place I've visited twice and love dearly.

Sure, some of the larger scaled Aussie reds are way too over the top for me, not to mention overpriced (at least here in the US). Yet there are terrific reds from older producers like Henschke and Tahbilk, and more recent producers like Torbreck.

What I really love about Australia are the lesser known (again, in the US) wines. I'm thinking of the white wines, the rieslings of Clare Valley and semillon of the Hunter, and the stickies.

Ever been to Rutherglen? It's a dusty farm town off the Hume Highway in northern Victoria, a bit closer to Melbourne than Syndey otherwise in the middle of nowhere. It reminds me of what Sonoma might have felt like 50 years ago or more, when you were more likely to see a tractor on main street than a Jaguar.

Rutherglen is also home to some of Australia's most prized and famous wines, namely its dark, rich and intense brown muscats that age seemingly forever. There's history here too -- many of the producers have been around since the 19th century, some with wine stocks going back nearly as far.

On my visits down under, I've managed to stay over in Rutherglen twice. Winery visits included the venerable Chambers, Campbells, All Saints and Morris, the inspiration for tonight's post.

Back in 2002, I brought back a 500ml bottle of NV Morris "Old Premium" Liqueur Muscat, made in the solera style typically used in this region. That's where wines are periodically bottled from partially drained casks, with the casks then filled with young wines, aged, partially drained again for bottling, and filled again. Over time, the casks hold a mix of vintages younger and older, giving wines of great depth, maturity and freshness. Some casks are held longer still, providing blending tools so that younger soleras can be intensified with a bit of an older lot.

The wines themselves are curious in that they aren't fermented very long. Rather, grain alcohol is added early in the fermentation process to kill the yeast and preserve the sweetness, yielding wines with moderate acidity but tremendous residual sugar that apparently provide exceptional ageworthiness.

According to this label, base wines at the time of bottling nearly 10 years ago were more than 25 years old, making this a fairly old wine. The aromas are classic Rutherglen muscat, with floral, raisin, brown sugar and roasted nut notes. The flavors are intense and rich, with raisin, fruit cake and a mild sherry-like nutiness. There's great sweetness but more acidity than you might expect.

These wines are never laser-like with acidic structure. I simply love them for their intensity and uniqueness, with lingering flavors and a delicious taste that I've found in no other wine. Rutherglen muscat is truly original wine, and this Morris bottling from its Mia Mia Vineyard is exceptional. I'll have to go back to Australia and get more. I don't believe this wine makes it to the US, though plenty of others do. Give on a try.


Jon said...
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Jon said...

Just wanted to say I absolutely agree with you regarding the amazing Rutherglen muscats and tokays. I'm not sure about availability in the US, however here in Alberta I've been able to get some Chambers, Pfeiffers and Campbells muscat. Cheers, Jon.