The Muscats of Rutherglen

A tasting with the wine producers of Rutherglen in Australia Jane Cambell of Cambells, Stephen Chambers of Chambers, Wendy Killeen of Stanton & Killeen and Jen Pfeiffer Pfeiffer Wines.

The five family estates present here share over 650 years of history, all based in Rutherglen in the High Country of Victoria. The nearby Victorian Alps promote a large diurnal shift, and the dry, warm climate presents few difficulties with disease or mildew. Most importantly, autumns tend to be long, dry and warm, allowing grapes to fully ripen during an extended period before harvest.

Over 200 varieties of Muscat are grown around the world, but Rutherglen’s producers use Muscat à Petit Grains, known locally as ‘Brown Muscat’, and recognised for its intense flavours. The region has around one-third of Australia’s plantings of the variety.

The grapes for these wines are not affected by Botrytis, and are not dried before fermentation, but evaporation through their long ageing in cask sees the ‘Angel’s Share’ reduce volumes by around 3-5% annually, further concentrating the wines. Over 20 years of ageing, each barrel will lose half of its volume to evaporation.

There is strict classifications for Rutherglen Muscats:

  • Rutherglen Muscat – wines are 3-5 years old in the blend
  • Classic Rutherglen Muscat – wines are 6-10 years old in the blend
  • Grand Rutherglen Muscat – wines are 11-15 years old in the blend
  • Rare Rutherglen Muscat – wines in the blend are in excess of 15 years old

We would taste wines from the Classic to Rare categories, the Grand and, particularly Rare styles showing much more of the dark, tertiary aromas of their decades in barrel, and the concentration giving a sweet, rich, balsamic quality compared to the fresher style of the Classic wines. It’s a fabulous category of wines and each style has its place, as well as wonderful credentials for matching to any chocolate or rich, Christmassy puddings.

The Wines

(2020) The average age of wines in this solera-style blend is five years, with vines 32- 52 years old. Residual sugar runs at 220g/l. Lovely tawny into toffee colour, beautiful nose of intense rum-soaked sultanas and walnuts, just a tantalising hint of briny shellac. On the palate it is thick and viscous, liquidised sultanas and raisins are delicious, a little orange and toffee, and a very smooth finish, the sweetness persisting to the end. A Christmas pudding or mince-pie treat, or with any chocolate dessert.
(2020) There's 269g/l of residual sugar in this wine, where the average age of barrels in the blend is seven years, and vines are aged from 15 to 100 years old. Aged in a variety of oak, ranging in size from 220-litre barrels to 5,500-litre casks - some of the casks 100 years old. Considerably darker than the Cambells Classic, and darker aromatically too, with polished wood, dark winter spices, and more shellac, prune and raisin characters. In the mouth this is super-slick and thick, positively glycerine rich, with a darker, apparantly drier profile, but such intensity, such depth and richness of flavour, edged with dark and dusty cocoa into a very long finish.
(2020) Stanton & Killeen's Classic wine has an average age of 12 years in the solera, vines planted in 1921, 1968, 1985, 1996 and 2002. It has 282.5g/l of residual sugar and is aged in large oak casks. Another dark wine, amber on the rim, and the aromatics brighter than the Chambers, but there's a dry, nut husk note that grounds the aromatics, maybe something like physillis, coffee and raisins. In the mouth fabulous richness and a lovely edge of red apple acidity to this that balances the sumptuous sweet, dark, raisined vine fruits and lusciousness.
(2020) Moving on to the class of 'Grand' Muscats, the average age of wines in this blend is 18 years, the vines up to 36 years old. The wines spend time in a variety of barrel sizes, and stay there for between three and 30 years. It has 297/l of residual sugar. The darkest wine so far, but still with amber on the rim. A more subtle, coffee-touched, deep and fudge-like aroma, there is dark vine fruit and polished wood. In the mouth a thick, super-concentrated and intense wine, toast and rum and raisin fudge, Christmas cake fruit and spices, but staying so espresso-dark and toffeed too, it finishes with a blast of lip-smacking citrus acidity.
(2020) From the 'Rare' category of Rutherglen Muscats, the average age of wines in this blend is 20 years, the vineyards betwen 15 and 50 years old. It matures in a variety of barrel sizes, and has 312g/l of residual sugar. Easily the darkest of the samples here, just a little tawny at the rim, but the glass stained toffee-brown as you swirl the wine. Shellac, polished wood and old crackling varnish, the depth here speaks of the wine's passage of time, not so much of the fruit. The palate is thick as engine oil, like a PX Sherry maybe, fabulous dark Muscavado sugar and raisins, such depth touching on espresso and Seville orange, nutty, and so warming into an endless finish with such intense sweetness.

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