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Selector's State of Play on Rutherglen Muscat
Wine

The Selector Guide to Rutherglen Muscat

Our greatest sweet wine treasure has to be Rutherglen Muscat. Indeed, we make some truly incredible Tawny, Apera, Topaque, botrytis and late harvest wines, but none have quite the varietal or regional expression of this enduring icon.

Any fortified winemaking, particularly that of any quality or style, is a long and slow game. This decades-long journey also requires special skills and experience, the kind of which sits in the ‘accrued’ column of the balance sheet and gives wine accountants migraines. All quality fortified wines come from, and are defined by, their Solera.

Developed by the Spanish and Portuguese, Solera is a system that allows winemakers to create wines of a consistent average age, flavour and style, year in, year out. Similar to a master stock in cooking, a Solera is about fractional blending, adding new material to old, building desired flavours into the whole and replenishing old material taken out, or lost along the way.

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WHAT GRAPE IS USED FOR MUSCAT?

Muscat of Rutherglen in a wine glass

Slowly, over time, just like a master stock, the flavours and characteristics of the Solera deepen and concentrate, the value of the overall system compounding year after year. For over 100 years in Rutherglen, a small congregation of the devoted faithful have been patiently tinkering, blending and honing their precious Solera through the generations with Muscat à Petits Grains Rouge, one of the 200 members in the Muscat family.

Otherwise known as Rutherglen Brown Muscat, Muscat à Petits Grains Rouge (MàPGR), has been in the region for over 140 years. Revered for its small red berries, pure, raisin-like qualities and its ability to ‘hang’ (or stay on the vine longer) to develop extraordinarily rich flavours, MàPGR has made Rutherglen the Muscat Capital of the world. Seemingly, MàPGR and Rutherglen are made for one another.

Its relatively dry, Mediterranean-like climate and warm-to-hot autumns combine to build insanely complex wines that, when fortified by adding a neutral spirt, can oxidise and age well into the future without spoiling. The result, especially when blended with material that is beyond the 10-year mark, are wines with unparalleled depth, richness and complexity, built around unctuous layers of caramel, toffee, dried fruit, and spice.

 

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT CATEGORIES OF MUSCAT?

The Rutherglen Muscat lined up ready for a tasting

The Rutherglen Muscat lined up ready for a tasting.

Rutherglen Muscat is classified into four distinct categories based on ageing and flavour intensity: Rutherglen, Classic, Grand, and Rare. The Rutherglen classification starts the party, and is the youngest and freshest. The average age of wine in this category is 3-5 years, characterised by vibrant fruit flavours, a light-ish body (comparatively), and gold/amber colouring. The aromatics range across raisins, orange, orange peel and marmalade, with raisin-based flavours, walnuts and boiled fruitcake.

Classic Muscats are a step up in depth and complexity, and have material aged between 6-10 years. Classic is where you can start to see the importance of old barrel and non-vinous characters - ‘otherness’ - play a part, but more on that later. The aromatics start to become caramelised with espresso, chocolate and musk, and you can expect liquorice and toffee to add weight to the raisin flavours that bring the DNA of MàPGR to life.

The Grand category contains components between 11-19 years old, and is where depth, complexity, texture and concentration really kick in. As the younger components age and transform, aromatics become heady and lined with deep coffee, toffee and dark chocolates, and the palate is loaded with roasted nuts, caramel and molasses flavours. For wine nerds, Grand is an interesting category as you can start to identify the house style of each producer, and observe how the skill of blending creates something detailed and distinct within layers of intensely rich and powerful flavours.

Rare is the top of the pyramid, and after 20-plus years of ageing is where you can start to smell, taste and experience how ridiculously complex and concentrated Rutherglen Muscat can get. ‘Intense’ as a description doesn’t quite cut it, but in the mouth as everything melds across the palate the richness and concentration of it all lifts your senses off to Neverland. Rare is also where you can appreciate why Rutherglen Muscat is a singularity in the world of wine: there are only a handful who produce wines in this classification band, with some of them having 70-plus-year-old material to help them push the boundaries of flavour, intensity and richness.

 

WHAT IS RANCIO IN MUSCAT?

There is so much going on in the glass that slowly sipping seems the only way to properly process wines like these. Without a few friends to share, it’s hard to fathom finishing a 375ml bottle of Rare Rutherglen Muscat on your own, as there are so many layers of ‘otherness’ to get your head around.

‘Otherness’ in wine often means non-vinous grape and fruit characters, and in Rutherglen Rare Muscat there are a few to consider. “Good-old” barrels are something that adds to the equation, and as Chris Pfeiffer, a veteran of 50 vintages and panellist of our tasting, points out, “Good barrels are important - you notice it slowly over the years, it takes about twenty years to really know, but they add an extra something to the wine that is wonderful.”

Apart from decades of fortified barrel seasoning, oxidated ‘rancio’ layers are extra parts of ‘otherness’ that you will find in Rare Rutherglen Muscat. Oxidation occurs when the wine gets into contact with air, and in table wine can ruin things within 6-12 hours. However, when fortified, the wine retains the oxidative characters, but the added spirit protects (fortifies) it from going too far and destroying all the flavour and character.

Rancio manifests as a nutty, mushroom aroma that can also smell like overripe fruits, nuts, and melted butter that has sat out all night after cooking. You’ll often also find it in good Scotch whisky and Apera (sherry). The last ‘otherness’ is something called the ‘Angel’s Share’, referring to the evaporation of about 3-5 per cent from each barrel a year. This gets topped up as the wines make their way slowly through the Solera, however, and this slow loss over time concentrates and thickens the liquid, adding another layer of complex intensity.

 

IS MUSCAT POPULAR?

(From left to right) Paul Diamond of Selector, Stanton & Killeen winemaker Adriaan Foot, Wine Selectors’ Matt White, and Chris Pfeiffer, owner and winemaker of Pfeiffer Wines.

(From left to right) Paul Diamond of Selector, Stanton & Killeen winemaker Adriaan Foot, Wine Selectors’ Matt White, and Chris Pfeiffer, owner and winemaker of Pfeiffer Wines.

To get Selector cross this special singularity, The Winemakers of Rutherglen rallied its members for tasting that spanned all four of the categories, with each of its members submitting the wines that they make for each classification.

Wines from Morris, Chambers Rosewood, Pfeiffer, All Saints, Stanton & Killeen, De Bortoli Rutherglen Estate, Cofield Wines and Jones Winery were lined up and tested blind as Chris Pfeiffer, aforementioned legend from Pfeiffer, Adriaan Foot, senior winemaker from Stanton & Killeen, Wine Selector’s Matt White and myself made our way through 22 wines. After the tasting and discussions were held, it’s clear why the reputation of Rutherglen Muscat continues to soar both domestically and internationally.

Despite its niche place in the market, its future is buoyed by its loyal fan base and increasing recognition among wine enthusiasts worldwide. Muscat stands as a timeless symbol of our winemaking excellence that captures and maintains a past where tradition and craftsmanship matter. It’s a testament to a region’s rich history, commitment and winemaking mastery, but as a symbol, as time marches on, Rutherglen Muscat continues to cement its status as one of the world’s most iconic wines.

 

TASTE THE STATE OF PLAY RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT FOR YOURSELF WITH THIS EXCLUSIVE SELECTOR OFFER

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THE BEST RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT

Best Rutherglen Muscat

ALL SAINTS ESTATE RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT RRP $25

Light amber in colour with a fresh fruit nose of Muscat grape, rancio, and nutty caramel, with a fresh, light, and nicely structured palate of raisin flavours and subtle, lingering sweetness.

 

CHAMBERS ROSEWOOD VINEYARDS RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT RRP $25

Medium to light red amber in the glass, with youthful aromas of rosehip, Christmas cake and molasses. Rich and well balanced palate with raisin, musk and vanilla notes and nice acidity. Luscious.

 

PFEIFFER WINES RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT RRP $26.50

Red amber in hue, with a pretty floral nose of orange blossom and ginger. Palate is elegant, light and lively but nicely detailed with raisin fruit characters and well-balanced sweetness.

 

STANTON & KILLEEN RUTHERGLEN MUSCAT RRP $28

Bright, medium red amber in appearance opening with subtle raisin, rosewater and caramel aromatics. Elegant and nutty on the palate with fresh fruit flavours and hints of tannin on the finish.

 

Best Rutherglen Grand Muscat

Rutherglen Grand Muscat

 

ALL SAINTS ESTATE GRAND MUSCAT RRP $85

Dark amber to brown in the glass with a complex aged nose of balsamic glaze, tea and chocolate. Palate is savoury and rich with toasty caramel notes and a luscious finish.

 

CHAMBERS ROSEWOOD VINEYARDS GRAND MUSCAT RRP $70

Medium dark amber. Earthy coffee aromas with a fine spirit lift open onto a forward palate that is dense, rich and sweet.

 

MORRIS WINES GRAND MUSCAT RRP $80

Dark, almost black amber, with a developed nose of burnt caramel and mocha. A dense, oily and luscious palate with sweet fruit and lovely length.

 

PFEIFFER WINES GRAND MUSCAT RRP $90

Dark brown in hue, with a f loral, savoury nose. Palate is lush and textural with raisins, and lingering threads of coffee and dark chocolate on the rich, lengthy finish.

 

STANTON & KILLEEN GRAND MUSCAT RRP $105

Medium to dark amber colour with developed Muscat, coffee bean and dried herb aromas. Luscious, textured and long, with rancio characters and hints of Christmas cake.

 

Best Rutherglen Classic Muscat

Best Rutherglen Classic Muscat

ALL SAINTS ESTATE CLASSIC MUSCAT RRP $50

Deep brown with a green hue. Aromas of ripe raisins with tea, fig and caramel hints. Palate is full and viscous with rich lines of caramel, fig, and wood in a Muscat that balances youthful fruit and aged complexity.

 

CHAMBERS ROSEWOOD WINERY CLASSIC OLD VINE MUSCAT RRP $30

Walnut in colour with a nose of rose petal, tea, dried sultanas and crushed dried herbs extending onto a gentle, luscious palate of toffee, crme bržlŽe, with a deep, dark core and rancio characters in evidence.

 

COFIELD WINES CLASSIC MUSCAT RRP $35

Burnished copper in the glass. Aromas are light and lifted with blackcurrant, rose petal and oak characters. Palate is layered with orange peel, caramel, dried fruit and nuts and figs, with slight hints of sweet tea and tannin.

 

JONES WINERY CLASSIC MUSCAT RRP $40

Light amber in hue. Aromas of lifted rose petal and spicy raisin fruit with developing notes. Palate is mouth-filling and lovely, sweet and rich yet clean, with lingering Muscat flavours and charry wood undertones.

 

MORRIS WINES CLASSIC MUSCAT RRP $25

Deep brown with an amber rim. Bouquet is rich and intense with black tea and nutty complexity. Palate is lush with fresh fruit, well-integrated tannins and measured sweetness, in a soft and elegant fortified with satisfying length.

 

PFEIFFER WINES CLASSIC MUSCAT RRP $38

Bright medium amber red in the glass. Nose is floral with raisin fruit, lavender and good Muscat lift, while the palate is deep and full-flavoured with aged characters, brown sugar, well-integrated tannins and balanced sweetness.

 

DE BORTOLI RUTHERGLEN ESTATE CLASSIC MUSCAT RRP $35

Medium light amber in colour. Floral and fragrant nose with rosewater and potpourri alongside fresh raisins and dried fruit and nuts. Palate displays roasted coffee and oaky characters with hints of toffee and caramel.

 

STANTON & KILLEEN CLASSIC MUSCAT RRP $42

Dark, caramelised butter in appearance. Fresh aromas of Turkish Delight, chocolate and espresso opens onto a complex yet well-balanced palate of rich raisin fruit, rose petal and dried fig before a mildly sweet, satisfying finish.

 

THE BEST RUTHERGLEN RARE MUSCAT

Best Rutherglen Rare Muscat

ALL SAINTS ESTATE RARE MUSCAT RRP $135

Medium dark with developed nose of Muscat, vanilla bean and cardamom spice. Palate displays lovely delicious lines with hints of orange rind and 5-spice.

 

CHAMBERS ROSEWOOD VINEYARDS RARE MUSCAT RRP $275

Dark caramel hues with a bouquet of dark chocolate, aniseed and 5-spice. Exotic notes of black olives, raisins, and espresso - lovely.

 

MORRIS WINES OLD PREMIUM RARE MUSCAT RRP $120

Beautiful, deep and dark in the glass. An unctuous nose of raisins opens onto a palate of rich Muscat fruit with dense, well-balanced textures.

 

PFEIFFER WINES RARE MUSCAT RRP $140

Dark brown to black colour with olive green hues. Aromas of coffee and chocolate, extending onto a concentrated palate of evident depth and complexity.

 

STANTON & KILLEEN RARE MUSCAT RRP $145

Dark, dense mahogany in hue. Rancio notes, espresso and fruit cake on the nose, with an intense palate of licquorice, mocha and raisin. Complex, balanced and delicious.

Wine
Words by
Paul Diamon
Photography by
Sue Davis
Published on
17 May 2024

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