A muscat love affair
Muscat a Petits Grains Rouge. It’s a mouthful, but one that Rutherglen’s early wineries made so easy to swallow. The palate of the mid-to-late 1800s tended to be fonder of fortified wines than unfortified, and this particular variety of muscat, which originally gained prominence in France’s Rhone Valley, lent itself to fortification more than most. A brown strain adept at accumulating sugar, when paired with the area’s warm dry climate – further adding to its sugar content – fortified wine magic was created.
Word of Rutherglen Muscat soon spread throughout state and country, with the quality of the produce unmatched in Australia. But it was the European phylloxera plague of the late-1800s that saw Rutherglen wines gain international prominence. With their vineyards decimated by the disease, European nations – most notably Britain – began large-scale importation of Australian fortifieds, quickly developing a taste for them. And none was more in demand than those from Rutherglen.
The popularity of the produce saw a wealth of wineries spring up during this time, with many surviving to this day. There are now 18 established member wineries that make up the Winemakers of Rutherglen, charged with upholding the quality that has become synonymous with Rutherglen Muscat over the course of almost two centuries.
Classifying the muscat liqueur taste
The taste of muscat liqueur changes markedly as it ages. Rutherglen Muscats are classified under the following four descriptions:
- Rutherglen Muscat: Aged 3-5 years, with a residual sweetness of 180-240g/L. Light and clean with a bouquet of raisin and fresh fruit. A simple but lengthy profile.
- Classic Rutherglen Muscat: Aged 6-10 years, with a residual sweetness of 200-280g/L. Richer and more complex, the rancio character that defines Portuguese wood-aged fortifieds is now present, as well as orange peel and nut.
- Grand Rutherglen Muscat: Aged 11-19 years, with a residual sweetness of 270-400g/L. Another step up in intensity and complexity, a deep oakiness begins to come to the fore. Fruit cake and toffee make themselves known.
- Rare Rutherglen Muscat: Aged 20+ years, with a residual sweetness of 270-400g/L. The pinnacle of Australian fortifieds, Rare Rutherglen Muscat takes you on a breathtaking journey of texture and flavour, with complexity and intensity to match any fortified in the world. Expect to find every one of the flavours mentioned above, as well as cold tea, mocha and the most subtle pangs of citrus.
But which wineries best deliver on Rutherglen’s rather imposing reputation? The best known of the area’s labels – All Saints Estate – was established in 1864, and is still home to some of the finest examples of Rutherglen Muscat. Other producers worth keeping an eye out for include John Gehrig, Rutherglen Estates, St Leonards, Valhalla and Warrabilla.
For the finest muscat experience possible, the extra investment that a Rare Rutherglen necessitates will more than pay itself back, particularly if it’s enjoyed very occasionally.
Muscat liqueur titbits
- The Rutherglen area has recently seen the establishment of a few new wineries for the first time in decades, with the likes of Calico Town and Lilliput Wines offering contemporary takes on an Australian classic.
- With some wineries established in the 1850s, Rutherglen is one of the oldest winemaking regions in Australia, and many original vines survive to this day.
- Rutherglen’s original vintners inadvertently planted phylloxera-resistant vines, allowing the area to export all over the world during the phylloxera plague.
- Despite being a fortified wine powerhouse of worldwide renown, the town of Rutherglen is home to only around 2000 residents.