A Taste of Australian Wine
'Muscats and Tokays of the Rutherglen Region'
by Gavin Trott
I must begin by stating a bias, these wines are absolutely individual, world
class and at their best, ASTONISHING. I make no attempt at being unbiased
when describing them. If I get even close to their unique style, incredible
complexity and great age, if I make you want to run out and buy some, then
I have accomplished my goal! The complex flavours, the length, the age and
the mouthfilling qualities of these wines put Bordeaux, Burgundy, indeed most
other wines other than perhaps Vintage Ports and Madeira to shame.
So how are these astonishing wines made, and what are they made from?
The answer to both questions is deceptively simple. Each wine is a style not
a variety and each is made from a different grape. Muscat is made from a brown
coloured type of the grape Muscat a Petits Grains known locally as Brown Muscat,
and Tokay is made from Muscadelle, a grape better known for a small role in
the sweet wines of Bordeaux. In both cases the grapes are grown in this hot
sun drenched region and allowed to hang on the vine long after the table grapes
are ripe, soaking up that heat, turning it into sugar, and then concentrating
this sugar and the acid as the grape shrivels. In this way the grapes often
reach 16-20 degrees Baume (each degree Baume roughly equates to one % alcohol
after fermentation) quite naturally which means the resultant wine will be
both sweet and rich.
The grapes are then picked and crushed. This in itself is a difficult job
due to the raisined grapes and intense sugar levels. Next comes the fermentation,
the use of yeast to turn the sugar into alcohol. Many makers, Chambers included,
do not even start fermenting some wines (Tokay) or in very ripe years. Either
way, the short fermentation is stopped rather like Port by the addition of
high quality brandy spirit which kills the yeast leaving all that rich sugary
sweetness and flavour.
The next step involves time and patience. The young wine is cleaned then
put into oak barrels of varying sizes to age and develop. No new oak is used
for this process as the added flavour would not work with the wine, in fact,
most of the makers feel that the older the oak the better. Most of these wineries
are full of a myriad of barrels of varying sizes and some of great age. The
rest of the process is time.
What happens now is controlled oxidation. Over time, lots of time, small
amounts of air get in through the oak to affect the wine, and through these
same very small openings tiny amounts of the wines evaporate (locally this
evaporated liquid is known as the "angel's share"). The effect is
The oxidation causes colour and flavour changes in the wine. Muscat when young
is reddish brown but time and oxygen turns it brown, then eventually olive
green, particularly on the rim. Tokay starts out lighter with golden tints
but follows the same pattern with very old Muscat and Tokay looking quite
Given the loss through evaporation both wines become noticeably thicker, even
oily. In fact, very old wines, and there are some as old as 100 years and
more, look and have the texture of Treacle or Molasses.
Time adds to the complexity of the wines with older wines showing many aromas
and flavours that were not present in the young wines. Most noticeable among
these is 'rancio', a term much used with Sherries and Ports and which means,
at least as well as I can explain it, a mixture of volatility and other substances
(aldehydes for the chemists amongst us) which stop the sweet wine from smelling
and tasting over sweet or cloying. In fact, all the flavours concentrate and
intensify until older wines are quite literally explosive in the mouth.
So what can I expect from Muscat and Tokay?
Muscat has an aroma that can be described as fruity, with smells of grape,
raisins, orange peel, rancio brandy spirit and more plus a palate including
incredibly intense sweetness, and many other flavours that I can't find words
Tokay has all of these plus a characteristic flavour and aroma from the Muscadelle
grape that has been described as cold tea, fish oil, or malt extract, all
right, but all wrong ... you'll need to try the wine to know what I mean.
Producers to watch for
Stanton and Killeen
Wines to try
Chambers Liqueur Muscat and Tokay (younger)Very Old Liqueur Muscat and Tokay
(very special, very, very old)
Morris Canister Series (younger) or Old Premium Liqueur (older)
Stanton and Killeen Special Old Liqueur
Baileys Warby and Founder Range (younger) and Winemakers Selection (older)
Campbells Merchant Prince
All Saints Lyrebird Range
I once was privileged enough to try some 100 year old Muscat from Chambers.
It was so dark and thick you almost could not pour it! It looked like treacle
and in the mouth was explosive, almost searing in its intensity and the flavour
stayed with me for ages, longer than any other wine experience. It is this
wine, when blended in with medium and fresher wine, that makes these old blends
so sensational to try.
Gavin is the manager of the
Australian Wine Centre (a large
collection of affordable, rare and cult Australian wines) and hosts the very
popular Auswine Forum (An online
discussion forum about Australian wine) . You may reprint this article either on
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