On the world stage there is one style of Australian wine that is revered and universally regarded, that wine is fortified Muscat. What makes it so special?
Well there are over 200 varieties of Muscat varieties and whilst they are all naturally aromatic and sweet, there is one Muscat grape held in high regard for it’s intense flavours, Muscat a Petit Grains Rouge or Brown Muscat. This grape variety is the key as to why Rutherglen Muscats are known around the world!
Muscat is a rich and decadent wine which requires extremely ripe fruit and the long warm period around vintage (March, April, May) is renowned for being mild, sunny and stable in and around Rutherglen; often referred to as an ‘Indian Summer’. This allows the muscat fruit an extra period of ‘hangtime’ on the vine, resulting in the amazingly high baumes (measurement of natural fruit sugars) required for Rutherglen Muscat. Muscat grapes are harvested when the sugars have become far more concentrated than normal table wine grapes (think upwards of 20 baume). Once picked the grapes are pressed and partially fermented before being fortified with grape spirit. The wine is then transferred to older oak barrels, so not to impart too much oak character, where it spends an extended amount of time maturing. As the wine sits in barrel, over time there are losses through evaporation (this is often referred to as Angel’s share). The barrels are topped up with younger material to replace the losses and this is known as a solera system.
Rutherglen Muscats are classified under four descriptions that mark a progression in richness, complexity and intensity of flavour. Although age is only one factor in determining a wine’s classification, it does provide some clue, especially for the Grand and Rare wines.
When it comes time to bottle, a Muscat blend of different years is made to fit the Muscat of Rutherglen classification system:
Rutherglen Muscat is a fresh, aromatic style that should display characters of fresh raisins and should be lifted in its aromatics. The blended age of Rutherglen Muscat is 3-5 years and residual sugar of 180-240 grams per litre.
Classic Muscat should start to show more complex characters as a result of longer time spent in barrel and will start to display toffee and caramel characters but still have nice raisin aromatics. The blended age of Classic Muscat is 6-10 years and residual sugar of 200-280 grams per litre
Grand Muscat shows far more complex and concentrated characters and starts to stray into more treacle like characters and has less of the fresh, aromatic characters. The extended maturation now starts to intensely concentrate the sugar content of the wine. The blended age of Grand Muscat is 11-19 years and residual sugar of 270-400 grams per litre.
Rare Muscat is the pinnacle of fortified Muscat. These are incredibly concentrated with powerful caramel and treacle characters. The oldest barrels are used for this level of Muscat, hence the moniker ‘Rare’. The blended age of Rare Muscat is 20+ years and residual sugar of 270-400 grams per litre.