Victoria’s Rutherglen region lays undeniable claim to being the home of one of Australia’s greatest wine styles, Muscat (or Liqueur Muscat as it used to be called), but Margaret River’s Gralyn has put its own pin firmly in the map. A decadent glass of fortified, rippling with raisin, fig, date and coffee notes, this is rich and unctuous, but with the fortifying alcohol lifting the sweetness, leaving endless layers of flavour to linger on the palate.
Made from a solera that dates back nearly 40 years, this is rich with classic mature fortified muscat flavours, with notes of dried figs, dates, rum-soaked raisins, toffee, coffee grounds, brandy-soused plum pudding and dark spices, with hints of clove, cinnamon and brown cardamom. Those flavour cascade onto the viscous palate, with toasted walnuts and treacle joining in, the fortifying alcohol gently cutting through the richness, giving this lift through the back palate, flavours persisting for minutes.
Themes of this wine
Australian fortified wines
From a peak of 86 per cent of the Australian wine production in 1950, fortified wines now make up less than two per cent of the wine industry. But while the glory days have long since faded, significant vestiges of that great industry remain. Rare Rutherglen Muscat and Rare Topaque (formerly Tokay, made from the muscadelle grape) are some of the greatest and most unique wines of the world, being blends of variously aged barrels, from decidedly ancient and treacle-like to those more youthful but still complex and lusciously sweet. Tawny (previously called Tawny Port) styles are equally revered – perhaps exemplified by Seppeltsfield’s 100-year-old Barossa Valley ‘Para’ bottlings – while makers of ‘Apera’ (Sherry) styles traverse the range from nutty, saline and dry (like Fino or Manzanilla) to lusciously sweet wines, tasting of dates and dried figs (like the great ‘PX’ Sherries of Spain).
A solera is a method of maturing wine from various vintages, with new material added each year to make up for what has been drawn off to be bottled. This can be done in a large vat or tank, or it can be managed over a series of smaller barrels, where wine is transferred from youngest to the oldest blend at the end of the solera, which is combination of many vintages and will be the most complex wine. This process is used for sherry for a complex and consistent result, as well as port and other fortified wines. It is also used for Champagne and sparkling wines, often adding sherry-like notes.
The muscat grape comes in many forms – some related by name alone – but with all being quite exotically aromatic. Much of it is destined for fortified or sweet wine production, with the typical talc and exotically floral notes unfashionable for dry table wines – though there are some compelling exceptions to this. Emulations of Northern Italy’s Moscato d’Asti have seen the muscat family brought somewhat back into currency in this country, sometimes using the typical muscat blanc à petits grains (moscato bianco), and sometimes other muscat varieties or similarly aromatic ones. Muscat rouge à petits grains (or brown muscat, with red-hued berries) is the sole variety used in the production of Rutherglen muscat, one of this country’s greatest wines.
If you’re after a wine region with a healthy dose of conspicuous glamour, then Margaret River has it all. Three hours south of Perth, ‘Margs’ is littered with iconic wineries, many with dazzling cellar doors and world-class restaurants. And then there’s the abundant sunshine, and the beaches – oh, those beaches… It’s a beautiful, beautiful place, and for a young wine region it’s very mature, with well-established paths to success built largely on the twin pillars of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon (et al). Names like Cullen, Moss Wood, Woodlands, Leeuwin Estate and Vasse Felix feel like they’re etched in stone, but in the last little while, smaller players have been making their mark.