By Bro Mike , Wine Correspondent
Muscats and Tokays of North-East Victoria
The Muscats and Tokays from NE Victorian (around Rutherglen and Glenrowan) are unique amongst the world’s great fortified wines, they are of superb quality and enormously enjoyable to drink. The two wines are made in identical fashion but derived from different grapes. Muscat from Muscat a Petits Grains and Tokay from Muscadelle grapes.
The grapes are allowed to hang on the vine long after normal maturity gradually concentrating their sugar and begin to shrivel and raison. If all goes well the baume (the measurement of sugar content indicating potential alcohol that may be achieved) reaches 16-18 degrees, up to 20 in an exceptional year.
After crushing, wine spirit is either added before fermentation commences or quickly after it starts. Young Tokay is a pale gold colour whilst young Muscat is a light reddish brown. The wine is placed in small older oak barrels to begin a remarkable transformation. Over the next 10 -20 years the colour turns dark brown with Muscat retaining some red embers and Tokay a more burnt orange.
The transformation of the bouquet and palate is just as dramatic. The bouquet acquires complexities with no parallel in table wines - you can literally sense the texture without touching it. The complexity of the combination of fruit, alcohol, the gentle oxidation of prolonged storage in barrels and importantly the concentration caused by evaporation trough oak is almost indescribable.
The concentration becomes more evident with age. Very young is only a slightly thicker consistency than table wines. Whereas, very old wines pour like oil and some over 100 years old are like treacle. (See the viscosity apparent in the photo above)
Rutherglen Muscats’ are classified under four descriptions that mark a progression in richness, complexity and intensity of flavour:
Rutherglen Muscat – is the foundation of the style; displaying the fresh raisin aromas, rich fruit, clean spirit and great length of flavour on the palate which are the mark of all the Muscats of Rutherglen. Average age 2-5 years.
Classic Rutherglen Muscat – displays a greater level of richness and complexity, produced through the blending of selected parcels of wine, often matured in various sizes of oak cask to impart the distinctive dry ‘rancio’ characters produced from maturation in seasoned wood. Average age 5-10 years.
Grand Rutherglen Muscat – takes the flavour to a still higher plane of development, displaying a new level of intensity, depth and concentration of flavour, mature rancio characters, and a complexity which imparts layers of texture and flavour. Average age 10-15 years.
Rare Rutherglen Muscat – is rare by name and by nature. These are the pinnacle Rutherglen Muscats – fully developed and displaying the extraordinary qualities that result from the blending of selected parcels of only the very richest, and most complete wines in the cellar. Rare Rutherglen Muscats are only bottled in tiny quantities each year, but for those privileged to taste them, these are wines of breathtaking complexity, texture and depth of flavour. Minimum age 20+ years.
Rutherglen Tokays’ are similarly classified. Other regions or makers may also adopt this classification system.
There should be no preference between Tokay and Muscat it is a question of mood. Muscat tends to be sweeter and richer and Tokay less fleshy and more elegant. Similarly the difference between the great NE Victorian wineries is a question of style more than quality. The styles of Rutherglen Muscat/Tokay reflects each winery's unique interpretation of the variety.
As a guide:
Baileys - are the richest and most voluptuous
Morris - the most complex and classic
Chambers - the most elegant and perfectly balanced
Campbells/Stanton and Killeen– have lighter, younger and fresher styles
Whilst these wines are often regarded as an after dinner drink they make a wonderful aperitif especially in colder weather. A small glass warms both the mind and the tummy. They are definitely one of my favourite wines.