Two affordable Australian muscats from Rutherglen

These bottles have been lurking, and it’s proper to assess them before they are entirely empty – in itself a recommendation. It’s entirely possible to accompany this rich wine style with foods – hard cheeses suffice – but in cool months an open fire, witty company and a sparkling comedy or “film noir” would be my preference.

These wines are made from Muscat a petit grains Rouge grapes (aka Brown Muscat) picked when ripe, fermented, fortified with neutral spirit and matured in large oak. With time, the wine becomes more concentrated, and complex. The art is again in blending judicious quantities of younger material to keep the wines fresh. Companies can make several different muscats (Morris releases 4 or 5) and the oldest can command prices of over $1000 per bottle. Considering the average age and holding time, this kind of price is not farfetched, but substantial pleasure can still be derived from more basic offerings.

Within Australia, northeast Victoria – particularly around Rutherglen –  is the epicentre of this style, with Glenrowan a significant outlier. This style of Muscat is also made in other areas such as the Barossa Valley, and Swan Valley but I am much less familiar with their wines.

Once opened, the bottles can be kept for several weeks, but its uncommon for open bottles to survive long at my home, unless placed in a cupboard and temporarily forgotten.

two muscats (2)

NV Morris Classic Liqueur Muscat 17.5%
Freely available for $25 – or under.  Bright mahogany in colour, it flaunts its raisin, roses, fruitcake and sweet spices; it’s lush, with some mocha joining the dried fruit flavours; it has a lingering finish that is bright, sweet yet not cloying, insistent on further sampling. Artfully made, with greater complexity than its price would indicate.

Drink now, 92 points

NV Seppeltsfield Grand Muscat DP63 17%
Minimum average ten years, and available for around $30. Similar colour, perhaps with a touch of green olive, and slightly deeper. Mocha, fig, toffee. Greater mouthfeel and viscosity, greater length, greater volume of decadent mocha and cleansing acidity. Another great value buy.

Drink now, 93 points

 

These are both exciting drinks that provide fabulous enjoyment with superb value. A worthwhile exercise is to try blending (bottled) muscats together in varying proportions. One useful tip is that a smidgen of little older material makes much more difference than expected.

1997 Morris VP

An excellent year for this style in Rutherglen- Stanton & Killeen and Pfeiffer made outstanding wines.
IMAG0797
But this is the VP from Morris (correct but clumsily Morris’s on the label). The cork on this 20 year-old has performed its task – the wine (87% Shiraz, 13% Cab Sav) is a vibrant but slightly murky crimson (very little sediment when decanted); camphor, cherries, cocoa and mixed spices; the palate shows more dark fruits, especially plum; powdery tannins; a sneaky, approachable wine that looked better each time around, and positively youthful. The spirit has integrated beautifully. Warm, cuddly and no rush to drink this wine.

This wine that looked absolutely better with each assessment; complexity building – and longevity – becoming more apparent.

Drink to 2032, and 94 points

1986 Morris (rare) Muscat

The Rutherglen quality classifications run upwards through Rutherglen, Classic, Grand and Rare. So what lies beyond? Museum? Icon? Antique?

Brown muscat (muscat a petits grains rouge), picked very ripe, fortified with neutral spirirt, then barrel aged for as long as necessary; slowly oxidising and becoming more concentrated; freshened up with younger material from time to time. Simple? By no means, as the wines are then usually blended, which is an entire mystic art. Each year, the winemaker makes decisions about the presumed destiny (quality level) of batches, conducts blending trials, samples spirits, and much more.

I once asked a Rutherglen winemaker the secret to making decent fortifieds of this style “Start at least 20 years ago…then take your time”.

Vintage muscats are uncommon; Morris released versions from 1982, 1986 and 1988 when aged about 5 years; but this example has been aged 30 years! Morris possesses older materials, eked out into blends where a splash makes a world of difference. A good introduction to the classification of Rutherglen muscat is here.

And a recent, lively and informative article by Sean Mitchell on Rutherglen muscats complete with reviews on wines from multiple producers at the different classification levels is here.

oay morris muscat

Firstly this “money can’t buy” wine requires some coaxing before it weasels out of the bottle.

The colour is a black hole – a dark, dense caramel, and we’re truly into non-wine territory. How can gradual oxidation and concentration make this dense, but still fresh fortified wine? We have concentrated mocha, there is condensed raisin, dried fig, walnut, and a slight sense of coconut oil. The texture is extraordinary – rich and luscious are puny understatements. The (neutral) spirit is fully integrated, just one of the wine’s facets.

It’s an experience to swallow, and then wait minutes to for the flavours to subside. The freshness however insists that further indulgence is necessary. By no means painful, describing this wine is akin to bowling to Bradman in his prime- intimidating. The glass is stained with residue. Remarkable.

Drink now, and 98 points.

Morris Cellar One Classic Liqueur Muscat 17.5%

It’s been a while; juggling two new casual positions has been wearing; and a few intended posts have fallen victim to photographic mishaps, lost notes and wine faults. Hectot Lannibal will return in October with another Stoney Goose Ridge new release.

In the meantime, here’s a tasting note on a wine that is actually available for purchase!

Morris is a longstanding Rutherglen winery, recently offloaded by Pernod Ricard and acquired by Casella. I strongly hope that David Morris can continue to produce the full-bodied red wines including the memorable Durif, the amazing VFM Shiraz and other specialties, plus the plethora of fortified wines – Aperas (sherry styles) , Topaque (Australian tokay styles), Muscats in a range of calibres (and prices) and a vintage fortified.

“Classic” is the 3rd tier of quality hierarchy employed by most Rutherglen fortified makers; entry level is Rutherglen, then Classic, then Grand; “Rare” is the classification at the summit. These have longer barrel aging (generating more concentration) Finally the wines endure the judgement of peers; the wines are assessed for quality and adherence to style parameters, so the higher classifications tend to be older, richer, more concentrated.

More information about the classification system  is here.

A useful opportunity at the Morris cellar door is to taste through the range side-by side from Classic to Rare, then try to exercise purchase restraint. I seldom escape with  less than one dozen mixed bottles each visit.

Given that Morris makes a quality Classic Muscat at a lower price, the Cellar One Classic Liqueur Muscat is an “alternate” higher priced version (500 ml for $35 with a generous 20% discount for Morris wine club members), what is the story? My judgement is it’s a young wine but made from a blend of “better” vintages, and demonstrates alignment of fruit density with freshness, pointing that “classic” is a worthy, and broad-ranging classification level, not a poor relation.

morris cellar one muscat

It’s a clean bright light amber/khaki colour, with visible legs; as well as the typical raisin aromas and other dried fruits, there are voluminous scents of fresh rose petals and jersey caramel, the fortifying spirit seems neutral allowing these varietal characters to shine. Oak is not directly noticeable in this style, although it contributes to the rancio characters and a grainy, finely woody acidity. In this sweet fortified wine, bright flavours dwell in the mouth, coating all parts persistently while the acidity means the wine retains vibrancy and the imperative for further tastes.

Not meant to be cellared; exposure to this style should lead to a legion of new converts; and merits a merry 91 points.

Two young VP styles

2009 Buller’s VP
Buller’s (Rutherglen) VPs have proven cellaring potential – I have tasted examples with more than 30 years bottle age. I opened this embryonic wine as I purchased several  bottles at a bargain price. Buller’s table wines never excited me, but when visiting we always spent time at the bird park- irresistible to my children, who usually found some feathers to collect.

The wine is spookily dense black crimson in colour, and both the fruit and sweet spirit are battling joyously. Flavours are more than just simple plum jam; there is red liquorice, tar, and other very dark fruits. Oak is properly transient. Its a supple textured wine, with a very lingering finish – difficult to resist. Everything is in place to provide pleasure over the next 3 decades, and a long decant is recommended if opening anytime over the next 10 years.

A terrific result, regardless of its bargain-basement price.

Drink 2023- 2030, score 90 points

1998 morris vp

1998 Morris Vintage Port 18.8 %

This wine from Rutherglen made by David Morris has won a few trophies and gold medals at Rutherglen and Melbourne, so it’s no slouch. Disappointingly, it has a puny 3.7cm cork, which nevertheless has done its duty.

Variety not known, likely Shiraz with some Durif (or vice-versa) but not really relevant, its a dense and weighty wine; colour is a deep blood plum; its shows floral red liquorice with headsy, well integrated spirit; flavours are all dark fruits, plum, milk chocolate with a touch of fine chalk and talc. It seems slightly old-school, and if a touch drier would have merited even more praise, but truly a style I enjoy and wholeheartedly support. It shows some real class- vibrant, smooth, and inviting with potential for improvement over the next 15 years.

Drink to 2030, score 93 points

 

 

Morris (old premium) Rare Liqueur Muscat

The colour is a deep, clear khaki/brown.

It pours slowly- like motor oil -into the glass. demonstrating its aged concentration. It smells of stewed raisins, and strong dark coffee. There is a streak of cleansing acidity that accompanies the mixed flavours of raisin, almond and mocha. The wine (17% a/v) dwells in the mouth, sticking to all parts.

This Rutherglen muscat falls into the “rare” classification. The price at cellar-door is a very respectable and fair $75, which means canny buyers can acquire the wine for around $60.

morris rare muscat

A bottle doesn’t seem to last long in my household.

This hedonistic world-class style deserves 94 points, while perhaps some judicious freshening with younger material could add to the aromatics.

NV Morris cellar reserve grand liqueur tokay 17%

This is a style that Australians should be patriotic about. It’s recently been rebadged the ghastly “topaque”, to avoid any confusion with the Hungarian Tokay, and is made from muscadelle. It’s a fortified wine, made with neutral spirit, and has extensive barrel aging. The classification scheme from the Rutherglen area ascends from Rutherglen, Classic, grand, then rare, largely based on years in barrel, but with a committee assessing submissions – older does not been better – as a bit of judicious freshening can really make a difference. As a guide, the Grand classification is usually around 10-20 years old on average, and may be upwards of 250 g/l residual sugar. This is one of the styles I perform impromptu kitchen bench blends with.

This particular wine is available at Morris cellar-door only for $50; $40 for club members

morris grand top 1

The typical memory prompts include cold tea, malt, toffee and butterscotch ; while Muscat veers more into raisins. Telling them apart is never a certainty. A little is alleged to go a long way, but the style is irresistible to me, and one glass leads to another. Many North-east Victorian wineries make this style, such as All Saints, Baileys, Bullers, Campbells and Chambers. Morris is the one most attuned to my sensitivities – or the one that seems to float my boat.

There is no real food match- heretics may pour over ice cream, some will try strong hard cheeses, nuts and black coffee; but the winning match is an open fire and pleasant conversation, The wine was made by David Morris, but no doubt incorporates heritage work by his father the legendary Mick Morris, and beyond!

It’s a deep dark khaki colour with an amber/olive rim; it’s viscous and somewhat reluctant to pour. It oozes into the glass hesitantly, the words” rich and luscious” do not do justice to the length and depth of flavours, this wine seems all about toffee and malt; there is bracing cleansing acidy that defies a person to stop sipping.

Score 94 points

It’s frightening to consider that there is a further quality echelon (rare) to come, and even more awesome that there are other special bottlings at prices beyond my means. If I win a lottery yes – but I would need to first buy a ticket.