Old Baileys fortifieds

From a recent auction purchase, the two wines described are believed to have been bottled at least 35 years ago. The style can lose freshness, even under screwcap. I have many vivid memories of visiting Baileys outside Glenrowan, Victoria – even as a child – and their heroic and long-living ferrous red wines and luscious fortifieds. It was a rare day when visits did not coincide with bitter weather (and a welcome open fire) or alternatively a heatwave, when it was tempting to remain inside. HJT are the initials of legendary winemaker Harry Tinson and these wines represent their best selections of the styles. Harry led Baileys from 1973 to 1986, before escaping to start his own label at nearby Lake Mokoan,  (but died in 1995).

My impression is that under assorted corporate ownership, Baileys was starved of investment (except for label redesigns), and its existence, location, wine styles, and its loyal and vocal customer base was regarded as a nuisance, and largely ignored. It’s now under the Casella umbrella, and I remain optimistic.

The wines of Baileys are now made by Paul Dahlenburg (also at the excellent Eldorado Road) and have the same intensity with some more winemaking finesse – something I only picked up with 2009 vintage and onwards; the fortifieds are again outstanding.

nv hjts

NV Baileys Winemakers selection HJT Liqueur muscat
The wine is a dark khaki/coffee grounds/motor oil colour; the aromas are stacked with all the mocha/toffee/orange rind and spiced raisin that are desired; the palate is very, very concentrated. rich, ultra sweet but with the bracing freshness, dried fruits and a touch of camphor to brighten the excesses and “please sir can I have some more?”

Drink now, but 92 points for this piece of history

NV Bundarra (Baileys) Winemakers selection HJT Liqueur (tokay) Topaque
Time has been less kind to this bottle, but no-one had issues drinking, and requesting top-ups. It’s a similar colour to it sibling, albeit not quite as deep. The varietal malt/anchovy/fishoil/butterscotch characters are present with saline, malt and some staleness. The palate is very rich and luscious. Malt extract, roast hazelnuts and dark chocolates build a delicious complex picture, but this wine requires some judicious freshening (use another bottle of topaque and experiment!)

Drink now, 86 points (well worth the purchase price to revisit tasting and travel memories)

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.

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.

McWilliam’s Show reserve Muscat 18.5%

Available for around $70 for 500ml, this “limited release” wine provides excellent value. It proclaims an average age of 25 years (in French oak), and it’s batch 002, bottled in 2015. There is no mention of where the grapes were grown. The art in constructing these fortifieds is to balance the aged material with younger, fresher wine so there is freshness and vibrancy- mission accomplished!

The colour is a healthy glowing amber/brown with a khaki rim; the aromas are lush soaked raisins and assorted fruitcake spices of nutmeg and cinnamon, with a rancio edge derived from extensive barrel maturation; and the concentrated palate delivers a long-lasting sensation of raisin, mocha, dark chocolate and green olive. Silky and voluptuous,  it’s intense, beautifully balanced and conceals its enormous sweetness through zesty acidity.

nv-mcwilliams-muscat

Australia excels with this underpriced and hard-to-sell style, and this bottle is another that compelled assorted decadent re-tastes, overcoming inertia and willpower.  There is no recommended food match- perhaps a strong coffee!

Drink now, and a very easy 94 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.

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.