1997 Morris VP

An excellent year for this style in Rutherglen- Stanton & Killeen and Pfeiffer made outstanding wines.
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

1972 Gayfer’s (Chiltern) Durif Port

I doubt that the Gayfer’s vineyard still exists; it made way for a highway upgrade. I have not found information on the internet, apart from a passing reference to the “Roscoe’s fortified; I’ll need some serious prowling through my old books unless readers can assist.

Durif makes some very long-living, inky-coloured, robust red table wines in North-east Victoria, and I have examples from All Saints, Anderson, Baileys, Campbells, Morris, and Stanton in & Killeen in my cellar. In recent years, I think there has been more sympathetic winemaking, providing more finesse and complexity in the wines. As well as a standalone varietal wine, its colour and tannins makes Durif a useful blending component in a table wines – usually with Shiraz, and can readily be crafted into a vintage fortified, or a sparkling red. Its use as a varietal fortified is less common now, as more winemakers are enthused by fortifieds incorporating Portuguese grape varieties.

Chiltern is an outlier of Rutherglen, only 20km away, and the wine is an excellent effort from the region. Cork was pretty good – after 45 years, and this bottle had thrown a very heavy tea-leaf-like deposit.

1972 Gayfer'svp

Ruby coloured, with an amber/khaki rim, the aromas are in the mocha plus caramel plus coffee spectrum; sweet spirit is present too. The fruit and spirit combination is quite sweet, and though this wine may seem old-fashioned now, its a charming example of a mature, vintage fortified. The palate smoothly melds the mocha with some vanilla bean, rum and raisin chocolate and sweet brandy spirit- altogether this wine was just the ticket for a winter afternoon with a few ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out)  – although not everyone fitted this category exactly.

The wine will endure on its plateau for many more years, and I have not added any points for historic interest – even though tempted.

Drink to 2030, 91 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.

Humbling masked tasting of 2 Victorian fortified wines

It’s never straightforward tasting masked wines, attempting to reach conclusions on characteristics, origins, quality, while at the same time attempting to appreciate their virtues – a clash of analysis and appreciation. This was another lunch, with two delicious (masked) fortifieds to finish.

The first wine showed some bricking in colour, and the aromatics showed cocoa, raspberry, and blackberry jam – a vintage port style. The spirit was integrated with a hint of perfumed, headsy character. The palate was quite sweet, almost too much, but the fruit was dense, vibrant, and juicy. Warm but not hot with its alcohol, this deliciously cuddly wine seemed an “old-fashioned”, typical Australian in style, and more in a North-eastern Victorian vein, likely Rutherglen. My guess was that the wine was from the early 1990’s. The surprise was that the wine was actually 1975 Bailey’s Vintage Port. Made by Harry Tinson,  its source in Glenrowan is “near enough” to Rutherglen to claim some minor credit. The wine looked so much younger – in a holding pattern -with plenty of time ahead of it (to 2035). I scored it at 92 points, and it turns out I previously tasted it and described here about one year ago. The score, and descriptors are quite similar, so I’m either consistent or adjectivally deprived.

The calibre and deliciousness of the first wine made me turn reluctantly to pay attention to the second wine, which was similar in style. It seemed older, based primarily on its colour, and its aromatics of dark chocolates and lavender immediately led my thinking- vintage Port; Australia; Rutherglen; mid- 1980’s. Some almond meal, and its lower degree of sweetness compared to its companion led to a fleeting flirtation with Portugal, but I stuck with my first impressions. Quite mellow, it suffered in the shadow of its brooding companion. And the wine was 1987 Bullers Vintage Port (magnum).  I scored it at 91 points, drink to 2030.

Both wines are likely to be predominantly Shiraz.

What an extraordinary privilege to drink a 40 y/o and and 30 y/o wine in one bracket. More please!

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.

2011 Chamber’s (rosewood) Noble muscadelle, screwcap 11.3%

Chambers of Rutherglen is not the first winery that springs to mind for its sweet white wines; fortifieds yes; VFM red wines, and obscurities (anyone for Gouais) perhaps? Australia has made botrytis-affected wines from many varieties, principally Riesling and Semillon, but there have been some adventures in Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and even Marsanne. Some of these were made deliberately, others where circumstances forced the winemaking decisions.

2011 was a pretty dire year for winemaking in Victoria, and much of Australia (although Margaret River fared well, and McLaren Vale reasonably well). There was unseasonal rain, making spraying difficult- tractors got bogged- and plenty of rot. Most red wines from Victoria lacked colour, and density. Matters were not so bleak with white wines, and there are some scintillating Chardonnays made that year in the Yarra Valley.

There have been a few late-picked or botrytised muscadelles from Rutherglen (Pfeiffer’s is known), so its not unique. Muscadelle is the variety used in making Australia’s sensational barrel-aged fortified Topaques (formerly Tokay). The late-picked style is cash-flow friendly too.

From my unreliable memory, Chambers has made this botrytis style before in 1996 and 2000, and perhaps in other years, so they have a track record, although those seasons were much kinder. I paid $15 for this half-bottle a few years ago.

2011 chambers

Its an attractive glowing deep gold colour with a hint of amber. While the bouquet is vibrant ramshackle orange marmalade, tangelo and dark honey, botrytis has performed its magic fruit concentration role on the palate, and its clearer that that flavours fall into the “dark” orange marmalade, and marginally overripe apricot fruit spectrum. The botrytis has overwhelmed any varietal characters – no bad thing. There is some bitterness too, but not enough to dissipate the wine’s pleasures.

There is considerable sweetness, and while the acid is holding this together, I would recommend drinking soon, before the phenolics take over. No embarrassment to drink; the glass seems to empty of its own volition.

Score 89 points, drink to 2019.

1992 Gehrig Vintage port 18.1%

Deep ruby colour; shiraz, plus brandy spirit from one of the Rutherglen eastern “outliers”;  rustic label, but from a wondrous year in the region. Red liquorice, mingled Christmas cake spices, milk chocolate, bursting with vitality, and fine, chalky tannins.

1992 gehrig vpA careful decant was necessary to remove some  of the heavy deposit, and its a slightly old-fashioned style, where the spirit is a bit prominent and the sweetness is slightly overdone. But we’re not all clairvoyant, and this 24 year old wine provided an overload of drinking pleasures, and another 10 years will not diminish its enjoyments.

Drink to 2025, 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



NV Chambers rosewood rare tokay (17%)

What’s in a name? This wine is labelled as Tokay, made from Muscadelle grapes , and the style is generally now called Topaque.

Chambers Rosewood is a long-established winery in Rutherglen. I used to travel there with my parents, and the welcome was “wine is in the fridge on the verandah – help yourselves” from legend Bill Chambers. You poured into “shot-glasses” and most wine was available by the bottle and flagon.

Despite modernisation over the years, there is still a baffling – and large range of wines available to taste, with some varieties I haven’t seen elsewhere.

nv chambers tokay

A lovely lunchtime treat (served blind, as usual).

The first thing that impresses is the colour, a dark motor oil, brown yet still with a green/khaki rim. Great age suspected, and it was viscous, reluctant to swirl. Then it amazes with just how much flavour can be compressed into its volume; there is the varietal muscadelle tea and malt, plus some almond and mocha; (no butterscotch here though, another typical descriptor). And it goes on, just defying my efforts to keep smelling and stop sipping.  If only I could have a bigger glass! And a bewildering long finish; amazing.

Its the top quality tier – “rare” which describes these luscious beauties well. They have had many years maturing in barrels, become denser and richer.

But these decadent Rutherglen fortifieds are not just about aged material; there is the mastery to blend in some younger, fresher material; so the density and concentration is not cloying – a treasure. The price ($250 per half bottle), in world terms is fair. A half bottle would be nicely shared with 4 people, and provide an outstanding sensory experience.

Drink now – 98 points!


1990 Campbells Touriga Vintage Port 18%

How could I resist trying this Rutherglen VP made from Touriga? Stanton and Killeen are well known for their use of Portuguese varieties in their VPs’s since 1997, but Chris Pfeiffer earlier made wines for Lindeman in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s using Touriga, Gran Noir and maybe other Portuguese varieties sourced from just over the NSW border in Corowa – I don’t know if these plantings still exist.

1990 campbells vp

For this wine, the cork has performed, and the label is retro and functionally brutal.

But I can’t discern Touriga in this Campbells’ wine, and would have punted it being Shiraz (its likely to have minor components of Shiraz and Durif). It’s sweet but well within normal bounds for the style. It’s a dense red colour with some trivial bricking on the meniscus. The (brandy) spirit is well integrated. The dominant character is dark cherry, backed with some straw/dried herb and orange peel, perhaps a touch of cough mixture and cola. It’s smooth, rich and raisiny, mellow and just what’s needed on a muggy Melbourne night. Drink over the next few years before the fruit recedes.

Drink to 2020, score 88 points