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)


An Australian Topaque and a Pedro Ximenez

Lindemans Classic  Tokay (topaque)  solera WH2 18%
Lindeman’s is a well-established Australian wine label, whose wines have lost lustre and market credibility over the years, with short-term accountancy driving the brand backwards. The Hunter River Semillons and Shiraz are almost invisible – and of lesser renown; the Coonawarra wines (St George, Limestone Ridge and Pyrus) still exist as the flagship, and the Leo Buring Rieslings – Leonay excepted – are a shadow of their antecedents.

Lindemans ran a Classic release program; my paper archives record that the Tokay solera WH1 was released in 1996 with an RRP of $64.95 – serious money 20 years ago! From Corowa and Rutherglen, it was based on an old Rutherglen Tokay parcel purchased in the late 1950’s. The WH2 was a later release that picked up 1 trophy and 20 gold medals.

nv lindemans tokay

It’s another historic fortified wine that is a seriously dark khaki colour with amber tints. Varietal malt, smoothness and density attest to serious average age. Malt, honey, espresso mocha and the clean acid grip of barrel-age impresses, but it still displays wonderful sweetness, balance and refreshment. More please!

Drink now, 94 points.

Buller Pedro X 18%
Buller is based in Rutherglen, Victoria and their bird park was a delight for my children that compensated partly for the long road-trip. Occasional sparkling reds, fortifieds and even a botrytis Semillon (from Swan Hill) were greatly enjoyed. The family has moved on, but this wine is still available (full-bottle) on their website for $29.

In Spain, Pedro Ximenez is often air dried before being used to either bolster sweeter sherry styles, or on its own as a powerfully sweet fortified wine packed with raisin and coffee liqueur traits. In Australia, several brave souls have made PX into a -typically undistinguished- dry white wine, but it has more often been blended with palomino to make sherry-styles.

NV buller px

This wine does not possess an attractive label, and the bottle is another regrettably heavy dreadnought. The cork is pristine, and the back label claims the base wines date back to 1976, with brandy spirit used in the fortification.

Surprisingly, this Buller wine is entirely in the style of Topaque; the colour is a lovely khaki; an absolute paradigm of malt, mocha and honey are in play; the palate is rich and sensual, malt, toffee and caramel combine, with a supple, all-too-easy dark and light honeyed palate. This is an exceptionally smooth, luscious (albeit not the oldest) fortified wine that is utterly delicious.

At the price, it’s worth a food match with a range of cheeses, and after-dinner conviviality.

Drink now, 92 points – and extra merit for great value.

NV Baileys of Glenrowan Founders classic topaque 17%

Baileys is a winery we detour to when travelling along the Hume Highway from Melbourne. Just out of Glenrowan, the visits I recall have largely been during summer heatwaves where the eucalyptus oil is heady in the air, or during winters when rain is lashing along. In both situations, the winery is a welcome relief.

For sentimental reasons (written about earlier) I have a longstanding affection for the luscious fortifieds and traditionally-styled bold  ferrous reds of Baileys. Harry Tinson’s legacy is respected by talented winemaker and custodian Paul Dahlenberg. So I should like the wine.


Topaque is the revised name for the Australian fortified Tokay. Unusually for this young, fortified muscadelle style, the wine is sold in normally sized 750ml bottle (rather than the more common 375ml or 500ml). Its an amber colour, with a khaki rim; malt and digestif biscuit dominate the aromatics, with a touch of sea, seaweed and iodine adding to the intrigue. It is rich and inviting. But that’s where the highlight reel tails away; the palate displays ample but simpler butterscotch characters. While there is no doubting its sweetness, it’s a bit of a letdown after that bouquet, and overall something is missing. There is some rancio from wood aging; there is ample acidity to cut through the sweetness; I’ve struggled here and ultimately concluded that the bottle is a bit stale (a batch or storage issue); as the result does not match other tastings of this wine over the past two months.

It still represents excellent VFM, and many will appreciate this wine more than I did.

Drink now, but this bottle only merits 85 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!


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.