As with most great stories, the history behind the fortified wines of Rutherglen is more than a happy combination of geographical location, personalities and opportunities. Vision, tenacity, passion, and plain old hard work have forged Rutherglen's inimitable status as the home of the world's richest wines.
What is the difference between Muscat, Port and Tokay? Muscat and Tokay are varietals, i.e. they are produced from grapes of the same name. Muscat, a Petit Grains Rouge, has a low colour density in the skins. The colour of the grape is often described as red brown (hence Rutherglen Brown Muscat), unlike the majority of the other dark skinned varieties which have a purple red colour Tokay on the other hand is a white grape, so the wine takes on golden amber hues courtesy of the gentle oxidative effect of barrel ageing.
Vineyard management, picking times, vinification, storage and blending are all very similar for Muscat and Tokay. Differences occur in the colour and flavour profiles, with descriptions of Muscat typically including 'rose petal' 'fruit cake', 'raisin fruit', and 'freshly crushed grapes' (Muscat is one of the few varieties where a natural grapey flavour is evident, most notably in the foundation classification, Rutherglen Muscat.) Tokay descriptions can include 'toffee', 'caramel', 'malt', 'butterscotch', and 'tea leaf'. For both Muscat and Tokay, the flavour of the wine is driven by the varieties – extended barrel storage adds complexity and concentration, not oak character.
Australian Tawny Port is also a fortified wine, made from fully ripe red grapes such as Shiraz, Mataro, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and, to a much lesser extent, Portuguese varieties such as Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão (Tinta means dark-skinned). The grapes generally are not shrivelled when picked. In contrast to Muscat and Tokay, the flavours of Tawny Port are developed by oxidation. Storage in small oak barrels is important for the style to develop nutty 'rancio' characters so typical of the style. Picking Beaumé is typically 14º, whereas Muscat and Tokay can reach 20º Beaumé in the best years.
Muscat Classifications 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.
Classic Rutherglen Muscat – displays a greater level of richness and complexity, produced through the blending of selected parcels of wine, often matures in various sizes of oak cask to impart the distinctive dry 'rancio' characters, and a complexity which imparts layers of texture and flavour.
Grand Rutherglen Muscat – takes the flavour of Rutherglen Muscat 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.
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.