From the time of Australian colonization until 1970, most of the wine that was produced was of the sweet style and usually fortified to protect it from the extreme heat and length of time it took to ship it anywhere in the world. As the wine world evolved, so too did the Australian winemaking habits, as these sweet wines, referred to locally as “stickies” were replaced by dry styles of red and white table wine. But not all sweet wines have been abandoned. Located in the northeastern part of the state of Victoria, Rutherglen has been home to winemaking for over 160 years and while a significant portion of Rutherglen’s wine production is dry in style, Rutherglen is the undisputed champion of fortified wines and produces some of the most sought after “stickies” in all of Australia.
While possessing plenty of sunshine during the long growing season, with cooler temperatures due to altitudes up to 1500 feet (450m) above sea level, grapes are able to slowly ripen and develop complexity well into the autumn. The Muscat and Muscadelle grapes are well suited for these gentle ripening conditions and share the spotlight with the Durif grape (Petite Syrah). While the dry wines have no codification or classification system in place, which is common in Australia, the sweet styles of Muscat fall under four levels of classifications according to their age and sweetness: Rutherglen Muscat, Classic Rutherglen Muscat, Grand Rutherglen Muscat, and Rare Rutherglen Muscat.
Rutherglen Muscat is the foundation of classification and signifies a blend of wines that average 3-5 years of age with 180-220 grams per liter of residual sugar.
Classic indicates a blend where the average age is 6-10 years and the residual sugar is between 200 and 280 grams per liter.
Grand signifies even more concentration and sweetness with the average age of the blended wines from 11-19 years and 270-400 grams per liter of residual sugar.
Rare is considered to be the ultimate experience of Rutherglen Muscat and is a blend of the most exquisite and complex barrels in the cellar. The minimum age of the blend is 20 years and often exceeds that standard and the residual sugar is 270-400 grams per liter. These wines once blended are nearly timeless and can be enjoyed well over a century after harvest.