Sweets for my sweet

Sweets for my sweet

Published by Francis Elms on 12th Dec 2020

Sweets for my sweet ...

Did you know there was a time before the 21st century phenomenon of Italian Prosecco,  Argentine Malbec and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc?

A time even before Alco-Pops, Asti Spumante and Liebfraumilch?

It was the "Jurassic" period, when stereotypical, crusty, old "Colonels" drank copious quantities of claret, burgundy, sherry and vintage port. There was nothing else on the market for those who appreciated wine. The only alternative was old fashioned, watery, warm beer; brown, pale (not hoppy!), or stout.

But the Australians thought they could alter all that. It was long before the 80's and 90's market success of Jacob's Creek and Yellow Tail. In fact, it wasn't even in this century, nor the last, that this change took place. 

Twenty years after establishing his original property, it all began in 1862 when a Scot, Patrick Auld, started to sell wines from his vineyards in Magill, near Adelaide, South Australia. The "Emu Wine Company" was born.

By the 1920's his Empire wine brands dominated the export markets to the UK and Canada and everyone loved the "Port" and "Sherry" style wines he produced. Not the only one to make these types of wines, many of Australia's famous names began with fortified wines, including a certain operation called Penfolds who, coincidentally, still have one of their most highly prized vineyards at Magill Estate (now producing Shiraz reds). 

Thomas Hardy bought out Emu Wine Co in 1976, rebranding the biggest selling wine as "Emu 999".

Certain wine styles never go completely out of fashion and "Port" seems to be one of the lucky ones to survive the onslaught of modern-day, marketing and social media driven wines. It might not be uber-trendy, but, for Christmas, you can't go without a fortified wine from somewhere in the world. Stilton, without vintage port? Christmas Pudding, without a Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat, or home made Mince Pies, without an aged Tawny? It just wouldn't be a proper, traditional British Christmas!

This blog really has nothing to do with the (birds) Emus, themselves, rather it's a way to draw attention to the delights of drinking sweet wines of all kinds. I just don't understand why people always say to me that they don't like sweet wines, but they love sweet food (chocolate, ice-cream, cakes etc). Madness!

If there's one thing we all need this year, it's a treat... and several bottles of dessert wines, or port-style, fortified ones, should be everyone's first choice to make each day of the holiday period that little bit brighter.

In no particular order, keeping with "stickies" from Australia, here are some top recommendations to try:

Penfolds Father Grand Tawny 10 Year Old, South Australia

Grapes: A blend of Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Cabernet

Tasting Note: The wine comprises many outstanding tawny components separately matured in seasoned old oak casks, with a minimum blended average age of ten years. The result yields a wine of generous concentration, vitality, exceptional balance of fruit and oak age complexity. The tawny lingers in the mouth, finishing clean and tight.

"The 10 year old, pale amber-tawny colored Father Grand Tawny is intensely scented of dried mulberries, sultanas, treacle and caramel with a marmalade lift. Big, expressive and rich with a nuttiness in the mouth, it finishes very long and very sweet." 90/100 Lisa Perrotti-Brown - The Wine Advocate

History and winemaking:

In 1844 Christopher Rawson Penfold planted vines on the slopes of Magill to produce fortified wines. By 1881 Penfolds was responsible for one third of South Australia's fortified wine production.

Penfolds Grand Tawny is a tribute to 170 years of winemaking excellence housed within the bluestone cellar walls of Penfolds Magill Estate. It is a blend of outstanding Tawnies matured in small oak casks for an average of ten years. The Penfolds Tawnies are made in Solera Systems (stacked blending systems) at Penfolds’ Kalimna Tawny Cellars. These wines are all aged in 300-litre hogsheads (oak barrels) that are at least twenty years old when they reach the Tawny Cellars, having been used for other Penfolds wines up until that point. The maturation process deliberately takes place under corrugated iron. At the height of summer the temperature on the top stack can reach 55 degrees; while in winter, the temperature can fall below 8 degrees. These cyclic swings in temperature are vital to the maturation process, as evaporation, concentration and controlled oxidation are all a part of the complex nature of the aromas and flavours. The combination of extended barrel maturation and the Penfolds tradition of excellence ensure the 10 year old Tawny has exceptional fruit richness, mellow aged complexity and great length of flavour.

The final blend for the "Father Grand Tawny" contains wines from at least 15 different vintages contributing to a greater consistency, year after year.

Buy Penfolds Father Grand Tawny here for £25/bottle (Limited availability)

Muscat Pfeiffer, Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia, 50cl

Grapes: 100% Brown Rutherglen Muscat

Sweetness: 200g/l residual sugar

Drink with: Christmas pudding, creme brulee, golden syrup steamed sponge pudding, almond tart, or a platter of dried fruits, nuts and blue cheeses. Best served chilled.

Tasting Note: The youngest Pfeiffer wine, the "Rutherglen" Muscat, is a fine example of this foundation style. It has a bouquet of floral and raisin fruit, and a rich, luscious palate. The blend has been carefully prepared to incorporate the youthful freshness of the younger parcels, with the complex, concentrated flavours seen in the older parcels.

"Average age 2-4 years. Brightly hued; rich and luscious, with raisin flavours to the fore, backed up by spices of all kinds, the finish markedly supple and fresh." James Halliday Australian Wine Companion, 2018

"Rutherglen" - Rated 93/100 in 2017/2018/2019 by JH's AWC  - Consistently high quality and excellent value!

The next rung in the quality ladder is the "Rutherglen Classic" (average age 10 years) - Rated 94/100, four years' running by JH.

Moving up next to the older (average age 23 years) "Grand Rutherglen" category - Rated 95-97/100 for an incredible 10 years in a row!

Topping both the price and quality levels, the "Rare Rutherglen" (average age 25 years) was rated 98/100 for the last six years. This one would sell for at least £100 and is the sweetest (over 300g/l), most concentrated style of Muscat.

Winemaking: Grapes are harvested with very high sugar levels with some raisining and are first crushed, cold macerated for a few days, then fermented briefly on their skins until the juice reaches just 1-2% ABV when the fermentation is ended by fortifying with a neutral spirit. This leaves the wine at around 17-18% ABV.

The young wine is then transferred to varying sizes of barrels/casks for 3-30 years ageing. The hot climate, over such a long period, concentrates the flavours and much of the wine is lost due to evaporation. The various quality levels are made of different batches blended together depending on the required style. As usual, the best wines can only be made from fruit grown in outstanding vintages which are then aged to perfection over many decades.

The small town of Rutherglen is located around 300km north-east of Melbourne on the Murray River border between Victoria and New South Wales. Originally a gold mining region, Rutherglen Muscats, Topaques and Tawnies have been made here by family businesses for over 150 years. Out of more than twenty producers, other top names include Campbells ("Merchant Prince" Rare - a wow wine!), Stanton & Killeen, Chambers-Rosewood, All Saints and Buller (their Topaque is stunning!). A fantastic area to visit and travel back in time to a bygone age.

Buy Pfeiffer Rutherglen Muscat here for £16/bottle

Heggies Vineyard Botrytis Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia, 2015, 37.5cl

Grapes: 100% Riesling, hand harvested.

Sweetness: 132g/l residual sugar

Drink with: Citrus-based desserts, Gorgonzola Dolce cheese, or as an aperitif with paté.

Tasting Note: Light gold with green-gold tints. Subtle and delicate aromas of white flowers, cumquat, hints of nutmeg and cardamom. These aromas will develop more complexity and richness over time moving to beeswax, marmalade, and candied citrus zest. Elegantly restrained with a subtle lusciousness on the mid palate. Flavours of dried citrus, stone fruits and fresh beeswax are complemented by a fine seam of mineral acidity that adds a textural note to the finish.

"This doesn’t occur every year, but when it does we get these classic notes of apricots and glacé fruits, with superb balance.” Winemaker, Peter Gambetta

Rated: 95/100 Jeremy Oliver Australian Wine Critic, Gold Trophy International Wine Challenge

The Eden Valley is a high altitude area to the east of the Barossa and the Yalumba-owned Heggies Vineyard (at 550m a.s.l.) is one of the prime sites for Riesling (sweet & dry) in the whole of Australia. Standing on the little bridge, looking out over the lake towards the vineyard, itself, you realise that this is a unique spot for making dessert wine. The water generates a humid atmosphere and morning fog that allows development of the beneficial fungus, botrytis cinerea ("Noble Rot") that dries out the grapes leaving concentrated sugars that are magically transformed into a heavenly nectar. There, I've admitted it, I really like sweet wines. A personal favourite of mine, the Heggies just oozes class and complexity with perfect balance of fruit and acidity. The finish goes on forever. One of the most enjoyable sweeties I've ever tasted. Please leave one for me!

Buy Heggies Vineyard Botrytis Riesling here £15.99/half-bottle

Don't forget, whenever you "make room" for dessert, or someone offers the box of chocolates, make sure you've got some chilled "stickies" ready to pour. It will make for a brighter, much merrier Christmas. Order some today.

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