Australia has a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its dry white wine. Australia produces some of the best Chardonnay and Riesling in the world and whites made using other grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc can be excellent too.
However, how many white wine enthusiasts are aware that some wonderful sweet white wine comes out of Australia too? The Rutherglen region of Victoria produces some fortified liqueur Muscats which can take on the best in the world whilst regions such as Riverina in New South Wales have a reputation for producing excellent quality sweet white wines.
Many years ago the Australians flooded the international market with heavy, extremely sweet white wines in response to what they thought the Brits wanted to drink. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately in the long term) international tastes had moved on to lighter wines and Australian “stickies” fell out of favour.
Since then Australian sweet white wine production has shrunk but this smaller scale production has resulted in higher quality wines. Rutherglen Muscats and Riverina stickies are now sought after and excellent botrytized Semillons and Rieslings can command high prices.
Australian producers have embraced the technique of allowing their white wine grapes to be infected by “noble rot.” They are emulating the German sweet white wine styles of spatlese and auslese but using some of their most successful local grapes such as Riesling and Semillon. The resulting dessert wines are bursting with flavours of exotic and tropical fruits such as mango, melon and pineapple.
The Riverina region in New South Wales is one of the most productive areas for sweet and botrytized white wines. This previously dry and infertile region is now irrigated by the Murrumbidgee River resulting in a land which is bountiful with fruit, rice and enough grapes to produce ten per cent of Australia’s wine. That ten per cent includes a proportion of cheap plonk but also some top quality sweet and botrytized white wine.
Riverina stickies to look out for include Cookoothama Botrytis Semillon, produced from their vineyard at Darlington Point and De Bortoli Noble One, a botrytized Semillon which was first produced 30 years ago. This multi award winning stickie is widely regarded as the benchmark for Aussie dessert wines so is well worth seeking out. It can be found on the shelf at Majestic wine stores in the UK. Another great Riverina sweet wine is Westend 3 Bridges Golden Mist Botrytis Semillon.
Other regions producing some good quality sweet whites include Orange and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Orange labels to look out for include Bloodwood Noble Riesling. From the Hunter Valley look out for the award winning botrytis Semillon from Margan and from the Barossa keep an eye out for Grant Burge’s Lily Farm Frontignac, a light and fruity medium-sweet white wine. An interesting Barossa sticky to look out for comes from Charles Melton. His non-vintage Sotto di Ferro is modelled on Tuscany’s Vin Santo and is made using Pedro Ximenez and Muscadelle grapes. Finally, for a reliably excellent botrytized Riesling look out for Brown Brothers Patricia Noble Riesling. This innovative winery in north east Victoria is a master at producing good quality dessert and fortified white wines.
When it comes to fortified white wines the Rutherglen region in Victoria is the undisputed champion. Liqueur Muscats from Rutherglen are described frequently as “liquid Christmas pudding” as they are dark, rich, raisiny and alcoholic. The unique characteristics of these Muscats are due to a combination of the region’s soils and climate, the grape, the long established wine making skills and the old stocks preserved by previous generations.
The region has a long history and is home to many families who have been making wine for four or five generations. The grape’s official name is Muscat a Petit Grains Rouge but it is known locally as Rutherglen Brown Muscat. There is an informal classification system for the region’s wines ranging from youthful to Classic, followed by Grand and then Rare, the most complex and rich style. Any chocolate lovers will be pleased to learn that it is claimed that Rutherglen Muscat is the only wine which makes a true match with chocolate.
Buller’s Premium Fine Old Muscat is one of many excellent fortified sweet whites produced in the region. This wine has a raisiny bouquet and flavours of toffee and raisin. It’s available in Majestic stores if you want to give it a try. Another Rutherglen Muscat to try is Carlyle Classic Rutherglen Muscat, a young and fruity non-vintage wine. Yalumba’s medal-winning Museum Reserve Muscat NV is another typically good Rutherglen wine and is available through Virgin Wines.
Image by Dinner Series.