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Q&A: Rutherglen’s Resurgence

/ 01 Jul 2019
A growing sense of discovery and desire to try something new is behind the resurgence in popularity of Rutherglen’s world-famous fortified wines.

While fortified wines have wrongly been associated with visits to the grandparents’ house and an after-dinner tipple, the rise of whisky and gin has had a spin off effect according to Rutherglen’s family-owned and operated Stanton & Killeen.

Winery chief executive Wendy Killeen and daughter Natasha explore the history and versatility of Rutherglen’s fortified wines.

What is unique about Rutherglen’s style of fortified wines?

Stanton & Killeen (S&K): It’s very luscious, you look for raisins and rose pedals in the aroma which you don’t often see other fortified Muscats from other regions. It’s a combination of climate, soil, family tradition and the art of blending. Rutherglen is fortunate that we’re only a two-hour drive from High Country and it’s significant that we get the cool air from the mountains at night during summer so it allows the grapes to concentrate rather than cook, so the climate is very important to the quality and favour of the grapes. Rutherglen Muscat is only truly iconic unique wine Australia makes. It’s a product that a corporate winery can’t mass produce, fortified wines are of the place, of the winery and of the family.

What type of fortified wines does Stanton & Killeen produce?

S&K: Fortified wines has been a big part of our business since the 1870s so we don’t just make Muscats, we produce Topaques, Tawny, barrel aged white fortified, and a vintage fortified which is a bottle aged wine, along with our table wines. A few other wineries are the same where they’ll do a range of fortified wines and there are others which will just focus on Muscat.

How has the perception of fortified wines changed?
S&K: I don’t think fortified wines ever went out of fashion. I think the market has changed so there are people that have no preconceived idea about what fortified wines are. That’s the really exciting thing that we’re seeing in our cellar doors, in restaurants and bars and in the media. We’ve always had that really good steady base of customers that know, love and enjoy Rutherglen fortified wines but there’s a whole range of people that are just discovering it for the first time.

Is that sense of new discovery behind the resurgence of popularity of fortified wines?

S&K: The popularity of whisky and gin has helped fortified wines because people are looking for new drinks. They’re not just settling anymore, they’re looking for something interesting to drink, which is why the emerging grape varieties are doing so well. People want to talk to their friends about trying something different. 

How has the consumption of fortified wines changed?

S&K: If you go to Portugal or France, they’re drinking these wines in the middle of the day with savory foods as an aperitif. I think we’re getting better as wineries, producers and industry at talking about the versatility and not pigeonholing them as a winter drink or after dinner drink. One of the beautiful things about the fortified wines is that they can cross over into the wine and spirit category so there’s that versatility and that’s where the excitement is coming from with a new demographic of drinkers.

Fortified wines are often saved until the end of dinner but how can the variety be used beyond just dessert?
S&K: We used to release our vintage fortified wines with several years on them but now we’ve started to release them a lot younger and I often tell people in the cellar door that ‘if you’ve got friends over, instead of getting out that second bottle of red during dinner, bring out the vintage fortified and finish the meal with it’. The acidity of tomatoes and onion in the meal balance beautifully with the sweetness of vintage fortified then that can carry through to a cheese or dessert course. Topaque is savoury so it can be matched well with pork, cheese and pâté. The young Muscat is very floral with lots of rose pedal and Turkish Delight so it can be incredibly versatile in a cocktail at the start of the evening. The way people eat and consumer drinks, there’s so much diversity is what’s exciting.

Any tips for pairing fortified wines with food?
S&K: Start with a Topaque as an aperitif with pâté, a Spritzy-style Muscat tonic cocktail with an entrée, a vintage fortified with the main meal and for dessert you can’t go past a grand and rare fortified. I love a Topaque with a dairy dessert, like a panna cotta, and I love a Tawny with a nutty dessert or a Muscat that picks up on those rose pedal notes with anything chocolate. 

Are fortified wine-based cocktails a new trend?

S&K: It comes back to talking about the versatility and being able to appreciate it in different settings and with different people. The younger Rutherglen style, which might only be a few years old, opens opportunities for mixing cocktails. There are some Muscat cocktail recipes on our Winemakers of Rutherglen website.

Biggest the insiders tip for enjoying fortified wines?

S&K: Get rid of those little port glasses. We wanted to find the best glass to represent Rutherglen so we went through a process with (acclaimed wine glassmaker) Georg Riedel of tasting a classic Rutherglen Muscat in a range of wine glasses and eliminating those that didn’t suit. The glass that unanimously won was the white ouverture. Part of the appreciation of the fortified wines of Rutherglen is you need to embrace the colour, nose, aroma and flavour. That size glass allows you to capture those sensory aspects, so you need to drink it out of a decent glass.

Where should visitors go in Rutherglen?

S&K: When you think of places to visit in Rutherglen, you think of wineries. Everyone has their favourites but all 19 wineries have something unique to offer. If you came to our winery at Stanton & Killeen, we would sit down as part of the experience and do a classification tasting and a winery tour to show the old barrels.

Stanton & Killeen Wines, Jacks Road, Murray Valley Highway, Rutherglen, Victoria, 3685.

This content can be shared and edited for the purpose of promoting Victoria as a visitor destination. Not for use in paid advertising. Please credit Visit Victoria.


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