Australia produces the same number of bottles as Bordeaux, but the variety of styles is incomparable. This point was brought home a wine tasting by Wine Australia last week.
Chris Pfeiffer, of Pfeiffer Wines, explained that Australian wine as we recognise it, has only emerged in the last fifty years. Prior to this, sweet fortified wines accounted for 60% of Australian production. These styles are found across all wine-producing regions, but notably in South Australian and Victoria.
Broadly speaking, two styles are seen. Firstly, aromatic fruity styles, designed for early drinking, from Semillon and Muscat (and varietal derivatives). Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora and Peter Lehmann Botrytis Semillon are excellent examples of these, and are available in good wine shops. The latter example shows even more character as botrytis adds a marmalade dimension to the wine.
The second style is fortified, where the fermentation of naturally sweet grapes is arrested early on in fermentation, leaving residual sugar, fruit flavours, extra alcohol and acidity. Sounds like port? Well, yes, except that since October 1st this year, Australians are not permitted to use this and other ‘European’ terms.
Many of these wines have a further dimension added through winemaking techniques of oak ageing, solera blending and maderisation. A handful undergo extensive barrel maturation. Pfeiffer Topaque (aka Tokaji) is late-picked, sweet Muscadelle, aged five years in oak giving sultanana, caramel, honey and balanced alcohol. It is delicious with banoffi.
Pfeiffer Muscat is “Christmas cake in a glass” according to Chris, showing tremendous balance of raisins, allspice, caramel, and luscious sweetness.
Pfeiffer dessert wines are available in 500ml at around €22, from Jus de Vine, Gibneys. Molloys Liquor Stores stock a 375ml size. Now I know where to pick up a bottle for my next WSET wine course! Open a bottle today, and it will keep 2-3 weeks - ‘Sweet!’ as they say Down Under.