Rutherglen is an old gold rush town as well as being one of Australia's oldest wine regions. It is particularly known for it's fortified wines- as we were informed from our first venture into the town.
Rutherglen also produces some noteworthy Durif. A full-bodied, high tannin grape variety that rewards cellaring to soften the tannin and has some lovely spicy, plummy, earthy characteristics. Also called Petite Syrah (a cross between Peloursin and Syrah discovered by Francois Durif, a French nurseryman in1880), it was brought to Australia in the early 1900's by Francois de Castella to replace the vines decimated by phylloxera a few years earlier. Some clever folk realised that American species were resistant to phylloxera and by grafting the varietals they wanted to grow onto this rootstock they could prevent them from becoming extinct. Durif can be pretty nasty if it doesn't ripen properly, but in Rutherglen the warm continental climate allows the grapes to ripen well and make the tannin more approachable.
The first winery we visited was Wicked Virgin, known for their olives and great little cafe, we skipped straight to the wine. We were particularly taken with a sweet white made from Petit Manseng (a lovely fragrant variety with good acidity) which we plan to pair with some lovely stinky blue cheese at some stage. They also do a cracking durif, and an elegant port.
The next stop was Chambers Rosewood Winery.
This was an experience. As you can see from the entrance they pride themselves on being unpretentious. This flows through to the cellar door where there are maybe 30 wines set up on the bench with (semi) airtight pouring devices on top for you to help yourself. Bill Chambers met us at the cellar door and explained his philosophy: that the cost of cellar door staff is more than the cost of a few people getting carried away and sampling too much. The winery is unique in that it has been in the same family for 6 generations. This is a great article about Bill Chambers, by all accounts a wonderful winemaker and wine judge in his day, the winery was handed over to his son Stephen in 2001. The table wines are very reasonably priced but I found most of them to be simple and lacking in varietal character. Awarded for their fortifieds (higher priced), I tried one or two but was keen to move on. This would be a great winery to visit if you prefer a really laid back approach.
This is our lovely driver and B & B host, Charles, showing us a carved commemorative barrel (I think it was from the 1888 centennial).
Next up Pfeiffer Wines
If ever you see the Pfeiffer Grand Rutherglen Muscat you must try it ($83.50 cellar door price).
The sexy little pic below is of the Serously Pink slushie you can pick up in the cellar door. Seriously Pink is one of the range of Apera that Pfeiffer have released. Apera is the new term Australia will be using for the wine formerly known as Sherry. Just as Champagne can't be used to describe sparkling outside of the region in France (see my rant on it here), Sherry can only be used for fortified wines made in Jerez, Spain. Pfeiffer are embracing the term and adopting it to describe an aperitif, as explained in this excellent article featuring the amazing Jen Pfeiffer. They do a Fino style, called Seriously Fine, that is fresh, dry and elegant; Seriously Nutty, along the lines of an amontillado, that is lovely and nutty (funny that) and reminds me of Frangelico but more savoury. And Seriously Pink, a fortified rosé which is a sweet ultra-concentrated rosé, like an explosion of rose petals, raspberry sorbet and fairy floss in your mouth. I plan to drink it with mineral water and lots of ice on sunny afternoons.
Last stop, Stanton & Killeen. These guys are one of the biggest names behind Rutherglen fortifieds. We raced in just as they were closing up so we didn't have time to try a lot of things but we walked away with all the classics: a port, a muscat, a topaque, a durif plus an interesting one- Touriga Nacional is one of the Portugese varieties used in port blends but it also makes a very elegant aromatic dry wine.
For those of you interested in my dog, he spent the afternoon being cared for by Chris back at the B & B. Here is a couple of photos she sent through today. I knew he had been romancing her dog, Princess, but I hadn't realised it was this serious.