Campbells Merchant Prince Rutherglen Muscat

The first Australian wine to be awarded 100 points

By Ian Hickinbotham
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Muscat grapes from Campbells Winery, Rutherglen

Muscat grapes from Campbells Winery, Rutherglen

Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat

 

All powerful 'Wine Spectator' magazine of New York has awarded 100 points to Campbells Merchant Prince Muscat.

Proud Australian oenophiles who follow such international pronouncements would immediately appreciate the achievement as an Australian first.

In acknowledging the accolade, oenologist Colin Campbell generously attributed the quality of the Merchant Prince Rutherglen sweet fortified wine to his father and also his grandfather, the reason being the 'mother' (or in this case 'father' material) is the basis of Australia's greatest wine style. No recent winegrower could possibly emulate this feat.

In 1858 great-grandfather John Campbell left St Andrews, Scotland for Australia aboard the sailing vessel ‘Merchant Prince’, arriving at Port Phillip the same year. By 1870 he had selected land at Rutherglen, planted vines and started the tradition of Campbells Wines.

To make the entrenched style of wine, Rutherglen Rare Muscat, a percentage of the wine must be old. How old seems to be determined by the age of the business, and in this context, Rutherglen winegrowers are unique in Australia's wine industry. To be fair, there is no requirement (or sense) in storing a few barrels of dry red (and less so for a dry white) for a century or so to be the 'mother' of a current blend. Such wine, red or white, would be brown in colour and have no fruit character at all.

As with any blended wine, it is difficult to specify an exact age, but the oldest base wine for this current Merchant Prince is well over 60 years old. The grapes are always sourced only from Campbells' Rutherglen vineyard. They are left on the vine very late to ensure the high degree of eventual lusciousness, and the juice is fermented for only a very short time before being fortified with neutral spirit and stored in oak to mature.

This small percentage of very old muscat contributes smoothness of taste. However, all Ruthergen winegrowers know that to complete the blend, that smoothness needs young muscat to supply varietal aroma and this is something of a local formula.

To emphasise beverage structure, old Dave Sutherland-Smith of the original family that owned the 'All Saints' winery, Rutherglen, used to stage a trick for eager visiting wine professionals. He would present a glass of extremely old 'dry sherry' and a glass of 38-year-old Scotch whisky drawn from a barrique size barrel he had hidden, and invite the participants to determine which was which.

The fact that he was able to do this serves to demonstrate that when alcoholic beverages are old enough there is a levelling of taste smoothness – provided there is enough alcohol content to 'preserve'.

Importantly, the muscat grapes grown at Rutherglen are the muscat of Canelli, but officially, we should use the name, muscat à petits grains. Whatever, it is the same grape that provides the fragrant backbone of Italian Asti Spumante, a DOCG sweet sparkling white wine produced in the Piedmont region.

Muscat à petit grains is vastly superior (though extremely low yielding) to the muscat gordo or muscat of Alexandria which is grown all over Australia's Riverland, the primary purpose of which is producing our delightful raisins.

Rutherglen Rare Muscat is unique. Do we need an eminent American wine critic, no matter how expert, to acclaim this Australian wine? Let's hope our embassies around the world are enlightened and order much of the remaining international stock of Campbells Merchant Prince Muscat.

 

Ian Hickinbotham, one of the most innovative and influential oenologists in Australia over his 50 year career, is the author of Australian Plonky (see related reviews below).

 

Regions

  • North East Victoria (VIC)
  • Rutherglen (VIC)

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April 09th, 2010
 
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