Australian/New Zealand Dessert Wines

When you stop to think about dessert wines, it shouldn't be surprising that Australia, settled by people from a country where Portuguese and Spanish "fortified" wines were popular, would also produce similarly-styled wines to those produced in Europe.

In fact, through the first half or so of the 20th century, most wines produced in Australia were "fortified" wines such as Muscats, or Sherry and Port-styled wines.  The latter half of the 20th century has seen the tides shift to table wine production.

The Australians call dessert wines "stickies". 

In addition to some glorious fortified wines, producers of Semillon often make wines from botrytized grapes (a mold which dehydrates them, concentrating the character of the fruit and contributing a honey-like quality to the wines).  We even see some late-picked Rieslings from Australia which can be remarkable. 

The major region for top quality fortified wines is Victoria, specifically north-east Victoria. 

Especially fine are the dessert wines labeled "Muscat", "Tokay" and "Port". 

The wines labeled as "Tokay" are made from a grape which is either the same or related to the very minor variety used in many French Sauternes wines:  Muscadelle.   Australian "Tokay" has little to do with those wines produced in Hungary.   Nor is it related to the Italian variety from Friuli which goes by the name "Tocai" or, these days, "Friulano.".  Nor is it similar to France's "Tokay-Pinot Gris" wine.  

"Port"-styled wines are also of serious quality.  The most famous is Seppelt's "Para Liqueur Tawny Port", but Penfolds makes a good one as does Yalumba and a small producer called Sevenhills.  These are rarely made of traditional Portuguese "Port" varieties, but Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Aussies are extremely patient in waiting for these wines to mature, as most are in the style of a Tawny Port.  Seppelts, for example, has more than a hundred years' worth of Port-styled wines aging and releases a tiny amount of 100 year-old "Para Liqueur Tawny Port" each year.   

Some of the dessert Muscats are also patiently matured in wood and these easily rival the famous Setubal wines of Portugal or some of the wood-matured Muscat wines from the Sherry region of Spain. 

Some Aussie/New Zealand Dessert Wines in Stock:


YALUMBA "Museum Reserve Muscat"  $15.99 -375ml
yalumba.gif (24689 bytes)So Yalumba's been around since wonder they're good at producing Port and Muscat wines of special quality.  The Clocktower is a smooth, lighter Port, while the Galway Pipe Port has a more fine bouquet and longer finish on the palate.  

The Muscat is intensely fruity and with a somewhat honey-like quality to the finish. 

Their 50 year old Tawny Port seems to not be available currently and the local rep says they've discontinued it.  Too bad.


Penfolds is, of course, an historic name in Australian winemaking.  They're famed for a number of table wines, but this is a good label to look for with respect to "Port-styled" wine, as well.

The Penfolds clan first set aside a stash of Tawny "Port" back in 1915, a barrel which was referred to as "The Grandfather" since it was already rather aged at that point.  This was intended solely for the pleasure of the Penfolds family.

The wine is based on Mourvedre, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, with occasional additions of "other" varieties.  The wine is matured for 8 years in wood before being transferred to a 6 tier "solera" for additional wood aging.  They estimate the wine spends another 12 years in this solera system, so that the average age of today's "Grandfather's Port" is 20 years.  You can taste that it's old, of course, as the wine is brown or mahogany in color and has the classic nutty, toffee, caramel sorts of flavors typical of "tawny" Ports.
It's worthy of comparison to the Seppeltsfield 21 year Tawny.

They also make an entry level bottling of "Port"-styled wine.  It's called "Club" Port and it's made of Mourvedre, Shiraz and Grenache.  They use quite a few different batches to blend for consistency.  We find it to be similar to a nice Portuguese Tawny Port, as it's medium-bodied, nicely nutty with the dried fruit and toffee notes of these sorts of wines.  Sweet, but not too heavy.

Currently in stock:  PENFOLDS CLUB PORT $12.49


The Chambers' family has been making sweet wines in Australia since the late 1850s and it seems, over the course of time, they've perfected the recipe.

We've tasted some delicious wines from this firm, a specialist in Muscadelle (Tokay) and Muscat.    They make three "levels" of dessert wines.

We usually have some bottles of their basic Muscat in the shop.  This is a delicious, sweet, raisiny dessert wine.  

The middle level is called "Special" and the solera (stack of barrels from which the wine of the bottom row is bottled and replenished with wine from the next row of barrels above it which is younger) is said to date back to the 1920s.  

The top tier of wines are designated "Rare" and these, we're told, hail back more than 100 years.

Currently in stock:  Chambers Rosewood Muscat $17.99 (375ml)


These wines come from the Rutherglen area of Victoria and are amongst the most highly-prized.

Their Muscat is very fine, too.  It is very intense, displaying nutty notes and some fragrances recalling rose petals.  

Available:  Fine Muscat $13.99 (375ml) 
By Special order:
Fine Tokay $13.99 (375ml)
Rare Tokay $71.99 (375ml)