Australian Fortified Wines
Some remakable wines, including old treasures back to 1884

There are three countries that specialize in fortified wines. First we have Portugal, with Port and Madeira. Then we have Spain, with Sherry. The third? Australia. Fortifieds are among Australia’s most unique and interesting wines, and until the 1960s, this category accounted for 80% of the Australian wine industry. Nowadays it’s a sideshow, but a really compelling one.

Back in 2009 , as part of the Landmark Australia tutorial, I enjoyed a remarkable tasting (in a week filled with remarkable tastings) of Australian fortifieds, led by specialist winemaker James Godfrey. These were some of the best wines I have ever experienced. Then, back in October 2012 I came across James again, at the Melbourne wine show where he was a fellow judge. In a judges' dinner focusing on old Australian wines, the fortifieds again stood out as being pretty special.  

James Godfrey

‘Age is what makes a great fortified,’ says Godfrey. But age alone is not enough to make a great wine. He suggests that having freshness and vitality in the wine is critical, as well as the complexity that comes with time.

For making sherry styles, he advocates having bone dry and sweet components, blending a small amount of very sweet stuff to get the maximum influence of the dry.

For Australian ‘Ports’, there are two styles, Vintage and Tawny. The vintage style has changed greatly in Australia since 1985. It used to be made from robust, ripe shiraz, making big, sweet wines with heavy tannins. These were often great at 25 years of age, but not so good young.

Now there is more blending, and the use of gentler extraction techniques. Godfrey will blend in Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao and Tinta Barocca, which contribute weight and depth, and he says that Touriga has an amazing ability to gobble up tannins.

In 2008 he built his first lagar (the Portuguese term for a shallow fermenting vessel, as used for Port making) at Seppeltsfield. ‘The results were quite amazing,’ says Godfrey. ‘The depth and fruit intensity was amazing compared with what we can get out of a 10 ton fermenter.’

Tawny styles in Australia show great diversity. His style is to ferment on skins and then use free run juice to get the maximum amount of fruit intensity. He uses low-strength spirits, which he buys from Tarac in the Barossa. ‘Spirit plays a major part in fortified production,’ says Godfrey. Low strength would be 78-89 proof, while high strength is 96. If you go much lower, you get dilution of the wines.

But Australia is best known for its classic Muscats and Tokays from the Rutherglen region. These age brilliantly and are among the world’s greatest fortified wines. A while ago there was a name change for the Tokays: made from the Muscadelle grape, they now either go under this varietal name, or under the new name of Topaque, to avoid confusion with Hungary’s famous Tokaji wines.


Morris Show Amontillado, Rutherglen
Orange/brown colour. Intense and nutty nose with taut notes of old furniture and casks, with some appley, citrus freshness. The palate is smooth and off dry with intense, complex notes of herbs, citrus, old furniture and nuts, as well as some sweet grapey notes. Has an almost eternal finish. 95/100

Seppeltsfield Museum Oloroso DP104, Rutherglen
Orange/brown colour. Warm, nutty and spicy with old furniture notes, and dried citrus fruits/orange peel complexity. The palate has nice sweetness and amazingly rich raisiny, grapey, nutty, casky characters. Incredible concentration and length with the richness balanced beautifully by citrus freshness. 95/100

Seppeltsfield 2005 Vintage, Barossa Valley
Lovely elegant nose of vivid, sweet red and black fruits. The palate is open, sweet and fruity with nice freshness. Bright and fruity with an approachable personality and well managed tannins. Not overly sweet. 92/100

Seppeltsfield DP90 Rare Tawny, Barossa Valley
Average age of the wines in this blend is around 20 years. Yellow/brown colour. Refined, nutty, raisiny nose is gently nutty. The palate is lush and refined with complex spicy, broad casky characters. Very warm and quite sweet with amazing length. Finishes quite dry and nutty in the mouth, with a fresh citrussy finish. Quite profound. 95/100

Grant Burge 30 year old Tawny, Barossa Valley
Orange/brown colour. Rich with some nice marmalade/orange fruit, a hint of cherries and a bit of dried fruit character. The palate is rich, warm and viscous with sweet, spicy, grapey fruit. Very sweet and intense with a lovely finish. Just a tiny bit cloying? 91/100

Penfolds Great Grandfather Series 1, Barossa Valley
Released in 1994 at 40 years old. Deep brown colour. Amazing nose is volatile, grapey and complex with notes of old furniture and floor polish. Incredibly concentrated with toffee, treacle and raisins. High acidity. Incredibly intense, sweet and viscous. 94/100

Campbells Isabella Rare Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
Deep brown colour with greenish hints. Very sweet, aromatic nose of treacle, raisins and Christmas cake, with a lifted edge. The palate is super-lush and viscous with amazing, rich, warm smooth Christmas cake flavours, as well as notes of cold tea, malt and citrus. 95/100

Seppeltsfield Paramount Rare Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
This is made with base wines from 1922–1964, with some 30 year old topping product. It’s simply one of the world’s great wines. Incredibly complex, rich and spicy with notes of earth, chocolate, raisins and Christmas cake on the nose. The palate is super-concentrated with bold, sweet, viscous raisin flavours, as well as malt and treacle, and remarkable length and density. Mind-blowingly complex. 97/100

Morris Old Premium Liqueur Topaque Muscadelle, Rutherglen
Deep brown colour with a tinge of greenness. Warm, smooth, raisiny, grapey and spicy nose. The palate is smooth and lush with amazing sweet raisiny character. Nice freshness on the finish. Classic stuff. 94/100  

McWilliam's Show Reserve Muscat, Riverina
Deep brown colour. Smooth and dark with characters of chocolate, malt, toffee and treacle on the nose. The palate is complex and smooth with notes of raisins and a slightly funky edge. Viscous and intense. 92/100

Morris Old Premium Liqueur Muscat, Rutherglen
The house style at Morris is for richer, more complex, raisined wines. This is a deep brown colour with an orange rim. It’s complex, raisiny, warm and spicy with notes of Christmas cake. The palate is amazingly viscous with sweet, pure, raisin, herb and cask characters. Complex and long, and showing real finesse despite the size. 94/100

Campbells Merchant Prince Rare Muscat, Rutherglen
The Campbells house style is one of complex, floral aromatics. Very deep brown in colour this has a smooth, mellow, raisiny nose with some fine dried fruit and spice aromatics. The palate is deliciously viscous and super-sweet with spicy, savoury, old furniture/cask notes as well as Christmas cake richness. Real depth and intensity here. Brilliant. 95/100

Saltram Vintage Port 1945 Barossa, Australia
This is Cabernet: the cellar hands fortified the wrong fermenter, and instead of Shiraz, fortified this Cabernet. Sweet and intense with notes of mint, meat and warm sweet raisins, as well as cherries, spice, plums and a hint of treacle. Very sweet and warm with lovely mint notes. Brilliantly integrated spirit. 96/100

Campbells Rare Muscat NV, Rutherglen, Australia
From the 1950s and 60s, blended in the 1990s. Complex, rich and raisiny. Spicy and bold. Viscous, powerful palate, so lively and intense with great acidity and amazing concentration. 95/100

Chambers Rare Topake/Muscadelle, Rutherglen
Incredibly intense aromatics meld savoury, spicy, earthy notes with those of chocolate, ginger cake and raisin. Really complex palate with incredibly mouthfilling spice, toffee, chocolate earth and caramel notes, together with a savoury dimension. Old, rich and yet vibrant, with an eternal finish. 97/100

1928 Morris Liqueuer Muscat, Rutherglen
Deep brown with some orange notes at the edge. Incredibly viscous. Amazingly complex nose of spice, raisins and orange peel, which is still very fresh. The palate is thick – almost solid – with beauty and complexity, showing treacle, malt, spice and herbal characters. Stunning, almost perfect wine with incredible concentration, complexity, richness and freshness. 99/100

Seppeltsfield Para 100 year old Tawny 1909, Barossa Valley
There’s so much going on here with this wine, it’s almost too much! Volatile nose of chocolate, spice and raisins leads to an incredibly powerful palate, showing astonishing complexity and length. Almost solid, with bold, intense sweet raisiny fruit and notes of chocolate, ginger cake and old furniture. Incredibly firm and multilayered, this is impossible to describe in words. Still fresh, with high acidity. (This is the current release, and costs around A$1400 a bottle.)  99/100

Seppeltsfield Para 100 year old Tawny 1884 Barossa, Australia
Seppeltsfield have an unbroken line of tawny ports in bottle from 1878-2012. Amazingly intense nose of treacle, spice, raisin, balsamic vinegar. Viscous and amazingly concentrated. Powerful, spicy flavours with treacle, molasses, raisins and stunning acidity. Some crème brulee too. A remarkable experience. 98/100

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Wines tasted 10/12 and 06/09  
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