Aged beauties

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival Tasting 2009

By Louise Johnson
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Rutherglen in Victoria's High Country produces an outstanding range of fortified wines

Rutherglen in Victoria's High Country produces an outstanding range of fortified wines [©Visions of Victoria]


Although Australia is a relative newcomer to producing wine, our history in fortified production in long and proud. Yet the industry is facing a challenge of diminishing sales and name changes that end up confusing professionals and amateurs alike.

Winemakers James Godfrey of Seppeltsfield and Stephen Chambers of Chambers Rosewood  hosted a tasting at the 2009 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival that shed light on these monumental wines, the name changes, and why these sometimes century old wines are some of our greatest treasures.

As winemaker at Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley, James is caretaker of a collection of fortified wines slowly maturing in oak barrels and dating back in an unbroken line to 1878.

“We believe our range to be the most comprehensive of any fortified house in the world, encompassing traditional European fortified styles – principally port and sherry styles, but with an Australian twist,” he says.

The name changes, such as “apera” being used to describe wines made in the traditional sherry style, will be confusing but they also present new opportunities, says James.

“At the end of the day the name doesn’t matter as long as everyone uses it and gets behind it. I also believe there is an opportunity to remove ourselves from some of the baggage sherry has had in the past.”

James is enthusiastic about the potential for fortified wine and food combinations. “We need to understand all wines go well with food – they complement each other. People have forgotten fortified wines can go well with food – we’ve done whole dinners with fortified wines matched to food, especially the aperitif styles. These wines are designed to have power and intensity and you can match them to food with power and intensity.”

Stephen is the sixth generation of winemakers producing fortified wines in Rutherglen since the middle of the 19th century.

“Chambers Rosewood produces a wide range of table wines, including such rarities as a Riesling and gouias blend, blue imperial (which is in fact cinsaut) and a wide range of fortified wines. The supremely great wines are the Rare Tokay and Rare Muscat, and the very good Special Muscat and Special Tokay.”

Both winemakers are putting fortified wines into barrels that won’t see a bottle or be tasted publically during their lifetime. Such is the lengthy process of making these fine wines. This adds a new kind of pressure to the winemaker’s role.

“We’re just trying to keep the styles as good as we can make them. The house style was set by previous generations and we are doing a lot of work at the floor end – if we mess up the start we mess up the rest of it, and also if we mess up one year then we’ve messed up 20 or 30 years of winemaking and in blending, especially the older wines, one error doesn’t do one year, it does the whole lot.”

Fortified wines have received a bad rap in the past, with many people’s perception limited to a flagon of crème sherry at their grandparent’s home.

Steven says the way we drink these wines needs to change. “I encourage people to put them in the fridge. In summer put ice in it. We tend to leave these wines sitting on the shelf and we need to teach people how to serve them. An optimal room temperature of around 15 degrees (Celsius) is very unusual.”

Seppeltsfield and Chambers wines presented for tasting were:

Seppeltsfield Flora Fino
A classic bone-dry flor style of great finesse produced using the traditional solera system and the finest example of its style in Australia. Fragrantly lifted and refined with a lively intensity of flavour, the Seppeltsfield Fino is best served chilled as the ideal aperitif.

Chambers Amontillado
An aged sherry style. This wine exhibits nuts, cheese and a touch of saltiness on the aroma. The palate is dry with the nuts and cheese characters carrying through from the aroma; this results in a cleansing drink with a dry finish.

Chambers Oloroso
An Australian interpretation of a Spanish style. The wine shows the cheesy, nutty characters associated with sherry, these are combined with a slightly sweet toffee character. The wine exhibits a fresh light and lively palate with a hint of sweetness.

Seppeltsfield Cream, Selma Melita

Produced from a blend of several styles covering many varieties from several districts. Blended to an average age of 20 years. Full rich soft and creamy palate showing a combination of fruit and wood aged complexity. Although sweet and creamy, the finish is tight and dry giving a long lingering finish.

Chambers Rutherglen Muscadelle (Tokay)
This variety was incorrectly referred to as tokay for more than 150 years due to the belief it was one of the two varieties used to produce the Hungarian wine called tokaji. It is now called by its correct varietal name. Made from the young material, the Rutherglen Muscadelle’s malt and caramel flavours are beginning to develop, with a hint of cold tea. It is sweet and rich with a lingering finish.

Chambers Old Vine Muscadelle (Classic) (Tokay)
The burnt caramel aromas with undertones of malt and honey carry on to the palate to create a wonderful wine that is luscious with great length on the palate.

Chambers Grand Muscadelle (Tokay)
The solera for this wine was started at the beginning of the 20th century. A step up in quality from the Old Vine Muscadelle in what wine enters the solero and also what is bottled. The vanilla bean notes in combination with the caramel and mocha flavours and aromas are evident in this wine. This creates a multi-layered wine that exhibits both lusciousness and length of flavour.

Chambers Rare Muscadelle (Tokay)
The solera for this wine was begun at the turn of the 20th century. Only the very best material is considered for this wine, i.e. not the best from a particular year but rather the best that can be made. The careful ageing of this wine results in a khaki, olive green colour. The palate exhibits a combination of coffee bean, mocha, burnt caramel and vanilla bean flavours. The result is a wine that has layers of flavour, with generosity and fantastic length.



  • Barossa Valley (SA)
  • Rutherglen (VIC)

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November 01st, 2009
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