Of the many traditions held dear and near around the Holidays, we all share at least one: Christmas Desserts. Whether the simple sugar cookie, or a more elaborate fruit cake, there is some sort of traditional Christmas sweet we all have grown up with and is essential for our winter festivities. Along with our spike in the intake of baked goods is an inevitable spike in the drinking of dessert wine. Chances are your local shop has already stocked up on Port, Sauternes, and Icewines, among others. We simply don’t drink a ton of dessert wine most of the year, but since December is a month of decadence it’s a good time to splurge on a sweet & sticky.
In my family, the precious baking tradition is a twist on the classic fruitcake, something we call Christmas Pudding. It is a spiced loaf that is slow cooked in a canning process and produces a supremely rich, savoury delight that isn’t actually very sweet. Of course we remedy that by adding ice cream. The prime drinking accompaniment that can really take this treat to the next level is a dessert wine from Australia called Rutherglen Muscat (or Rutherglen Topaque). This luscious wine is created by fortification with spirits during its fermentation, which leaves behind some of the sweetness from the grapes before it can finish fermenting. Then the fortified juice goes into a solera system, where old barrels of the wine, many of them decades old, are constantly topped up with the next youngest barrel. This process is similar to many styles of sherry and port, and as such does share some taste similarities, in particular to the Pedro Ximinez or Tawny style. The resultant juice, when drawn off from the barrels, is filled with flavours reminiscent of raisins, dates and figs. On top of those sweet flavours though is a balancing acidity and bitterness that I would compare to a candied sour cherry(if those exist).
You can probably see why Rutherglen Muscat and Topaque work so well with a variety of Christmas baking from gingerbread, fruit cakes, nuts or shortbread. Describing those flavours brought to mind images of eating treats in a sweater(sans reindeer) and a full belly. Anything that is itself as savoury as it is sweet , and especially if baked with baking spices, is a perfect excuse to sip one of these Aussie treasures. Also on their side is the value they provide, in particular in light of how expensive it must be to make such a wine. You may see Rutherglen Tokay on a store shelf, since the name Tokay was only changed to Topaque in 2007 to avoid confusion with more traditional European Tokay wines. There are several great producers and this product is unique in that quality is uniformly high across those producers, and most of their entry point wines are priced under $20 for a 375ml. One of my favourites , Campbell’s, is pictured here.
The Rutherglen Victoria site has links to the wineries in the region as the other usual tourism fare.