Rutherglen is a big deal. Simply put, it is the home of some of the world's greatest and most historic fortified dessert wines. The area is far to the northeast of Melbourne, Australia on the border with New South Wales and is a remote, flat, sun-baked, somewhat godforsaken corner of the world.

Like much of Victoria, planting here followed the gold rush of the mid-1800s. Unlike other regions; however, the brutal climate favored heat tolerant varieties such as Muscat and Muscadelle. These were made into dessert style wines following the tastes of the era and the results were so spectacular that the region's wineries have stuck with this style of wine to this day.

Muscadelle is known colloquially as Tokay, after the great wines of Hungary and the Muscat planted had the good fortune to be the most noble in the family, the dark-skinned Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, known locally as Rutherglen Brown Muscat. Both are brought to intense ripeness under the relentless sun and then barrel aged for lengthy periods in an oxidative process that concentrates and almost cooks the wines.

They emerge deeply colored, intensely sweet, and with a complex range of exotic flavors described variously as tea, olives, butterscotch, toffee, sweet spice, and caramel. Historic wineries hold very old stocks, often known as "museum wines," that can fetch hundreds of dollars per half bottle on release.

In addition to the dessert specialties, local wineries produce Shiraz and Petite Sirah (labeled Durif) to round out their portfolios. (Wine/Appellations)