From $16.99, Aus$26.50 and £17.99
Today, the perfect wine for anyone with a streaming cold such as I have just suffered. The key word here is Classic. This richly sweet fortified wine is one of Australia's classics, a gift to the world's wine drinkers that has no parallel anywhere else. The word Topaque is a very much more recent invention, as it looks, the creation of massed marketeers and focus groups. Is it a car? Is it an aftershave? No, it's a response to the fact that this classic 'stickie' used to be called Liqueur Tokay (and was sold alongside Liqueur Muscat made from the grape variety of the same name) because Tokay was what Australians had, for the last 150 years, called the Muscadelle grape from which it is made. But Tokay is no longer a permitted term.
The Hungarians have successfully outlawed the use of the words Tokay and Tocai - as witness the replacement of the word Tokay by Pinot Gris on labels in Alsace and the renaming of Friuli's dominant grape variety simply Friulano. The nucleus of Australian stickie producers in north-east Victoria got together about four years ago to come up with alternatives to soon-to-be-forbidden wine names on their products. They dropped the word Port altogether as most of it can simply be called Tawny. Muscat was fine because that is the grape variety from which the old Liqueur Muscat is made. But the Australians presumably thought it would be too confusing to suddenly start calling their Liqueur Tokay Muscadelle, the variety best known in Monbazillac, south west France. They also had to come up with an alternative name for the sherry-like wines they had been producing. Hence the focus groups, and the respective results Topaque and Apera. Hmmm. Ah well, the wine itself is delicious.
To qualify as Classic, a Rutherglen Topaque has to have an average age of 12 years, and the practice here is to age these sweet, fortified wines in ancient oak barrels in incredibly hot sheds - not a glamorous term but quite an accurate one. The result is that the wine is the most glorious vibrant amber colour and tastes exotically sweet but, in the case of Topaque, has a hint of that green streak that characterises Muscadelle grapes. This 17.5% alcohol wine may suggest light malty treacle on the nose and molten Demerara sugar at first on the palate but it finishes fresh.
It would make a delightful Twelfth Night consolation on its own but was also good with fresh pineapple and I could well imagine it complementing a wide range of firmer cheeses. It comes in a screwcap, and an opened bottle will last almost forever. The wine I tried recently was a half-bottle (37.5 cl) of the Classic version that is likely to cost around £17.99 a half but many merchants are offering the regular Stanton & Killeen Topaque, the younger, rather simpler version that is only about four or five years old, which is a bit lighter. I also note via wine-searcher.com that most merchants are still calling the wine Tokay. Presumably the Hungarian police will be rapping their knuckles in due course.
Stanton & Killeen wines are imported in the UK by ABS (tel 01780 755810) who are happy to answer queries about stockists. For the moment UK stockists of the Classic version are DK Vintners in Billingshurst (01403 784243), Uncorked in London EC2 (020 7638 5998) and City Beverage of London (020 7729 2111). Stockists of the regular bottling include Tate Modern, Halifax Wine Co and Vin Est, an interesting new independent retailer in Gloucestershire (01367 252861). All bottles imported into the UK contain 37.5cl.
For once I am finding it difficult to establish exactly which size of bottle is being offered by each retailer elsewhere. For example, the best price I can find on wine-searcher.com is $16.99 from Southern Hemisphere Wines, southern California, but no bottle size is specified. The wine seems to be sold in half bottles, half litres and in full bottles, which is of course potentially confusing. You can also buy it direct from the producer at Aus$30 here but even here we are not told how big the bottle is. Yet more opportunity for knuckle-rapping!