Ross and Judy Brown visited Canberra in March to launch the new vintage Brown Brothers ‘Patricia’ range – the company’s flagships. They’re wonderful wines and good value. But the visit highlighted the sheer depth of the Brown Brothers’ offering. Much of it’s driven, beneath the radar of wine columns, by a range of high-volume sweet whites and reds.
The company’s innovative approach is probably best seen from the cellar door, visited by about 90 thousand people each year. Here Browns offer an ever-changing menu of new wines, gauging drinkers’ reaction, before moving to larger production of successful products. The diversity offered at the cellar door can be glimpsed from the comfort of your computer screen on the cellar price list, available at www.brownbrothers.com.au
Current list of non-traditional styles includes prosecco, zibbibo, pinot grigio, albarino (temporarily withdrawn, and potentially to be renamed, following CSIRO DNA testing of Australia’s stocks of this variety), viognier, chenin blanc, vermentino, moscato, crouchen-riesling blend, tarrango, dolcetto-syrah blend, cienna, sangiovese, nero d’Avola, barbera, tempranillo, tempranillo-graciano blend and nebbiolo – representing thirty years of innovation.
As reported here a few weeks back, Ross attributes part of Brown’s success across the generations to high-quality sweet and fruity wines, both red and white. These seldom rate in wine columns but two of Brown’s sweeties – the red Dolcetto & Syrah and white Moscato – ranked ninth and fourth respectively in an AC Nielsen listing of Australia’s top selling wines (by value) in the year to 22 March 2009.
Now, you might wonder what link there is between the small-volume $57 top-end Patricia wines and the modestly priced, big-volume sweeties. The simple answer is that Browns take all of the styles they make deadly seriously.
And who drinks the sweeties? Ross says there’s no simple profile. The wines appeal right across the population, across ages, sexes and social status. And if there’s generally a trend for people to discover sweet, fruity wines, then progress to dry versions, it’s not universal. Many people stick to sweet wines for life.
Here, then, is a glimpse of Brown Brothers’ current popular sweeties and reviews of two exciting, dry pinot grigios and the flagship Patricia range
Brown Brothers Victoria Crouchen Riesling 2008 (10.5% alcohol) $13.40
This is like a slightly fat riesling – plumped out by the crouchen, a variety once known in Australia as Clare riesling but originally from the Landes region, southwestern France. It’s a crisp, easy drinking style but not made for cellaring. Note he modest alcohol content.
South Eastern Australia Moscato 2008 (5.5%alcohol) $15.40
This is one of the early Australian takes on the spritzy styles made originally in Asti, Piedmont. In both countries it’s made from Muscat of Alexandria grape, perhaps the most ancient of all cultivated varieties. The wine’s pale, spritzy and intensely musky/grapey – sweet but beautifully invigorating.
Zibbibo (6.5% alcohol) $15.40
In this sparkling version of moscato Brown Brothers use the southern Italian name for the muscat grape, Zibbibo. The bubbles make it even brisker than the still version but mutes the fruity, musk aroma and flavour.
Victoria Dolcetto & Syrah 2008 (11% alcohol) $15.40
Syrah equals shiraz and therefore needs no introduction. But dolcetto – meaning little sweet one – is less well-known in Australia. Competing theories place it as a native of Dogliani, a Piedmontese village, or of France, having arrived in Monferrato, Piedmont, in the eleventh century.
Whichever is true, dolcetto’s by now a thoroughly Piedmontese grape making stunningly purple, fruity and generally soft, dry early-drinking wines – a real contrast to the mouth puckering wines made from nebbiolo, Piedmont’s most acclaimed red variety.
Brown’s blend is a vibrant crimson colour, spritzy and with pleasant mulberry-like fruit flavour, a grapey sweetness and lick of tannin in the finish.
Victoria Cienna 2008 (5% alcohol) $13.90
The CSIRO bred cienna from cabernet sauvignon and the Spanish sumoll variety in 1972, but it wasn’t bred until 2000. Brown’s version is brilliantly coloured and light and fresh on the palate, the fruit flavour having traces of cabernet’s leafiness.
Brown Brothers Victoria Pinot Grigio 2008 $18.99
Browns produce two classy dry pinot grigios – the standard blend, available at $18.99, and a limited release version, from a single block on the cold, 800m-high Whitlands vineyard. The standard blend (sourced from Whitlands and the 450m Banksdale vineyard) is a rich, soft dry white with crystal clear varietal flavour – it’s the real thing. The limited release wine, due for release next year, offers more intense flavours and a tighter structure with a lovely core of delicious fruit.
Brown Brothers ‘Patricia’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 $56
Brown Brothers ‘Patricia’ Shiraz 2005 $56
These are modestly priced for ‘flagship’ wines of the calibre. The shiraz, a blend from Avoca, Heathcote and King Valley shows cool-climate peppery/spicy varietal aromas and flavours and a solid, deep palate with quite an impact from the American oak – the one area that might be fine-tuned in future vintages. The cabernet comes from Western Victoria, the Dookie Hills and King Valley. It’s strongly varietal with deep fruitiness and leafy hints on the nose and a powerful but finely structured and assertively tannic palate – it’s a classic cellaring style and ought to drink well between 10 and 20 years’ age.
Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pinot Meunier 2004 $39.90
Brown Brothers Patricia Noble Riesling 2006 375ml $35
These easily rank with best Australian examples of the styles. The bubbly comes from the cold Whitlands vineyard on a plateau above the southern end of Victoria’s King Valley. It’s cold enough to produce the intense but delicate flavours essential for top-end bubbly. This is juicy and fresh but very delicate, with a special textural richness and roundness probably attributable to the pinot meunier in the blend. The amazing, luscious ‘Noble’ offers the zesty, varietal ‘lime’ character of riesling and the exotic ‘marmalade’ notes of botrytis and a little bottle age. It’s from a single block of vines first noted for botrytis in the 1930s.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2009