Two from Brown Brothers

Victorians will haves scores of memories about the Brown Brothers cellar door at Milawa. For many, it was a welcome stopover on the way to the snowfields, or Rutherglen, with nearby cheese, olive, and mustard diversions. A cycling trip many years ago introduced me to the delights of blueberries. The cellar door boasted more than fifty wines available to try, with many obscurities. Brown Brothers played a key part in the wine education of thousands.  Their “Kindergarten” winery also provided a licence for winemakers to make microbatches of trial varieties, and experiment with exotic techniques.

The expanding, efficient, friendly cellar-door provided a wealth of real-life consumer and instant focus-group-like research on likes, tastes and experimentation with prices, with rapid feedback. I was cheerfully allowed to taste the more expensive wines – even after I explained these were beyond my budget.

I recall Graciano, Mondeuse in various blends, the Noble Riesling, and names like Koombahla, Banksdale, Whitlands, Everton; sometimes even the grower’s name was highlighted.

Arguably, there was often competence rather than highlights, but it was almost impossible to avoid a few surprising purchases, and some increase in knowledge.

Brown Brothers took their educational role seriously, not just at cellar door, but at events like Expovin and the Exhibition of Victorian Winemakers.

Their wings have spread, and they continue to source grapes widely; the “Patricia” range is their flagship, with the sparkling wine and the Noble Riesling typically standouts (plus the NV sparkling is ridiculous value, and an easy recommendation). I must return!

brown brothers vp's

1986 Brown Brothers late-bottled Vintage Port 18.5%
Cellar-door release, yet another recent auction purchase
Excellent level and cork; This is a mature colour with a fair degree of bricking; mocha, fudge,  and sweet fruits; a lovely mellow wine- no doubt better ten years ago, bit there is still grace here. The sweet brandy spirit is holding the wine together and this is unbelievably easy to consume, with a bonus for the recollections.

Drink now, 90 points.

1991 Brown Brothers Vintage Port 18.5%
Auction again, and “it will continue to develop in flavour and richness when cellared correctly”. But we have here a wine where nothing moves from its slumber – whether it’s had unfortunate cellaring or has merely had better times. There’s remnants of dark berry fruit, acid and tannin, but a wow-factor of zero.

Drink now, and 85 points for being sound and drinkable, but no more.


2015 Brown Brothers Patricia Noble Riesling 10.5%

Produced in most years by Brown Brothers – a well-known Australian producer – back to the 1970s, from the King Valley, Victoria.


Bright gold/orange in colour; this luxurious wine overdelivers for its price ($35-$40 per half bottle).

Ripe apricot, orange peel, obvious botrytis. It has a massive 193 g/l residual sugar, but the palate floats with the necessarily high balancing acidity; silk, honey, ripe citrus fruits, and a faint hazelnut nuttiness. The Riesling characters of fresh apple and lime-like citrus remain, with the botrytis providing intensity, viscosity, and adding complexity. This is a really decadent wine which will overwhelm desserts and provoke contemplation of its attributes – a terrific achievement.

To 2028, and 93 points

Guilty pleasures and objectivity in tastings

There are wines that have more interest than their score indicates. These will be wines with a story.

The story could be

  • Some personal relationship with the winemaker, or winery
  • A purchase from a special place, or time, or price, including wines from overseas that went into the luggage
  • Some rarity from mailing lists,  or a peculiar bargain, perhaps trying some barrels at a winery, or something from “under the counter”
  • Some revisiting of an earlier experience

My guilty pleasures include

Baileys of Glenrowan. We always seemed to visit when it was searingly hot, so we’d welcome a break from the non-air-conditioned car, and the old tasting room was refreshingly cool. Alternately, the days would be wintry, and the log fire inside was very inviting.

Later I remember tasting the Founder Liqueur wines, and the “HJT” fortifieds and heroic red wines – wines that had the ferrous “iron filings” profile. The 1992 Shiraz wines are still going strong, with the ripe blackberry fruit winning the battle with the typically deep tannins – something that could not always be relied on. 1975 was another year with this fruit power

Petaluma Riesling. The 1980 Petaluma Riesling was a wine where I have consumed far more than my fair share. This was because a nearby wine shop (long closed) had the wine for sale for around $10 per bottle. My partner and I would drink a bottle, marvel at it, then return at some stage to buy a further bottle or two for drinking. Our usual “budget” drinking white wine at the time was the Wynns “high Eden” Riesling.

Leo Buring. At an early Expovin in Melbourne’s Exhibition buildings, John Vickery politely asked if I wanted to try some Rieslings. I jumped at this opportunity and recall trying some wines from early 1970’s including some  ”show” wines.

Brown Brothers. Again at Expovin, I think Huon Hooke showed a range of perhaps 6 different Noble Rieslings. A fantastic insight into cellaring capabilities and vintage variation, and a tremendous exercise in brand building by Brown Brothers.

Chambers (Rutherglen). Another winery we visited when I was young, with the red wines often stored in an old fridge, with the instruction from Bill Chambers to “help yourselves”. Again I can only remember visiting on stinking hot days. It turned out that my father had worked as a labourer at the winery in the 1940’s as a recent migrant with rudimentary English.

And of course there were the visits to the original Dan Murphy cellars in Prahran (its now a JB Hi-fi store).

There are also  wines where we have a negative perception; the cellar doors that treated people rudely, served derisory samples, or only showed their basic wines, or where their prices heavily exceeded retail.  And those that had dire levels of TCA and made refunds difficult – or impossible. Or the wines that have had rave reviews and been disappointing, where the hype exceeded the experience.

These all colour our attempts at objectivity.

The impact is that the nostalgia confounds “objective” scoring to a considerable degree.  I carry around some affections for these wines named above, and other wines  – from the places where I have picked grapes, cleaned (lots and lots of cleaning) , filled barrels, foot-trod grapes, and so on. And then consider that I selected these places based on something, and they put up with my efforts.

For those other scribblers that are awash with samples, and assess them in a masked format – there is a further challenge to demonstrate objectivity in what is chosen for weekly, or irregular articles. It cannot be achieved- we are creatures surrounded by our history and habits, that influence what we taste, what we buy, and what we write.