Salud! to our Spanish-inspired wines
By Andrew Harris, Wine Educator
While fans of Brown Brothers red wine enjoy our French-style wines such as our Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Durif, on visiting our cellar door they are often surprised and delighted to discover that we produce some outstanding wines from Spanish varietals.
The first of these is Graciano which has an interesting history. It originated in Spain and was a major variety used in making Rioja up until phylloxera decimated the vineyards of Europe in the late 1800’s. Due to its low yields and a susceptibility to downy mildew, the variety was not replanted in great quantities giving Tempranillo the chance to totally dominate Rioja.
The plantings steadily grew through the 1900’s as producers realised that the Graciano was a very important component of the blend even in small percentages. While it is not governed by Rioja wine law, the majority of red Rioja will have a small percentage of Graciano. There are now a number of 100% Graciano wines made in Spain.
The same grapevine pest that ravaged Europe inevitably made its way to Australia and from Geelong to Rutherglen wreaked havoc amongst vine growers. Eventually phylloxera found its way to Milawa in 1912-13. The vineyard was totally uprooted and with the assistance of the Victorian government viticulturist, François de Castella (Robert de Castella’s grandfather), John Francis Brown replanted the Milawa property. François de Castella encouraged John Francis to plant on American rootstock that was resistant to phylloxera.
The traditional varieties were planted, although true to Brown Brothers form a number of others were trialled. They included Mondeuse, Semillon, Graciano and around 15 others.
We are currently selling the 2009 vintage, which took out the trophy for the Best Mediterranean Red at the 2011 Royal Melbourne Wine Show and was in the final taste off for the Jimmy Watson Trophy!
Tempranillo is the most important quality red wine grape of Spain. It is planted throughout the winegrowing country and the most important areas for the variety are Rioja and Ribera del Duero in the north of the country.
In the early 1990’s Mark Walpole one of Australia’s most respected viticulturists planted the variety at his property in north-east Victoria. In 1996 the grapes were taken in by Brown Brothers and the first Tempranillo was made under the Cellar Door label. The wine was not an instant success and it was not until 2001 that it was decided to plant Tempranillo at our Heathcote vineyard. With 10 hectares planted in 2001 and a further 10 hectares in 2002 gave us the volume that we required to take the wine from a Cellar Door-only to a wine of national and export potential. Now, the Brown Brothers Tempranillo is the biggest selling Tempranillo in Australia.
During the 2004 vintage the next generation of Brown family members got together and released two wines to the market. The red was a Tempranillo Graciano blend and the wine was outstanding. We sold it at Cellar Door and when it ran out of stock it was decided to continue the blend as a Brown Brothers Cellar Door-only wine. It is still at Cellar Door today and in June was the fifth best-selling wine.
These wines have great character. The Tempranillo is medium bodied with mixed berries, spice and a savoury finish. The Tempranillo Graciano is a bit more structured and has more spicy, lathery notes and the straight Graciano is fuller bodied with big tannins. It is a wine that will age for many years in a good cellar. When I have a large group of people over for dinner I love to cook paella. I t takes a long time and there are loads of ingredients but when matched to our brilliant Spanish-inspired reds it is more than worth it!
* Note: If you can’t make it to our cellar door in Milawa, you can buy Cellar-Door only wines, including the Graciano, and Tempranillo Graciano, through the Epicurean Club.