Over the past few months there has been much discussion about the survival of family-owned wine companies and the sustainability of their products.

By contrast the listed companies push their brands harder mainly to stay in front of the supermarket bloc by creating new brands for sustainable profitability.

I have noticed the remarkable taste success of Brown Brothers Pinot Noir Chardonnay & Pinot Meunier NV (AUD 20-24) over the past year both domestically and internationally.

Brown Brothers have made this wine continuously since 1991 when vineyards they had developed from 1982 had started to come on line. This is the high country vineyard called Whitlands (elevation 860 m) in the shadows of the Snowy Mountains.

Their blend is pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier. Says chief winemaker Wendy Cameron “while the percentages vary slightly from year to year, it is a Pinot Noir dominant blend. There is no formula with the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier – just whatever looks best.” There is one blend made annually except for 2007 where smoke taint from bushfires prevented this wine from being produced.

Wendy points out very strongly that acidity is the real basis of the grapes selected for this wine-and that Whitlands delivers on that grape characteristic. There is a sparkling winemakers’ rule of thumb, 10/10-harvest at 10 Baume then the best acidity is to have or exceed 10 grams per litre.

The wines are yeast aged for 18-24 months depending demand for continuity and style evolution from year to year.

When asking about its track record at shows since the debut year 1992-there have been 111 medals, including 28 gold and 3 trophies, one gold was in Commercial Sparkling Wine at this year’s Adelaide Show and which grabbed my attention. It has also won 3 trophies at the International Wine Challenge in London in recent years.

One of the reasons this wine is widely recognised is its freshness in the glass. On inquiring about the regularity of disgorging the answer to its quality freshness is in the detail to take the wine to market.

“We disgorge small batches throughout the year as there is no requirement for ageing under cork. Ageing is best done on yeast lees and under crown seal. We disgorge and leave the wine for 3 months before releasing when it is ready for drinking” says Wendy.

Then at disgorging comes the finishing off-to make any sparkling wine palatable there is a dosing of sugar syrup, for the NV it is 10-12 grams per litre, always trialled every year to balance acidity with sweetness so that the sugar is not detectable, as that’s what blending skill is.

There is a small trend coming out of Champagne and the Fosters Wine Estates towards selling sparkling wines with less kilojoules so that no sugar syrup addition is required. That trend causes a style change so for the moment I expect this NV to stay as it is.

There is also another trend to reduce alcohol levels in wines generally. However most sparklings contain modest alcohol and this NV usually runs at 13 per cent.

Wendy qualifies this “We harvest fruit with the aim to have a finished wine of 12 – 13 per cent and typically this sits at about 12.5. At picking the acid is mature without tasting too tart or green apple characters and the flavours are citrus fruit based and not showing any riper melon characters. Our cool climate sites are very good at delivering this type of fruit.”

One added nuance which can attract wine judges palates is the use of older wine in each year’s blend. Brown Brothers keep an annual reserve with a portion stored in tank and the other part stored in older French oak barriques.

And the anatomy of taste! It’s got complexity on nose from good yeast, and a splash of extra volume which pinot meunier contributes. Then there is taste: good roundness and big flavour which puts it at the higher alcohol platform of sparkling wines, 11.5-13.0, great citrus and limey acidity, balance and fullness with good bubbles.

Salute to Brown Brothers.

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