The joy of old wines

The 1958 John Brown Milawa Light Dry Red Shiraz Mondeuse (Photo: Huon Hooke)

Part of the charm of great old wines is that they evoke memories.

At Brokenwood in the Hunter Valley recently, I was fortunate enough to share in a bottle of 1958 John Brown Milawa Light Dry Red Shiraz Mondeuse, which took me back to an earlier life – exactly 40 years ago.

The wine had a plain white Australian Wine Consumers’ Co-operative Society label – the forerunner of today’s The Wine Society – and a crinkly old foil capsule with the stamp of Rhine Castle, a Sydney wine merchant of the day.

Obviously produced by Brown Brothers, the wine was a gorgeous drink, venerable but not excessively faded, and loaded with the roasting pan, cigar-box, meat-stock complexities of a very old red wine.

It reminded me of the 1967 Brown Brothers Everton Shiraz Mondeuse Cabernet (I think those were the varieties, but don’t hold me to it) that I drank a few bottles of in the late 1970s when I was living in Albury and working at the Albury Border Mail. Such an impression did this stately wine make on me that I recall bothering the Brown family as to why their Everton Hills vineyard had been abandoned. The reply was that the yields were so poor that it was uneconomic. In those days, the bean-counters had their claws in the wine industry, and winemakers were being encouraged to make profitable wines, no matter if they were boring.

Sorry to say, Brown Brothers went for a long period when they didn’t make much red wine to get excited about. These days wine lovers are more prepared to pay for quality, so it’s more likely the accountant would work out the cost of production and charge what was needed to justify keeping a great vineyard. Or else, the bosses might take the attitude that there’s sense in making a great but unprofitable wine for the sake of reputation.

The ’58 reminded me of that ’67 Everton red, and I wondered if it came from the same vineyard. The wines shared a certain elegance, subtlety and backbone.

Brokenwood’s winemakers paired the ’58 with their new Indigo Vineyard Shiraz 2017, from the Beechworth region. Being so young, it tastes a world apart, but the vineyard is just a short hop from the site of the old Everton vineyard, as you head up the hill from the King Valley towards Beechworth.

(Footnote: the site of the Everton Hills vineyard was replanted in 1998 and is now Battely Wines.)

John Brown Milawa Light Dry Red Shiraz Mondeuse 1958

Light tawny/brick-red colour; superbly complex, mellow old bouquet, with roasting pan, cigar-box, meat-stock aromas, a hint of coffee grounds. The tannins have mellowed out and the texture is soft and graceful. It’s in excellent condition: a remarkable old curio. (Rhine Castle/Australian Wine Consumers’ Co-operative Society)

Brown Brothers Everton Shiraz Mondeuse Cabernet 1967

No notes as I haven’t tasted it for 40 years!

Still lingers in the memory and is one of my very early benchmark wines. I recall it as an elegant, firmly-structured, very complex wine of concentration and power, but not bigness.

The 2017 Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard Shiraz (Photo: Huon Hooke)

Brokenwood Indigo Vineyard Shiraz 2017

Deep red-purple colour; intense spicy aromas of ripe dark fruits, the palate full-bodied and glossy, with soft, polished tannins and plush fruit flavour. 50% whole-bunch ferment. Excellent wine and the best yet under this label. (Unreleased, will be about AUD $70)

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