The wines of D'Arenberg   
McLaren Vale, Australia

The exuberant Chester Osborn (right) has transformed this traditional, family-owned McLaren Vale winery, founded in 1912, into one of Australia’s most dynamic and visible producers. The range of imaginatively labelled wines, with its quirky two-part names, has sprawled over recent years, and production is now up to 250 000 cases. The top wines are largely deserving of the considerable hype, and are made from old, low-yielding vines using traditional techniques (such as submerged cap open fermenters and basket presses, with no punch down or pump over, no racking and no fining or filtration). They manage to catch amazing levels of fruit and intensity, especially with at the more pricey end.

Best known of these wines is the concentrated, ageworthy Dead Arm Shiraz, but perhaps even better is the Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon, which is one of Australia’s best. Also impressive is the Grenache-dominated Ironstone Pressings. Laughing Magpie is an exuberantly fruity Shiraz/Viognier. Quality across the range is pretty good, which for this level of production is no mean feat. Like most Aussie wines, prices have crept up steadily in recent years, but not excessively so. Chester’s latest venture is a range of clothing called Beakus Twisterus, which will include shirts (retail A$300–400) and jeans (A$500–1000). He’s also planning to build a new winery, based on a Rubik Cube design. Watch this space.

The wines (most recent notes first)

The Ironstone Pressings 1996
Ironstone Pressings is a Grenache (75%), Shiraz (25%), Mourvèdre (5%) blend, from old low-yielding (quarter to half-a-ton an acre) vines, mostly dry grown. Chester says that in 1996 they were in a phase of trying to use lower sulfur dioxide levels, and that the selection then wasn’t as good as it is now. This is showing some evolution, with a leathery, earthy edge to the sweetly fruited nose. The palate is spicy and ripe with some earthy hints to the sweet, darkly fruited , warm palate. Warm, spicy, earthy and intense. 89/100 (06/09)

The Ironstone Pressings 2002
From 2002 onwards Chester says that they have been trying to pick things less ripe. Intense, vivid, spicy and dense with nice freshness and good acidity. Really full and concentrated with lovely dark fruits and firm tannins. Deliciously forward, this is big, fresh, vigorous and spicy. 93/100 (06/09)

The Ironstone Pressings 2006
Vivid focused black fruits nose with some meaty, spicy notes. The palate is vigorous and spicy with taut savoury, spicy notes. This is tight and intense with lovely density. A bit mineral, this has real potential. 93/100 (06/09)

D'Arenberg 'The Feathered Dinosaur' Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 McLaren Vale, South Australia
This is a massive wine: indeed, it's the first time I've seen a screwcap liner like this stained with the wine! It's an incredibly taut, intense, complex, tight wound wine with aromas of sweet, minerally, spicy blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, with some meaty, earthy notes. The palate has dense sweet fruit, but comes across as intensely savoury with spicy, earthy, cedary, tarry notes, strong tannins and high acidity. There may even be a bit of matchstick reduction here, too - there's so much going on it's hard to separate the individual flavour components out. I reckon this will age into a mellow, rich, tarry spiciness, but it really does need some time. Lovely stuff in a traditionally Australian style, but you do need to be in the right mood for it. 94/100 (£17.99 Tesco) 11/08

D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2003 McLaren Vale, Australia
Tasted blind. Ripe, sweet new oak on the nose. Hint of coconut and vanilla. The palate is ripe and sweet with plenty of new oak and a soft structure. Seductive and concentrated but a bit simple. Very good+ 88/100 (06/06)

Dry Dam Riesling 2000, Fleurieu Peninsula
From the hills north of the McLaren Vale. There’s a lovely bright edge to the nose, which shows lifted citrus fruit with a touch of spice. Modern, fruity palate with good concentration, although it’s a tiny bit confected. Very good (01/02)

Olive Grove Chardonnay 2001
There’s an attractive nutty edge to the nose, which is attractive, buttery and quite showy. The palate is smooth and nutty, with well integrated oak and a touch of coconut. Tasty stuff in a very Australian mould. Very good (01/02)

Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc 2000
Distinctive leafy, herby edge to the nose, with a touch of herbaceousness. Crisp palate, but I find the herbaceousness off-putting. Good (01/02)

Last Ditch Viognier 1999
Unusual citrussy nose with a herby edge to it. Rich textured palate has a slightly odd edge. Herby and a bit weird. Good (01/02)

Money Spider Roussanne 2001
Very bright lemony nose with a floral edge. Youthful. Palate is modern and fruit driven, and is currently quite citrussy and youthful. Good concentration and may well develop some interest. Very good (01/02)

Hermit Crab Marsanne 2001
Bright, attractive citrussy nose with a nice sweet herbal edge. Tasty, full-textured palate with a nice herbiness to it. This is an attractive modern-styled white. Very good+ (01/02)

High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Very sweet forward nose of ripe berry fruit with lush oak influence. Rich, lush palate with ripe fruit and a spicy edge. Very tasty in a sexy style, this is a crowd pleaser. Very good+ (£7.99) 01/02

The Footbolt Shiraz 1999
Rich slightly spicy nose is slightly liftes and a touch alcoholic. Lush, ripe fruit on the palate which is very forward and a tiny bit disjointed. Very good (£7.99) 01/02

D’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache 1999
There’s some richness to the spicy nose, with a bit of baked fruit. Rounded, ripe palate with quite a bit of spice and some tannins. Attractive but not quite all together. Very good (£7.99) 01/02

Custodian Grenache 1998
Lighter in colour than the other reds, this has a nose showing herbs, leather, some spice and liquoricey notes. Lovely savoury/spicy palate is very varietally true, with some ripe berry fruit. It’s almost Châteauneuf-like. Tasty stuff. Very good/excellent (£8.99) 01/02

Twenty Eighth Road Mourvedre 1998
Nice to see the varietal character showing through here. It’s a slightly faded red colour with a bricking rim. Very savoury dry, spicy nose with notes of leather and tea. The palate is quite chunky and is intensely savoury, with firm tannins. A very distinctive wine. Very good/excellent (£9.99) 01/02

The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2000
This is the one with the back label that is covered over with a ‘censored’ sticker, because it mentions Côte Rôtie (the Northern Rhône appellation where a dash Viognier is allowed in addition to Syrah). Of course, this bears no resemblance to Côte Rôtie, but it’s a lovely wine nonetheless. Deep, intense purple/black colour. There’s a lovely roasted smoky edge to the nose, and the palate shows intense berry fruit with a dark chocolate edge and some firm tannins. Good acidity. Super chunky stuff with real appeal. Very good/excellent 01/02

Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Pronounced blackcurrant nose with a creamy edge. On the palate the rich, lush berry fruit combines well with the firm, grippy tannins. Great concentration, but slightly rustic? Lots of interest here, it will be fascinating to see how it evolves. Very good/excellent (£17.99) 01/02

Dead Arm Shiraz 1999
Deep red/purple colour. Very rich complex nose showing lush, sweet-edged spicy fruit with a chocolatey richness and spicy oak. The palate is concentrated, spicy and chocolatey. Currently quite dense and tight, with firm tannins. A fine effort from a trickier vintage. Very good/excellent (£17.99) 01/02

Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz 1998
Lovely rich chocolatey/spicy nose with a slightly lifted edge. Dense, spicy, chunky palate with great concentration and firm tannins, but perhaps lacking a touch of excitement. Very good+ (£17.99) 01/02

Vintage Fortified Shiraz 1999
Opaque red/black colour, this is a viscous wine. The nose shows a blast of rich liquoricey fruit with lots of alcohol. Rich, sweet pure fruit on the palate with a chocolatey edge. Very tasty, but probably needs time to come together: at the moment it’s a little disjointed. Very good+ 01/02

D'Arenberg Custodian Grenache 1996, McLaren Vale, Australia
Deep, rich, complex, concentrated wine. It has that distinct, burnt rubber Grenache nose. On the palate the lush fruit is countered by dry, chalky tannins and a touch of spicy oak. There is a port-like concentration, but it avoids being too 'soupy'. I think this is one of D'Arenberg's best efforts, but don't be tempted to hold on to it for too long. Excellent. (£7.99 Oddbins)

See also:

Landmark Australia Tutorial
Tasting notes of Australian wines

Wines tasted as indicated  
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