The d’Arenberg Dozen
Any person with an interest in wine living in Adelaide or surrounds will know the name d’Arenberg. It’s not a local phenomenon either; wine lovers’ across Australia, America the UK and other parts of the world will know the name and love the wines too.
The family behind the d’Arenberg brand are the Osborn’s (not the Ozzie and Sharon Osborn’s) who celebrated the family’s century involvement in the McLaren Vale region in 2012. One of the many celebratory events fourth generation viticulturist and winemaker Chester Osborn was responsible for was the amazing sites project.
In essence Chester released a range of wines from individual sites around the region. In 2013 the amazing sites wines consisted of 12 Shiraz wines from the 2011 vintage each retailing at $100 a bottle. Below are the accompanying notes written by Chester plus the story behind the incredible names along with my review.
It’s worth noting I didn’t obtain Chester’s notes until I had tasted the wines therefore my reviews are independent and not influenced.
2011 The Little Venice Single Vineyard Shiraz
Fourth generation winemaker Chester Osborn was in Venice when this block was purchased. The land nearby has a spring-fed dam providing an abundance of water and inspiring its name.
Chester: Amazingly, this wine is almost polar opposite in style when compared to its direct neighbour, the Fruit Bat. While The Fruit Bat is elegant, bright and red fruited, The Little Venice is darker and more structured. The underlying geologies are the same but it is the shallow brown earth in The Little Venice that creates the distinction.
The nose shows an abundance of dark cherries, liquorice, black olive and just a hint of violet. The palate is very punchy, purple fruits, more liquorice and interesting earthy beetroot characters. The tannins are powdery and mineral almost like very finely crushed and ground stone.
In youth this wine may appear somewhat closed, but will open and round with time, the powdery tannins and punchy fruit ensuring it will be very long lived.
Review: Closed on the nose and somewhat fuller in the mouth than the other wines, it is almost port like. I can only judge what is before me and give it 91 points. Maybe more will come as it ages but at the moment it seems expensive at $100.
2011 The Eight Iron Single Vineyard Shiraz
Shaped like a golf club on a steep south facing block, the vineyard is roughly as wide as a decent hit with an eight iron.
Chester: The Eight Iron sits interestingly in the red and purple fruit spectrum. It appears very bright and lively on the nose with hints of gravel and celery accompanying the fruits. The palate is intensely mineral. There is a real core of graphite like fruit that drives the wine to a focused and long finish. Along the way more red fruits in the form of stewed rhubarb and Satsuma plum support the mouth-watering, ironstone and mineral tannins.
Review: Very soft in all departments but that’s just on the surface. There is much activity underneath, the trouble is it’s still masked by the softness. This wine I would like to taste again in a year or so - I will give it 93 points now but cannot at this stage say if it’s worth the $100 asked, maybe in time.
2011 The Sardanapalian Single Vineyard Shiraz
Sardanapalus was the last king of Nineveh (modern-day Mosul, Iraq) known for his decadence. This wine has excessively luxurious, sensual fruit and length, making it a wine fit for a king.
Chester: The influence of the two sands found at the surface of this vineyard, Pirramimma Sandstone and Maslin Sand, have a profound effect. The resulting wine has a nose that is fruity and spicy, an endearing mix of mulberry, pepper, plums, red capsicum skin, baking spice and fennel.
The palate exhibits more of the same with additional notes of cherry, liquorice and fennel. There is also an intriguing modelling clay character, undoubtedly stemming from the sandy clay beneath. The mouthfeel is peppery and silky with a very long fruit mineral finish.
Review: There is no doubting it is good wine, well sourced and well made, but it didn’t excite as much as some of the others in this collection did. One should make the point that minute aspects of each of the wines are important, this very good wine commands 93 points, perhaps with more to come as it ages, pushing price at $100 I think.
2011 Tyche’s Mustard Single Vineyard Shiraz
Tyche, the goddess of luck and fortune, has looked over this vineyard. The initial site featured six land holdings, five unsuitable for grape growing were sold and the profits paid for the vines. Luck would have it that from an early age these vines have produced exceptional fruit.
Chester: Tyche's Mustard is a great example of soil to glass transfer. The nose displays a spicy herbal lift, reminiscent of mustard perhaps? This is the same odour we smell as we walk through this vineyard with its abundance of mustard weed. There is also an alluring dark chocolate note, laced with hints of liquorice and fennel.
The palate is rich and juicy but at the same time crunchy, owing to the fine gritty tannins. Surprisingly, amongst all of this dark fruit we are also able to perceive juicy red fruits and spicy pepper notes. A perfect example of a wine showing sweet and savoury characters abiding in perfect harmony.
Review: The nose is of baked earth with faint plant life in the background something like a paddock on a hot day. The wine was dry all through its journey across the palate yet releasing hints of spice and the earth the grapes came from. A very good wine 93 points, as to the price of $100 a bottle - no I don’t think it worth that much.
2011 The Swinging Malaysian Single Vineyard Shiraz
Purchased in an era of free love, this vineyard has also done its fair share of swinging! First planted to shiraz in the 70s, it was grafted to Riesling, but was returned to its origins in 2001. Imported vineyard posts from Malaysia were trialled here but were too weak and had to be replaced.
Chester: Aptly named, The Swinging Malaysian wine oozes with Asian spice aromatics, cinnamon, clove and anise. There is a closed woodiness to this wine in youth that will continue to open to a mix of red and black fruits.
On the palate the Asian spice is also notable. This is accompanied by fruity red plum and dark cherry notes. Behind all of this is a slight sooty character adding complexity. The tannins while firm are fine and fruity, elevating once again the exotic spice notes.
Review: It is a spicy wine as it was in my tasting note before I read the d’Arenberg notes, however the word swing is also apt because I found it to be all over the place. I couldn’t find clear definition in the wine and when I’m tasting $100 bottles I expect structure. It’s a fair wine and rates an easy 93 points but far too pricy in my opinion.
2011 The Blind Tiger Single Vineyard Shiraz
This vineyard was planted in the 1920s, a time of speakeasy clubs like ‘The Blind Tiger’ that thrived during prohibition. Thankfully those times have passed but other legacies, like this vineyard, remain.
Chester: A complete wine in many ways. The deep Maslin Sands contribute an impressive mixed flowery bouquet, roses and violets, along with lovely spice notes. The sootiness and complexity can be attributed to the very old age of the vines. Wines from these soils can tend to be very elegant, but these particular vines have given us a wine of great opulence and seamless, mouth coating tannins. While the tannins are bountiful, they are accompanied by beautifully, fragrant fruits that together create a gratifyingly long finish. All in all, a bright wine with a lovely element of earth and soot.
Review: The nose is soft, by that I mean one has to search and concentrate, and when the aromas come they arrive slowly and faintly and are rather lovely. It remains elegant in the mouth but has pure breading behind the intimae fragile beauty. I’m not sure how it will develop but it will be interesting o see. 94 points at this stage, I think pushing price at $100 but it may develop further and then be worth it.
2011 The Other Side Single Vineyard Shiraz
Planted in 1916, this vineyard is located on the opposite side of the winery to the family homestead and is logically referred to as on ‘the other side’.
Chester: To borrow lyrics from Lou Reed, tasting the Other Side is to take a walk on the wild side. Immediately on the nose we are struck by sooty, meaty and woody characters. These are aromas that we see time and time again in this wine and can only be attributed to the very old age of the vines (fast approaching their 100th birthday!)
The palate gives insight into how The Other Side is likely to evolve. Among the brooding savoury characters we find sweet purple fruits, dark chocolate and liquorice. The structure of the wine is firm and drying. We are undoubtedly looking at a wine that will reward those with patience.
Review: White pepper all the way on the nose and in the form of spice across the palate, it’s a very different wine, I like it a lot though others may not. As with the rest it’s a well-crafted 94 points, pricy as are they all, but will possibly be worth it. I would like to see this in years to come to revaluate.
2011 The Fruit Bat Single Vineyard Shiraz
An old shearing shed on the property is home to tiny fruit bats that live in the old hessian wool sacks. The vineyard is watched over by fourth generation winemaker Chester Osborn, depicted on the front label as a wild pixie hanging ‘bat-like’ from the distinctive red stripe.
Chester: Despite being located on Blanche Point formation, the overlying sandy soils have a profound effect on this wine, making it more elegant and aromatic than would otherwise be expected. Lovely, bright, peppery, red fruits on the nose, with a hint of dark spiced plum. The palate is also bright, highlighted by red jubey characters and accompanied by notes of fennel and again, pepper. Although one of the more elegant of the Amazing Sites wines, the lovely fruity, mineral tannin adds generosity and a velvet-like mouthfeel, supported by lingering sweet and savoury fruit flavours.
Review: Pepper and spice and all things nice, this grabbed my attention! It’s balanced, yet has that wild edge to it - like a charming rouge perhaps? 95 points and, as it still has more points to come, yes it may well be worth its $100 in time.
2011 The Piceous Lodestar Shiraz Single Vineyard Shiraz
The lodestar is a navigational direction star, something to aim toward, or a point of reference. The piceous, pitch black nature of this wine is what the world aims for in a great shiraz.
Chester: The wine is typically one of the bigger, earthier wines from the Osborn vineyards. The nose is extremely complex, displaying dark fruits, forest floor, game, earth and meaty characters. Although serious by nature, this hedonistic bouquet is delightfully fragrant and the result is both striking and enticing. All of those exotic notes are again found on the palate, accompanied by lavish dark and red fruits laced with gratifying anise and fennel spice notes. As the wine opens and develops, a dark chocolate character can also be detected. The tannins are earthy and while reasonably imposing in youth will round out later in life as the mineral fruit continues to open up and express itself.
Review: The taste of the earth, the power of the land, the vines are planted in the life source for all we are. This is wonderful wine full of terroir expression. 95 points now and more to come. It bears its $100 price tag well.
2011 The Vociferate Dipsomaniac Single Vineyard Shiraz
Fourth generation winemaker Chester Osborn believes the wine from this vineyard is so good it can cause people to develop a mild case of Dipsomania (look it up) and demand ‘vociferously’ for another bottle.
Chester: There is a lovely violet spectrum to the nose and an intense aniseed lift. More layers of red fruit, leafy notes, dark ash and game are also detectable. The palate is unapologetically structured in youth, a quality derived from the underlying chalk in the soil. The flavour profile includes raspberry and mulberry and the accompanying leaves from these trees. These beautiful purple fruits are enhanced by more earthy and savoury characters along with striking spicy, aniseed notes. The tannins add a lovely cedar like edge to the wine, which along with the red fruit and soot on the finish will leave you salivating.
Review: Wow! This wine enters with a statement; it took me a little by surprise as it is more aggressive than the others, but it settles and gives some amazing flavours. 95 points with more to come and worth the $100.
2011 The Amaranthine Single Vineyard Shiraz
Amaranthine; to an artist it is a deep purple-red on his palette; to the wordsmith, eternally beautiful and unfading or everlasting; to fourth generation winemaker Chester Osborn, it is a wine that encapsulates both - a deep red beauty that’s appeal will last a lifetime.
Chester: If you are seeking a wine of intriguing complexity that evolves evocatively in the glass, look no further than The Amaranthine. With each subsequent sniff we journey further and further from where we started. Characters range from milk chocolate, mulberries and plums through to cinnamon, nutmeg and sandalwood.
The palate is similarly complex, old vine wood and hazelnut interspersed with red and purple fruits, leather and muscatels. A favourite amongst the winemakers, the quality of The Amaranthine is evidenced by the fact that you may happily linger on the bouquet of this wine, returning to inhale its exotic aromas time and time again before realising that you are yet to take a sip… as should be the case with all fine wine.
Review: The nose is very attractive. It’s of the earth, dark damp and rich, the flavours across the palate are in the same vein, earthy and very adult. This wine really impressed earning 96 points and, yes, worth the $100 asked.
2011 Shipsters' Rapture Single Vineyard Shiraz
Shipsters’ Rapture is named in honour of Henry Shipster who owned the vineyard before the Osborns. The Shipsters are said to have delighted in their small plot of land, lovingly planting it to vines in the late 1800s.
Chester: Many believe The Shipsters’ Rapture is in some ways the essence of d'Arenberg - a highly complex bouquet of fennel, pepper and dark fruits. The true strengths of this wine however are the soil, silage like notes that are a direct expression of the loam over limestone in the vineyard. Similar flavours are evident on the palate, the dark fruits expressing themselves in the form of blackberry and chocolate. The finish is spicy and mineral giving an overall feeling of vibrancy.
Review: This is all old leather and earth, roots and just a hint of tooth and claw; Damn it’s good! Very good! 97 points and worth the $100.