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Updated: October 27, 2012 16:51 IST
FINE WINE

The d’Arenberg way

MUKUND PADMANABHAN
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Chester Osborn
Chester Osborn

Notes on one of McLaren Vale’s premium wineries

A free Sunday provides a great opportunity to nip out of Adelaide to the soft rolling hills of McLaren Vale, one of Australia’s oldest and best wine-making regions. The main stop: d’Arenberg, the family-owned winery that has acquired something of an iconic status.

The winery is the ideal choice for a short visit to this region. The d’Arenberg range is expansive, the wine list is full of interesting varietals and blends, and just about everything they produce is first-rate. (All right, I did not taste their low-end Stump Jump range, made apparently with an eye on the American mass market.)

The winery is a curious mix of modernity and tradition, with new-world practices (for example, the use of the screw top) co-existing with a clutch of old-school techniques that include basket-pressing and foot-stomping of grapes! Retaining the old ways is possible because most of the brands d’Arenberg puts out are made in modest quantities. With 345 acres of organic vineyard this is anything but a small operation, but the winery’s success is predicated on not sacrificing individuality and diversity on the altar of economies of scale.

In naming their wines, however, d’Arenberg is quirkily modern. At the cellar door, John Paschke takes me patiently and lovingly through a good part of the range, glass by glass. We start with an off-dry Dry Dam Riesling, but the next white, the Hermit Crab, a warm and expressive of blend Viognier and Marsanne, is an indication that unusual wines with unusual names are not unusual at d’Arenberg. He then pours out a Money Spider, gripping and evocative Rousanne, another reflection of the winemaker’s passion for Rhone varietals.

We move to a large flight of reds starting from the medium-end right to the very top — too many to mention here. The excellent Ironstone Pressings GSM, the dark and brooding Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon and the soft and compelling The Beautiful View Grenache all deserve a mention.

But at the top of the list would lie the iconic Dead Arm Shiraz, a product that helped put Australia on the world wine map, and which derives its name from a fungal infection that kills one arm of the wine leaving the other arm to bear rich concentrated fruit. The 2008-vintage is powerful and intense and seems to have many more years in it.

Winemaker Chester Osborn, whose innovative ways have contributed to making this old family-owned winery what it is, never uses the word terroir in his conversation with me, but constantly talks about the soil in the small parcels of land and how that influences some of his premium wines. One of them is the popular Galvo Garage, a Bordeaux blend of extraordinary finesse, the tannins softened beautifully with well-balanced oak. Chester attributes this to the layer of sand in the vineyard where the grapes are grown.

Of their three top-end Shirazes, I prefer the least heavy-bodied and somewhat-muted Fruit Bat, more Rhone that full-blooded Aussie. It’s way above my budget, but I can’t help buying a bottle.

I can’t remember enjoying a winery tasting more than this one.

(mukundpadmanabhan@gmail.com)

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