Last year I blogged about my disappointment in recent vintages of d'Arenberg's high-end wines—Dead Arm Shiraz, Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon and Laughing Magpie, a Shiraz-Viognier. I said that I felt owner winemaker Chester Osborn had taken a wrong turn in his quest to make the Australian wines more French in style. They were too tannic and lacked the generous fruit and polished textures I had loved in his previous wines.
"I miss the supple, seductive wines (they) used to be," I wrote last year, adding, "I hope Osborne will decide he's gone too far toward tannin and find a happier middle ground."
I landed in Australia Thursday and d'Arenberg was my first stop on a two-week trek through wineries in South Australia and Victoria plus a few days in Sydney. I wanted to taste older vintages of Dead Arm for a story I'm doing on how Australian wines age. Chester wanted to show me the error of my ways, along with a prototype of his new building, sort of a glass Rubik's Cube plopped in the middle of a vineyard, which he hopes to have completed by 2010. Check out the video.
Chester put together a great morning's tasting. Not only did we taste nine vintages of Dead Arm, he opened several vintages of Coppermine Road and Ironstone Pressings, his blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre, plus some of his neighborly competitors' wines that I had rated at least 90 points.
"It's as much for me as for you," he said as I scanned the table groaning with 41 wines, the older ones already decanted. "I want to see what you see in these other wines, which I haven't tasted."
It was a friendly confrontation. I respect Chester's integrity and his zeal to make what he believes are wines that express what McLaren Vale does best. He only started tinkering with his vineyards and wines in this decade, so he's still fine-tuning. I wanted to know if the more recent vintages were better.
I'm not going to bore you with tasting notes on all 41 wines, but the 2005 and 2006 vintages of d'Arenberg's prestige wines are less aggressively tannic and show more fruit flavors than the 2004, the one I had just tasted when I wrote the blog last year.
I still don't like the 2004 Dead Arm very much. It has gamy aromas, and it's very dense and tannic, with lots of green character. It feels very lean and unforgiving. But the '05 shows a lot character, dark cherry, plum and licorice flavor, and some meaty, mineral flavors, enough to put it back into the "outstanding" category when tasted non-blind. While firmer in texture than the wines he poured with the '06 Dead Arm (Mollydooker The Boxer and Razor's Edge Shiraz, the latter of which he agreed was a terrific value at $13), the newer wine also has ripe blackberry and cherry flavors and the finish is persistent. These two vintage are, in my view, a clear step up from 2004.
I still liked the Gemtree Shiraz 2003 he poured better than Dead Arm 2003 and Genders 2001 better than Dead Arm 2001, but it's clear that he was still trying to find the balance of fruit and other elements, including acidity, earthy characters and tannins, in those vintages, and got closer to the goal in 2005 and 2006.
David W Voss — Elkhorn, Wi — May 9, 2008 4:15pm ET
Jason Carey — willow, ny usa — May 9, 2008 4:40pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 9, 2008 6:16pm ET
Larry Baker — Weston, Florida — May 10, 2008 12:17pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 10, 2008 4:44pm ET
Jonathan Wetmore — Calgary, Canada — May 11, 2008 9:14pm ET
Jeff Johnson — Costa Mesa Ca, — May 11, 2008 10:46pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — May 12, 2008 12:38pm ET
Michael Opdahl — Los Angeles, CA — May 12, 2008 6:58pm ET
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