d’Arenberg Dead Arm vertical – Power & Finesse in the New World
Earlier this week I attended a fascinating vertical wine tasting at the ever entertaining and informative West London Wine School. Usually these types of tasting are the province of famous domains or chateaux in Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone… but not this one. This was a vertical of Aussie Shiraz from the colourful and energetic winery that is D’Arenberg in South Australia.
The winery was established in McLaren Vale in 1912 when (teetotaller) Joseph Osborne purchased 25 hectares of vines. Joseph’s son Frank increased the holding to 78 acres andsold the fruit to local wineries, until he built his own cellar in 1928, and started to vinify the grapes himself for the growing export market. In 1959 Frank’s son Francis (commonly known as d’Arry) decided to launch the D’Arenberg label, named to honour his mother. The brand has grown in stature ever since.
Chester Osborne has run the winery since 1984, the fourth generation of winemakers in the Osborne family. A bright and colourful character (just look at his shirts!), Chester is not only a champion winemaker but also a champion marketer who lives for wine and loves many grapes and different styles of wine. The estate grows in excess of 20 different grapes across 7 vineyards, as well as buying in some grapes from the Adelaide Hills.
The estate makes over 50 different wines every year, all with fabulous, memorable and often humorous names; Hermit Crab (Viognier and Marsanne), Broken Fishplate (Sauvignon Blanc), Sticks & Stones (Tempranillo, Grenache, Shiraz) and Ironestone Pressings (Grenche, Shiraz, Mouvedre) are just a sample few. The labels are instantly recognisable with the distinctive red diagonal line, so much so that there have been complaints from Champagne house Mumm, who believe the label to be too similar to their own. Interestingly, Chester launched a sparkling wine using the traditional Champagne blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and what did he call it? Dadd. With two D’s at the end. Apparently each of the D’s represented Dad, GranDad and Great GranDad… Well, that’s his story anyway!
This tasting consisted of each vintage between 2001 and 2008 of D’Arenberg’s Dead Arm Shiraz, perhaps the most iconic wine in the range. Dead Arm is a vine disease that causes one of the “arms” of the vine to slowly die, while the other “arm”, with low yields, produces fruit of dramatic intensity. All of the fruit comes from McLaren Vale, perhaps not as famous for Shiraz production as the Barosa Valley, but definitely a little more elegant and delicate… words I never though I’d use to describe Aussie Shiraz!
The tasting was a fantastic demonstration of the ageing capability of New World Shiraz, as well as showing how there can be great deal of vintage variation in warmer climates. Below are my notes from the tasting – overall I felt the quality to be extremely high, with only a couple of disappointments. As with a NZ tasting I attended earlier this year, these premium New World wines also provide superb value for money versus their old world counterparts.
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2008
Dense, earthy and smoky nose with lots of dark fruit, black pepper and just a hint of sweet liquorice. In the mouth it’s bright, almost sharp, with razor sharp acidity, which is nicely complemented with a smooth tannic structure. Lots of blackberry fruit and black pepper spice, quite an elegant and long, if slightly hot finish. Not in 100% balance but a couple more years and I think it cold be very fine. 91+ points
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2007
A denser nose than the 2008, there’s lots of power and intensity with damson and cassis, supported by violets, smoke and just a hint of roasted meat. On the palate there’s a gentle start and then it just builds and builds. The fruit is soft, black and ripe with a delicious smoky note and just enough vanilla. This is nicely developed already, in great balance and I would happily guzzle a bottle right now. 93 points (my best value wine of the night)
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2006
Still very youthful looking, the nose has sweet fruit, some sweet spice and a touch of eucalyptus. Compared to the 07 and 08 it’s safe and simple. The texture feels lighter and there’s plenty of acid, again balanced nicely with smooth but firm tannins, but the alcohol is way too overpowering and the fruit is a bit port-like. I love the texture but the flavor is just too medicinal. 88 points
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2005
Big nose on this one! Black cherries, black pepper, touch of eucalyptus and plenty of earthy minerality. Big acid with bigger tannins but still nicely balanced. There’s plenty of dark black fruit here bit also a hint of dried cranberry but the alcohol is still a tad overwhelming. Very juicy and acidic and I like it for that (many of the other tasters did not!) 90 points
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2004
Generous deep black fruit, with hints of chocolate, black pepper, worn leather and a delightful herbaciousness – so much character and evolution. So vibrant and fruity on the palate with plums and black cherries, and once again that fresh and pure acidity bite and such smooth tannin. This is a very complete wine, with so much fruit, acid and a deliciously silky texture and very long and sweet finish. Lovely stuff. 94 points
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2003
Black, almost figgy fruit on the nose with lots of earthiness and plenty of meaty development and even a hint of balsamic. But the tannin bashes you round the head, nowhere near the acid I had come to expect and overall just a bit flat, a bit bitter and very short. Parker gave this vintage a 95 but either he got his labels mixed up or this was just a bad bottle? 86 points
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2002
And if the 2003 was disappointing then this put everything right again! Wow! Hugely powerful but enticing aromas of blackberry, cassis, dried herbs de Provence and expensive old leather. Super bright acidity and perfectly integrated and smooth tannin. All of the powerful dark blackberry and damson fruit is too the fore, but there’s a note of raspberry in there too, along with smoke, vanilla and those dried herbs. A Shiraz to warm the heart of any Burgundy lover – if you didn’t think Shiraz could do elegance and finesse then think again. 95 points (mine and the group’s wine of the night – it also got most votes for best value)
D’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2001
Smoke and tobacco is the overriding first hit on the nose, with a bite of eucalyptus that one of the tasters rightly noted smelt of menthol cigarettes (thanks Sarah!) There’s also some dark fruit and black olive – all in all not that appetizing to be fair… But the flavor is wonderful. So fresh and acidic 12 years on with a delightful balance of black and red fruit again and a super long finish. Don’t be put off by the smell! 93 points