d’Arenberg’s Sgt Pepper’s moment?

A wine writer and moderator of a wine forum in the UK recently posed the question about wines moving in and out of fashion. The trigger was assembling a group of Australian wines for a tasting, with one from McLaren Vale producer d’Arenberg making the shortlist. He reflected that 15-20 years ago the company was front and centre in people’s attention, but that now he barely heard of them.

The collective wisdom of the forum opined that this was far from something limited to d’Arenberg, but widespread across a swathe of producers that were once consumer darlings in the UK. Nothing at all to do with the quality of the wines, but simply the fickle winds of fashion blowing in another direction.

Back in the noughties, American wine writer Robert Parker was hugely influential; his scores/reviews could make or break a wine. Parker loved full-bodied reds and championed (among others) the lusty reds coming out of South Australia. Since his retirement, no-one has really taken up that mantle with Australian wines.

I wonder if in our pursuit for "something new", whether reliability has become a dirty word? I met John Duval — chief winemaker at the time for Aussie powerhouse Penfolds — many years ago and quipped to him that their St Henri Shiraz was the Sgt Pepper’s wine in their portfolio. He naturally asked what I meant and I responded that "it was going in and out of style, but guaranteed to raise a smile". He rather liked the comment, but I wonder if several Aussie producers are having their Sgt Pepper’s moment?

d’Arenberg are an interesting proposition, they have an incredibly diverse range encompassing the usual favourites and a raft of newer varieties. They have some completely out there wine names, The Cenosilicaphobic Cat Sagrantino Cinsault, The Danger Mouse Nero d'Avola and The Apotropaic Triskaidekaphobia Single Vineyard Shiraz. (I kid you not) All of these as well as a cellar door/restaurant/function centre building in "The Cube" which is a design statement in McLaren Vale. If there is a lack of awareness it seems to fly in the face of their creativity at home?

d’Arenberg are distributed nationwide; their importer kindly sent down three wines for me to taste which suggest that their quality is hiding in plain sight. As Paul McCartney once sang "been away so long I hardly knew the place, gee it’s good to be back home ..."

2019 d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original Grenache Shiraz

Price RRP $26
Rating Excellent
Sweetly fragrant top 
note, raspberry, 
spices, earthy 
touches, milk 
chocolate perhaps? 
Red berries, red fruits 
& spices flood the 
palate, a little 
cranberry adding a 
cool element. Ripe 
yet dry, chewy 
tannins giving 
excellent structure, a 
wisp of warm leather 
with aeration. Off the 
bat less of the ‘big, 
sweet Aussie red’, 
rather more finesse while still amply rich.

2020 d’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz

Price RRP $26
Rating Excellent
Blueberry & plum, 
smoke, earth, 
perfume, different 
elements teasing you 
as they appear, cigar 
box later. Blackberry, 
pencil lead, bramble, 
a bowl of summer 
berries wrapped in a 
corset of chewy 
tannins. Quite 
serious, structured, 
generosity, ripe yet 
not overtly sweet 
with a long, long 
brooding close. Gas 
in the tank here with 
more to give.

2019 d’Arenberg The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon

Price RRP $26
Rating Excellent
Inky dark, dustiness, 
swelling perfume, 
dark berries, almost 
cherry, spice a 
whisper of sweet oak. 
Rich & mouth filling, 
real depth to the fruit 
backed by a powerful 
tannic backbone. 
Ripeness without 
excess, powerful, 
dense yet with the 
requisite tannins & 
acidity for great 
balance, adding a hint 
of eucalypt with 
aeration. Serious 
wine to linger over.