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I recently attended a masterclass of d'Arenberg wines with winemaker Toby Porter. D'Arenberg is one of Australia's "First Families of Wine'', with four generations of family ownership dating back over 100 years, and is based a short drive south of Adelaide in McLaren Vale.
The winery encapsulates a spirit of upholding tradition; nurturing old-vine plots of shiraz and grenache and continuing to use the more labour-intensive basket presses in its winemaking, while embracing modernity and innovation in its marketing, winery and viticultural practices to face the challenges of the future.
As a family-owned winery hoping to build a sustainable future for the fifth generation, it has moved to organic and biodynamic farming practices in both its own and its leased vineyards, eschewing herbicides and fertilisers, and only irrigating if absolutely necessary.
It has embraced solar power, providing 30% of its energy needs in the winery, and recycles all wastewater on site.
The company's wine portfolio has nearly tripled to more than 60 labels in the past dozen years, including trialling a number of new Italian varieties such as negroamaro, nero d'Avola and montepulciano along with Portugese and Spanish grapes, which show tolerance to hotter climates and may provide a backstop to the threat of climate change.
Anecdotally, Toby also mentioned that the proliferation of television cooking shows seemed to be engendering a desire to experiment and try new flavours in food and in wine, creating a gap in the market which these new varieties may fill.
A criticism levelled at some Australian wines in the past was overuse of oak. That sweet vanilla character on top of already sweet fruit could be cloying, but this is not something you can say about d'Arenberg's wines. They wear their Aussie origins with pride but a savoury, almost earthy vein makes them very, very drinkable.
This is an old favourite that hits the spot this vintage. Sixty percent grenache with a juicy, bright character and lovely, ripe fruit intensity without straying into jamminess. Underlying this is the shiraz spice and savoury notes from the mourvedre. Great value for money and food friendly. Not a wine to ponder, but one to enjoy with abandon.
Price: RRP $25
Rating: Very good to excellent
Dark fruits, blueberry and plum; perhaps a whisper of cherry, with spices and an umami note. The palate is powerful and generous with a lick of tannic grip working well. Aeration brings a little chocolate into the mix, with a top note of oak seasoning.
Typically generous Aussie shiraz that offers rewarding drinking.
Inky dark, big, rich and cuddly: this is the type of wine that made Aussie shiraz famous. Notes of dark fruits, ink, tar and rich spiciness; tilled earth, licorice and a minerally undercurrent. Dense and very powerful with a long finish, but avoids being over the top. Definitely a treat purchase and will cellar well but awfully hard to resist now!