An Australian Classic, d’Arenberg

In 1912 Joseph Osborn, a teetotaler and director of Thomas Hardy and Sons, purchased the well-established Australia’s Milton Vineyards -- a little more than 60 acres located in the hills just north of Gloucester and Bellevue, now known as McLaren Vale.

Joseph’s son Francis “Frank” Osborn left medical school, choosing pruning shears over the scalpel. He soon increased the size of the vineyard to 195 acres. Fruit was sold to local wineries until the construction of his own cellars was completed in 1928. Dry red table and fortified wines were produced in ever-increasing quantities to supply the expanding markets of Europe.

In 1943 Frank’s son Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, universally known as “d’Arry,” returned from school at age 16 to help his ill father run the business, eventually assuming full management. In 1959 d’Arry decided to launch his own label d’Arenberg, named in honor of his mother, Frances Helena d’Arenberg.

It was a small and humble start, but the wines gained immediate cult status among imbibers and judges. By the 1970s, d’Arenberg wines had become very fashionable, having gained a significant national and international profile in less than 20 years.

Enter the fourth generation, d’Arry’s son Chester d’Arenberg Osborn. While growing up on the family property, he helped his father d’Arry in both the vineyards and in the cellar during school semester breaks and Christmas holidays. Chester took over the reins as chief winemaker in 1984. He immediately set about returning the family’s vineyards to their traditional grape-growing practices of minimal interference and no fertilization, cultivation or irrigation wherever possible, therefore achieving natural soil flavors with very low yields.

We’re featuring nine wines from this outstanding producer. Here’s the lineup:

2011 Stump Jump Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc/Marsanne, $10.99
An intoxicating mix of ripe, yellow peaches, guava and hints of honey blossom on the nose. The tropical stone fruits also are evident on the palate, but give up a little territory to some lovely, zesty lemon and lime, which really add to the freshness of this wine. The Marsanne and Roussanne also play a dominant role on the palate offering up slightly more exotic notes of papaya and green almonds. All in all, a delicious and beautifully balanced wine.

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2010 Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne, $16.99
The nose is surprisingly floral and more subtle than previous vintages.  The characteristic stone fruits of apricot, peach and nectarine are ever present with sweet spice nuances. The palate has lovely fruit weight and is packed with complexity. It opens with stone fruits and citrus and is underpinned by candied ginger and clove. The palate builds nicely with a linear citrus acidity running throughout. The flavors linger with a savory edge of pistachio nut and a twist of flowery fruit tannins adding textural interest.

2009 Stump Jump Cabernet Sauvignon, $10.99
The nose sings with typical the Cabernet characters of cassis, dark plum, blueberry, mint and bell pepper. Youthful and fresh, the palate has a lively berry core that runs through to a lovely finish of fine mineral tannins. The oak is totally integrated and allows the fruit character to star.

2010 Stump Jump Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre, $10.99
All three varieties play an important role in this wine’s overall perception. The Shiraz offers dark plum fruits, mulberries and licorice with plenty of concentration, depth and velvety tannin. The Grenache adds a lovely lusciousness to the wine with raspberry, blueberry and floral notes adding charm.

Both of the aforementioned varieties also give a little white pepper character, which has been accentuated in the cooler vintage and really acts as a point of interest. Finally, the Mourvedre provides a perception of elegance and restraint through its lovely red fruits with a hint of dried herb and importantly, a fine chalky tannin that carries all these characters to a long finish.

2009 The Custodian Grenache, $17.99
The nose is full of raspberry and blueberry fruit with cherry and plum adding to the mix. With a few swirls, the wine opens further to reveal earth and spice notes. Vibrant and fresh red fruits form a beautiful, luscious fruit core with white pepper and cinnamon spices emerging on the back palate.

There is an earthy feel to the wine, with grippy, mineral fruit tannins on the long finish. The vintage is clearly reflected with ripe fruit characters well balanced with earth notes and layered secondary characteristics. This wine has the poise and structure to cellar well over the next decade.

2009 The Footbolt Shiraz, $17.99
The nose is full of the fresh berries and spice synonymous with McLaren Vale, with a slight eucalyptus lift. There is real interest in the secondary characters of sarsaparilla, cinnamon and clove, which are expressed more completely as the wine opens up. The palate is mouth coating and plush, with red and purple fruits mingling with orange peel and earth. There is a welcome kick of five spice on the back palate. The fine fruit tannins provide structure and pull the wine together nicely. The Footbolt Shiraz has proven to cellar well for at least a decade.

2009 Love Grass Shiraz, $17.99
The bouquet opens with bright purple fruit before a darker layer of black olive  and cracked pepper emerges, backed by spice and a touch of pot-pourri. The palate is equally complex with lovely sweet fruit opening before more savory elements of black olive, cured meat and game take over. Cinnamon, bay leaf and nutmeg have a role to play on the long mineral finish. The tannins are fine and chalky, with a mouth-watering quality that brings you back. It’s a well-balanced wine with plenty of interesting elements and will cellar well for at least 10 years.

2009 Wild Pixie Shiraz/Roussanne, $24.00
Opens with aromas of pepper, spice and plum, alongside rose water and perfumed flowers. The characters from the nose are just as vivid on the medium-weight palate. Black licorice and earth add a darker and more savory element to the mid and back palate, with fine grain tannins evident throughout.

The fine Roussanne tannins are very long, outlasting the Shiraz tannins and are particularly lively. The fruit, acidity and alcohol are balanced, and all elements come together in a spicy package that has many fascinating elements. It is drinking well now and is expected to cellar for up to 15 years.

2008 The Dead Arm Shiraz, $55.00
The heady aroma is both powerful and pretty, with notes of fennel and purple flowers mingling with ripe, purple fruits and black pepper. The oak is hardly evident, which allows fruit and soil complexities to emerge with edges of rhubarb, red mulberry, dried herbs, game and spice.

The palate opens with anise, black pepper, graphite and restrained dark cherries before it gives way to seductive mulberry, plum, licorice and spice. It has great power, depth and length, with very vibrant, gritty fruit tannins providing immense structure. Notes of anise and spice linger for a long time after the last sip. The Dead Arm 2008 strikes a rare balance of power, complexity and finesse with impressive structure that will reward those with patience to cellar it.