Reg’s Wine Blog – Post # 43, the wines of d’Arenberg, Australian wines worth knowing, March 23, 2017.

I love the d’Arenberg lineup of wines offered by the Osborn family. When I researched this blog before writing it I was amazed to learn that d’Arenberg makes 63 different wines, of which I had tasted only 14 prior to writing this blog. That means they make 49 more different wines that I had not yet tasted, wow.

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The Osborne family, led by Chester Osborne, 4th generation winemaker, have been making wine at the d’Arenberg estate in the McClaren Vale area of South East Australia (just south of Adelaide) since 1912. Chester took over from his father d’Arry in 1984. The estate took its name from d’Arry’s mother Helena d’Arenberg in 1959.

D’Arenberg produces both single grape varietal wines, and blends. They produce whites and reds, they produce sparkling wines, sweet dessert wines, ports, and they produce a lot of single vineyard Shiraz reds. The single vineyard reds are meant to showcase the different flavors brought out by different soils (terroir). The estate produces all organic wines, with little or no use of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation. To control weed growth in the vineyards they use sheep, which also do double duty as a natural fertilizer source. The winery uses traditional production methods, including foot trodding (see photo at end of this blog) to crush the grapes, basket pressing, no fining or filtration prior to bottling, and very minimal use of oak so as not to mask or artificially enhance the natural grape flavors.

This all sounds delicious and very healthy, but there is more. The estate produces grapes from up to 33 different grape varieties, and includes in the whites Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and in the reds Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Mourvedre, Merlot, and others in various blends.

Perhaps one of the most interesting features of this estate is the very unique names given to the various wines they produce. Names such as “The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne”, “The Footbolt Shiraz”, and “The Custodian Grenache” are all unique enough, but many of the others are hilarious. Take for instance “The Noble Mud Pie Viognier Arneis” or “The Noble Botryotinea Fuckeliana Semillon Sauvignon Blanc” in their sweet dessert wines, or “The Feral Fox Pinot Noir”, “The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc”, “The Witches Brew Chardonnay”, or how about some of their many single vineyard Shiraz wines such as “The Fruit Bat”, “The Swinging Malaysian”, or “Shipster’s Rapture”. All these names have a specific meaning, which the estate explains on their website in a one page summary about each wine. I particularly enjoyed the explanations behind some of their more colorful wine names such as “The Daddy Long Legs Extremely Rare NV” and “The Old Bloke and The Three Young Blondes Shiraz, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne”. Check them out for yourself by visiting their website at www.darenberg.com.au .

D’Arenberg does not publish any breakdown of production levels for each their 63 different wines produced, so it is difficult to know how much they produce and sell of each different wine. They do buy a lot of fruit from other growers in the region (from 120 other growers covering 700 hectares of vineyards) to supplement the 200 hectares of their own under cultivation. Their total annual production is about 4,500 tons of grapes.

In two of my previous blogs I have tasted and rated three d’Arenberg wines. In my blog # 7 February 23, 2016 I rated the 2012 d’Arry’s Original, a 50/50 Shiraz/Grenache blend, and one of their flagship products. A steady performer year after year, I rated the wine at 17/20. In my blog # 37 December 21, 2016 I rated the 2012 Stump Jump Shiraz at 17/20, and the 2011 Laughing Magpie, a Shiraz/Viognier blend at 18.5/20. In fact I judged them to be the top two wines of the tasting, giving the edge to The Stump Jump for being the best price/quality wine of the evening at $17.50 per bottle.

So I decided it would be a good idea to host a tasting totally dedicated to tasting the wines of d’Arenberg, which was held recently on March 10th. We tasted 10 wines, 4 white and 6 red, with dinner. The only repeat wine tasted on this evening was The Laughing Magpie, all the others were new to me. The wines were all priced between $20.00 and $31.50 CDN, and the idea was to give our tasters a wider appreciation of the many different styles of wine made by Chester Osborne under the d’Arenberg label.

We tasted the following wines in order, see my comments below:

  • The Dry Dam Riesling / 2016 / $19.95 / SAQ # 11155788 / citrus and lemon, not too steely and dry, just the right level of sweetness and residual sugar, goes great with shrimp cocktail, very pleasant / 90 pts.
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  • The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne / 2015 / $20.60 / SAQ # 10829269 / citrus without acidity, full fat and round, ginger, nuts, soft delicate fruits with a spicy trailer / 88 pts.
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  • The Olive Grove Chardonnay / 2015 / $20.55 / SAQ # 11950360 / full thick Chardonnay with olive taste and citrus, nice offsets and balance between the citrus and olives on the aftertaste, leaves a light and refreshing aftertaste, not oaky or overpowering / 89 pts.
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  • The Money Spider Roussanne / 2015 / $22.70 / SAQ # 10748397 / rich and loaded with fruits of all kinds, soft fat and rounded, great legs on the glass, the combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual taste components, this was the best white / 92 pts.
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  • The Galvo Garage / 2011 / $29.00 / SAQ # 11155876 / the wine has good legs but was harsh, astringent and thin, this was a major disappointment and most likely a bad bottle / 85 pts.
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  • The Twenty Eight Road Mourvedre / 2011 / $31.50 / SAQ # 10250804 / you can taste the iodine on the palate and smell it in the nose, comes up flat on the finish in spite of a rounded fleshy grape feel, very odd and off balanced wine, again could be a bad bottle / 86 pts.
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  • The Custodian Grenache / 2013 / $22.65 / SAQ # 10748389 / thick, chewy, great legs, cherries, spicy on the aftertaste and keeps improving in the glass, definitely a wine to buy, to drink now or hold for improvement / 91 pts.
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  • The Footbolt Shiraz / 2013 / $21.95 / SAQ # 10959717 / spice and smoke covering the rich Shiraz fruit, more supple flavors of mushrooms, leather and tobacco, chewy round tannins, pairs nicely with beef, will take more age, buy to drink now or hold / 90 pts.
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  • The Love Grass Shiraz / 2013 / $24.75 / SAQ # 12882864 / very dry, mouth puckering tannins make it hard to cut through to the underlying fruit flavors, there is evidence of earthen tones, smoke, and sour cherries, but any elegance and balance you might expect in this wine is overshadowed by the oh so very dry tannins, maybe time will improve the balance and tone down the tannins / 89 pts.
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  • The Laughing Magpie / 2012 / $27.95 / SAQ # 10250855 / dark fruit with earth, spice and herbs, sits full and fruity on the palate, balanced and young, will age and open up more to further secondary aromas and tastes in 3-5 years, buy to cellar / 90 pts. (Note that in my blog # 37 from December 21, 2016 that I rated The Laughing Magpie 2011 vintage at 92.5 points, similar but more evolved in the bottle being one year older).
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To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the reds, there were three I did not like at all, being The Galvo Garage, The Twenty Eight Road Mourvedre, and The Love Grass Shiraz. That was a surprise given they were all more expensive wines. The wines were all opened 6 hours before the tasting so they had plenty of time to breathe and open up, and given that The Custodian Grenache was still improving in the glass, the weaker reds cited above should have been opening up by the time they were tasted, and they did not.

The best performing wines of the evening were, in order:

  • The Money Spider Roussanne 2015 – $22.70 – 92 pts.
  • The Custodian Grenache 2013 – $22.65 – 91 pts.
  • The Dry Dam Riesling 2016 – $19.95 – 90 pts.
  • The Footbolt Shiraz 2013 – $21.95 – 90 pts.
  • The Laughing Magpie 2012 – $27.95 – 90 pts.
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Buy any of these five wines now to drink or hold, they are all reasonably priced.

Prior to this tasting I have had the pleasure of tasting 14 different d’Arenberg wines, with this tasting I have added another 9 wines to that total (having previously tasted The Laughing Magpie in December). It amazes me that even though I have now tasted 23 different d’Arenberg wines, there are still another 40 of their wines that I have yet to taste. Some critics think that winemaker Chester Osborn is scattered too thin by managing the production of so many different wines, and having tasted three reds above that did disappoint, I can understand how some critics might think that way. However, we cannot blame the winemaker for those poor showings when they could just as easily be caused by poor transportation or storage.

I have tasted some of Chester Osborn’s top of the line products, including The Dead Arm Shiraz, The Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre, and The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon from various vintages. These retail today at between $50.00 and $55.00 per bottle in the SAQ (Quebec) and the LCBO (Ontario). In fact The Dead Arm Shiraz 2012 vintage, rated by James Suckling at 94 points, is available now at the SAQ for $50.00, and at the LCBO for $54.95. These wines represent great value for the money, easily the equivalent of a $150.00 to $200.00 California Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux classified growth. They also reward medium term aging of 5 – 10 years in the cellar.

 

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So with d’Arenberg’s excellent value in their Stump Jump wines (there are 7 of them: the Sauvignon Blanc, the Riesling, the White, the Lightly Wooded Chardonnay, the Shiraz, the Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, and the Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre), all priced in the $17.00 – $18.50 price range, along with their very reasonably priced top quality icons, d’Arenberg is producing great wine at eye opening attractive prices.

Personally, I find it very refreshing to find a talented, prolific winemaker and producer like Chester Osborn pumping out a full lineup of high quality and reasonably priced wines.

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Cheers to Chester (that is him on the left raising his glass), keep up the great work!

Reg.

 

 

Reg’s Wine Blog – Bordeaux price/quality trends, Post # 41, February 28, 2017

A week ago Liv-ex posted a blog update on the 2016 Bordeaux vintage as well as an updated ratings report from several major wine critics on the 2014 Bordeaux vintage now that it has been bottled. I found the results quite interesting and thought I would share my thoughts with you now.

According to Gavin Quinny, himself a Bordeaux grower and winemaker, as well as the author of the Liv-ex blog post in question, the 2016 Bordeaux harvest was the largest since 2006, producing 577 million litres of wine with 10% less vineyard acreage under cultivation. According to Gavin, this was a Merlot harvest, with the Cabernet Sauvignon not performing as well due to severe heat stress June through August. This usually means that Pomerol and St-Emilion will perform better than Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac, St-Estephe, and Pessac Leognan. Often we forget that these prestigious Appelations account for only 10% of overall Bordeaux production, and the sweet wine of Sauterne and Barsac accounts for only another 1%. By far the bulk of production is in the Vins de France and Vins de Pays designated wines, and it is in these categories where production has almost doubled in 2016 compared to previous years. In fact, Gavin also states that this is now the 3rd good Bordeaux vintage in a row, see link below to Gavin’s full article:

http://www.insights.liv-ex.com/2017/02/bordeaux-2016-largest-harvest-since-2006.html?mc_cid=ef2db154dc&mc_eid=d9373685f8

So we appear to be swimming in a sea of high quality Bordeaux wine, and in theory that should mean that prices will go down. Instead, as you know from my previous blog posts 22 and 23 last June 2016, consumers were hit with 20% to 50% plus price increases on their favorite 2015 Bordeaux futures. Ouch, that was cruel, with 1st growth Bordeaux from the 2015 vintage being offered last year as futures for prices ranging from $1,000 CDN to $1,200 CDN per bottle.

Also of interest in the same Liv-ex blog last week was another article reviewing wine critics scores for the 2014 Bordeaux now that the wine is in the bottle. Critics usually rate the wine initially while the young wine is still aging in the barrel, giving it a quality range, such as 91-94 points, allowing for wine scores to either increase or decrease once the wine is finally in the bottle. So this Liv-ex article was interesting because it recapped the critics wine scores for the now bottled 2014 vintage, see link below:

http://www.insights.liv-ex.com/2017/02/bordeaux-2014-scores-bottle.html?mc_cid=ef2db154dc&mc_eid=d9373685f8

Although Neal Martin of The Wine Advocate has yet to review the 2014 Bordeaux since it has been bottled, Liv-ex did report on the revised ratings of James Molesworth (Wine Spectator), James Suckling (ex Wine Spectator and now on his own), and Antonio Galloni (ex Wine Advocate and now at Vinous). James Suckling was the most bullish at raising his ratings on his top ten 2014 Bordeaux wines in bottle. He has scored eight of his top ten wines higher than his initial range, and the other two wines at the top of his initial range. His biggest surprises are Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou rated at an impressive 99 points,

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and both Chateau Cos D’Estournel and Chateau Leoville Las Cases rated at 98 points.

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Antonio Galloni scored his top ten wines at the top of his initial ratings ranges, while James Molesworth was more conservative by rating his top ten in the middle of his original ratings ranges. Worth noting was that both Molesworth and Galloni gave Vieux Chateau Certan high marks (Molesworth 96 and Galloni 97).

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Galloni also gave Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville and Chateau Calon Segur high marks at 97 and 96 points respectively.

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What I particularly like about this Liv-ex article is that we can see the continuing of a trend towards much more choice for the consumer looking for top quality wine at much lower prices. In years gone by you would see the usual first growth wines in the top ten with one or two other Bordeaux wines. By the time the 2009 and 2010 vintages were in the bottle, Parker had rated 19 wines from the 2009 vintage at a perfect 100 points, and 10 more from the 2010 vintage as well. You will recall that 5th growth Chateau Pontet Canet was rated a perfect 100 points in both 2009 and 2010.

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So this trend continues today, with Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos D’Estournel, Leoville Las Cases, Vieux Chateau Certan, Pichon Baron Longueville, and Calon Segur all getting high scores at or above the ratings given to 1st growth Bordeaux.

Does that mean it is time to stop buying Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Haut Brion and Mouton Rothschild? No, not necessarily, if you have $1,000 or more to spend per bottle then by all means go right ahead and do so. But honestly, if you can get the same quality of wine out of a bottle costing you $250, would you not rather prefer to have 4 bottles of great wine for the price of one bottle of first growth?

The LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) just ended their last futures offering of 2014 Bordeaux last week, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were several great values still to be had from their list, including the following, to name but a few:

  • Chateau Canon                                                       95-96               $109.00
  • Chateau D’Armailhac                                            93-94               $ 79.00
  • Chateau Gruard Larose                                        93-94               $112.00
  • Chateau Lynch Bages                                           95-96               $199.00
  • Chateau Pichon Baron Longueville                   95-96               $199.00
  • Chateau Rauzan Segla                                          94-95               $125.00
  • Chateau Talbot                                                      94-95                $ 89.00

 

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The 2014 vintage will start hitting store shelves later this year, and when it does you can expect to see the above prices 30% higher. And that will be the last time that you see the 1st growths at or near $1,000 per bottle. The 2015 1st growths will hit the shelves in late 2018 at $1,300 – $1,500 per bottle. If I had to guess on how the trade will price the 2016 vintage, I would think most owners will price their wines similar to their 2015 prices. They will not lower prices, because that would simply cannibalize and hurt their 2015 sales in 2018. I also do not expect they will raise prices very much because they have a lot of good quality wine in the system, and they do not want to price themselves right out of the market. Besides, I think a lot of retail sticker price shock is yet to come when the major price hike last year on the 2015 vintage finally hits the retail shelves in September 2018.

Smart buyers will be buying high quality cheaper 2014 Bordeaux as the last of the futures offerings close out now (if still available), and snapping up the best 2014 bargains that hit retail shelves later this fall. They will also be watching closely for the odd bargain when the 2015 futures get re offered again this year. There is no doubt that 1st growth prices are going to be driving more and more people to look for the same quality in a cheaper bottle. Fortunately, there is an ample selection of high quality cheaper alternatives, and plenty of critics and advice to guide you towards those alternatives.

Ah, the free enterprise system is alive and well. Happy hunting!

Reg.