“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





24 July 2013


Chester and d'Arry Osborn, David Sly and the author

Chester and d'Arry Osborn's
costly search for sub-regions
and the flavours each plot offers

“I dunno whether we make any money out of it,” muttered d’Arry Osborn.  “You have no idea how much it costs to register all these silly names all over the world.  Like we’re in sixty countries.  Costs a fortune!”

Chester Osborn, son of, was “taking us through” sixteen new wines he’d made.  The three which used to be the best are called the Icons now.  These are the Ironstone Pressings, The Dead Arm and the Coppermine Road.  They cost $65 per bottle.  The other thirteen wines cost $103 per bottle.  These are called Amazing Sites.  They are some of the sixty or so wines currently sold by d’Arenberg.  Nice to suddenly have a fifth of your products – the newest ones - priced over the $100 mark, I told myself thoughtfully.

The silly names d’Arry referred to in this case included The Fruit Bat, The Little Venice, The Sardanapalian, The Garden Of Extraordinary Delights, The Swinging Malaysian, The Vociferate Dipsomaniac, Shipster’s Rapture, The Eight Iron, The Piceous Lodestar, Tyche’s Mustard, The Other Side, The Blind Tiger and The Amaranthine.  These were all Shiraz wines from the difficult 2011 vintage. 

These are d’Arenberg brand names which sound like books.  To make things more complex, there are other layers of appellation in the blurbs, the foreword and the endplates.

After he helped invent the Rare Earths Shiraz project in McLaren Vale a few years back, Chester wavered for nearly a nanosecond when I advised that Rare Earths are elements on the Periodic Table that get used for toxic stuff like radioactive warheads and giant TV screens, and are mainly mined in China, a large-ish country which may find confusing the idea of drinking them.  So Chester pushed for the Scarce Earths moniker whilst quietly registering his very own appellation, Amazing Sites.  That’s three overlapping Shiraz appellations in one year in one region. As far as naming credibility goes, Chester’s private one is obviously the best, especially in China.  When they hear of  Scarce Earths, it’s only the rare Chinese in the know who think we can’t translate Rare Earths properly.  On the other hand, a helluva lot of other Chinese know amazing.

None of this has anything to do with the eighteen “districts” it looks like the McLaren Vale wine region is being carved into. Some of these reappear in numerous different locations. Chester’s on the committee.  Most of these wines Chester’s admirable crew poured came from the district he’s dubbed The Beautiful View.  That end of McLaren Vale used to be called Belle View.

During the course of this tasting, Chester admitted at one stage getting Scarce Earths confused with Amazing Sites, which one well could.  He referred repeatedly to an ornate-looking map he’d obviously had printed on thick art paper, looking a little like a hand-etched pirate map, showing the actual locations of each of these $103 per bottle vineyards, but these glimpses were fleeting and unhelpful to a humble taster whose brain was fully occupied recalling the name of each wine accurately and trying to estimate its magick.  They’ve since teased us about this forthcoming map on their cobweb marketing tattle, but it’s still not available.

What Chester did make available was a fifteen page document headlined “2011:  The vintage that wasn’t …? temperatures and rainfall of McLaren Vale districts and why 2011 was another very good to great year.”

While this looks like a scientific document about rainfall and temperature, it does not include a humidity chart, which would have been handy when attempting to belatedly re-evaluate a vintage that was indeed the wettest ever recorded in south-eastern Australia and will be remembered for the tragic degree of botrytis and other humidity-driven moulds which made life hell for the wine business from Ceduna to Port Arthur to Rockhampton.

Chester maintains that he had no botrytis in any of his Amazing Sites, an evaluation done by sight on picking.  He said anything uncertain was checked for gluconic acid, which indicates botrytis infection, but all such tests showed negative.

As I say, most of the wines came from the “district” Chester calls the Beautiful View.  The Fruit Bat (14.6% alcohol; 80 points) had some soulful muddy chocolate whiffs, and a little alluring mint and aniseed, but seemed harsh and metallic to taste.  This was similar to The Little Venice (14.2%; 76 pts.) in that the creamy chocolate of the bouquet very quickly disappeared in a metallic palate. From the same district was The Sardanapalian  (14.2%; 78 pts.), which showed some chocfudge with prune and aniseed, but seemed short and metallic in the mouth.  After these three wines, I was recollecting the metallic reds Karl Seppelt made at Great Western in the later ’seventies, when he discovered the ion-exchange column, a device for stabilising wine. 

Unless he’s got some real voodoo on about how to crystallize a vintage with foot treading, Chester must have devised a winemaking technique which sucks every bit of red from the dirt and sands and black from the ironstone rocks.  These wines are uniformly ferruginous.

Beautiful View’s also home to The Swinging Malaysian (14.6%; 88+  pts.) which carried on that choco custard line of the year but also showed some complex autumnal leafy decay tones, and some nutmeg edge, but this too, had that metallic/dolomite streak.  Not to mention The Vociferous Dipsomaniac (15.2%; 93+++ pts.) a more complex and satisfactory drink with sweaty chocolate cream dribbling over valerian and capeweed leaf, and black tea leaf, but still plenty of that metallic spine common to all the wines tasted so far.  Shipster’s Rapture (14.1%; 92 pts.) had some prune, kalamata, anise and sileage wrapped about its tight, bone-dry dolomite metal, where The Eight Iron (14.5%; 88 pts.) had mocha, banana ester and salt spread on its swarf.  The Piceous Lodestar (14.8%; 92 pts.) had fruitcake and fudge on its metallic base; Tyche’s Mustard (15.1%; 85 pts.) had saddle soap, leather, face cream, blackcurrant and prune wrapped around its salty dog.  The Other Side (14.5%; 91 pts.) reminded me of the famed Aberfeldy Shiraz of Clare, with kalamata, blackcurrant and nightshade leaf decking its peculiar iron.  The Amaranthine (14.4%; 93 pts.) had a little raspberry in its chocolate and iron.

As one wondered about the value of this Beautiful View, and the way distinctive winemaking so easily overwhelms terroir, we had one wine, The Blind Tiger (14.9%; 92 pts.), from the Blewett Springs district, a wine with a lot more kalamata, olive leaf essence, nightshade leaf, and coffee and chicory essence in with its scrap iron, which seemed to offer a greater point of difference.

Another glass held The Garden of Extraordinary Delights (14.8%; 85 pts.), from another of Chester’s districts, called The McLaren Sand Hills.  As the entire McLaren Vale wine region, and all its hills, has at least nine different, and wildly disparate sands, and over a dozen types of stone made from different sands, this nomenclature’s unhelpful.  The wine reminded me of the harsher models of Shiraz from Vacqueyras on the Rhone Delta, but with metal more like dolomite.

After these 2011s, one wonders how much softer, more supple, and more soulful these wines would be if they’d had a little botrytis.  As for explaining these districts, Scarce Earths and Amazing Sites to the wine consumer?  Forget it. 

The Icon wines came from another vintage most recall as difficult or torrid, 2009.  The Ironstone Pressings Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre (14.%; 90++ pts.) was rich and rounded, sweet and juicy, if a little salty, and retained some of the old Red Stripe d’Arenberg flagon soul.

The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon
(14.5%; 85++ pts.) had coffee fudge, fruitcake and even mint dribbling and tumbling over its irony base; The Dead Arm Shiraz (14.5%; 91 pts.) was all black ham, licorice and aniseed cooking on its hot galvo.

None of these three Icon Wines professed to come from anywhere other than McLaren Vale. 

I asked d’Arry whether he had any nostalgia for the old days when nearly all of this went into the dead reliable d’Arenberg flagons, and there was no costly international registration of silly names to worry about.  His eyes glazed over.  “I reckon the last five containers of that was Sangiovese I got from Italy for .50 cents a litre,” he said with a grin.  Then, with great determination, he went to the bank.

Men at work - or Toby jugs? - on d'Arry's Veranda: d'Arry Osborn, Peter Forrestal, Chester Osborn, Nick Ryan, Tash Stoodley, Dave "Bootsy" Brooks, David Sly and Ken Gargett ... you can't eat on an empty stomach

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