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McLaren Vale. What a champ!

Recently, three big events helped show us why McLaren Vale, perhaps one of our lesser-known wine districts, is one of our most vibrant.

First, at the 7th Annual James Halliday Grenache Challenge, where the best of this delightful grape’s offerings go on show, local heroes Serafino of McLaren Vale took the prize with their 2022 Reserve Grenache.

Halliday Grenache Challenge Winner 2023
Serafino of McLaren Vale took the prize with their 2022 Reserve Grenache

James Halliday AM observed: ”The makers of Grenache responded jubilantly to the quality of the ’21, ’22, and ’23 growing seasons. There is a pattern of finesse, purity and intensity in the medal-winning wines. The best is simply beautiful. McLaren Vale has been the beating heart of Grenache’s rediscovery; it really has been the front and centre of the Grenache renaissance.”

d’Arry Osborn Award

The second event was the presentation of the inaugural d’Arry Osborn Award to James Halliday AM by Chester Osborn, fourth-generation winemaker of this illustrious family.

Inaugural d’Arry Osborn Award to James Halliday AM by Chester Osborn
The inaugural d’Arry Osborn Award to James Halliday AM by Chester Osborn

This Award has been established to celebrate the enduring legacy of d’Arry Osborn and his continuing advocacy for the Grenache grape.

He famously stood against the vine pull scheme of the 1980s, ensuring these very old vines now continue to provide magnificent wines.

d'Arenberg McLaren Vale 2023
Son and father, Chester and d’Arry Osborn

Halliday, our most enduring and influential wine writer, has passionately championed this variety for years, especially from McLaren Vale. He said: ”I’m a long-time and unabashed lover of all things Grenache. If I must give one reason, it is the exquisite perfume the wine has which reaches its high point in McLaren Vale. It’s an ambassador for Australia because, outside of the Rhone Valley, no other region can match what Australia offers.”

d'Arenberg McLaren Vale 2023
Ready for your tasting

The third big event was the arrival at TML of a box of six d’Arenberg wines for us to have a look at.

Yum. Thanks, Chester.

d'Arenberg McLaren Vale 2023
What could be more fun than making great wines?

Chester is one of our favourite wine people not just for his impeccable art of winemaking but his performance on many fronts. He is a passionate and entertaining presenter. He is widely known for his marvellously designed facility, The Cube, rising from his vines. This mighty structure houses tasting rooms, sensory rooms, a 360-degree video room, a virtual fermenter, a restaurant and spectacular viewing platforms.

d'Arenberg McLaren Vale 2023
Chester’s Cube rises from the vines

Chester carries his enthusiasm through to the ebullience of his labels. You can judge that for yourselves in the photos. Clean, simple and traditional, where respect is called for; flash and a touch of showbiz to attract attention to his newer wines.

The restaurant in the Cube will serve you now

Here’s how we saw them: the three whites and three reds.

The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc Adelaide Hills 2023

Not your cheap savvy but a confident and stylish wine. Full of flavour. No holding back. Citrus lemon lime tingles your taste buds with a lovely grapiness and a swoosh of passionfruit. It’s a perfect wine for summer lunches or picnics.

d'Arenberg McLaren Vale Whites
The whites, some bright new stars
The Dry Dam Riesling McLaren Vale Adelaide Hills 2023

Up in the Hills is a touch cooler than the Vale and a fine place to source some of the Riesling grapes for this zesty blend. It’s a bright light green colour and yes, there are lemons and limes on the nose. There is a nice amount of sweetness, but it’s balanced by appropriate acidity. There’s a touch of sherbet in this vibrant wine, ready to enjoy right now.

The Sun Surfer Fiano McLaren Vale 2023

Like a breaking wave, here comes a surge of whiteness, eager to wash over your palate. A remarkably full flavour for white wine. We get peppermint among lemons and the juicy power of tropical fruits. A generous mouthful, not weighty, but lifting. Bright and refreshing all the way to the shore.

The Footbolt Shiraz McLaren Vale 2021

A longtime favourite of ours. Pure shiraz. Not blockbuster Barossa or restrained Hunter. A proper, decent mouthful of rich, ripe red fruit that fills the mouth. We saw some savoury notes, a hint of the Mediterranean. A very decent length with a brush of bold tannins at the end. Drink some for now, and keep some for your cellar.

d'Arenberg McLaren Vale Reds
The reds, traditional McLaren Vale
D’Arry’s Original Grenache Shiraz McLaren Vale 2020

You know from the first sniff that this is made from well-loved grapes. These happy chaps are keen to meet you, chewy but not chunky. Sturdy but not too serious. Cherries, plums and herbs. Fragrance from the Grenache. Just a sweep of tannins to balance the ripeness. It should soften a little in a couple of years but should retain that gluggable fruit.

The Custodian Grenache McLaren Vale 2020
Ah yes, the grape of the moment in very fine form in the hands of Chester and his team.

It’s like coming home … this wine opens the door with a warm welcome and a clear, bright ‘hello’. It has that lifted perfume that is instantly attractive.
It announces itself as of importance but not imperious. It’s an unashamed and forthright red with a hint of a tough guy edge, which soon smiles as it waves itself away—best friends with food.

You can find out more about these and many other fine and fun d’Arenberg wines and the story behind their eye-catching names and labels here


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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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