An Australian First Family d’Arenberg

With Australia Day upon us, I thought it was time to revisit one of the first wineries I visited after I moved to Melbourne. Back then, the Yarra Valley was nothing more than a tourist trap to me, and the Robert Parker wave was merely an offshore oscillation. Somehow, I was quite intrigued with the d’Arenberg Dead Arm, a most unusual name and I was driven by curiosity to visit this McLaren Vale winery. As one of Australian First Families of Wine, d’Arenberg very well represents what I regard as a true Australian winery. It’s Aussie-owned. It’s got history (four generations in fact). It makes one hell of a drink (Dead Arm, thought the Coppermine isn’t shabby either). It makes a deep rich shiraz (Dead Arm). But it’s range of wines, geez it’s got one heck of a collection of labels (50+ labels made from 20+ grape varieties).


I wasn’t going to pop any serious wines on a warm day (although it’s been pretty cool compared to past years),  but here are four easy drinking wines you might want to consider for your Australia Day lambchops. You’ll easily get them from any corner for change off $20, but the Laughing Magpie is more pricey.

d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015

This is a white wine blend with a weighty mouthfeel imparted by the 8 months of maturation in aged French and American oak for some of the Viognier. Extended fermentation ensured the wine retains the fresh fruity characteristics. Does 4% wild ferment really add anything? Or is it done just ‘coz?  Nicely aromatic, white peach, lemon, raw nut notes. Almost like an infantile steel barrel non-ML Chardonnay. A generous tasty broad flavour profile, notes of peach and white grapefruit. Lingers quite nicely on the finish. I think this wine would work rather nicely with something carb loaded and salty, like a rich carbonara pasta with chorizo or grilled chicken breasts with smoked asparagus. Drink now. 88.

d’Arenberg Custodian Grenache 2013

A medium+ dark ruby colour, this Grenache has an earthy, brush-like nose, notes of spice rubbed pork fillets, wood stacks and raspberries/cranberries. Silky smooth texture, what rich refreshing acidity, wow lots of fruit spice. Stewed rhubarb crumble, pomegranate, cranberry sour. Fine tannins give good appropriate support to the wine. Very enjoyable wine, grilled pork chops or cajun chicken. Drink now – 7+ years. 90

d’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz 2013

Deep purple ruby colour. Lifted notes of blueberries, blackberries, plum, Welsh oak smoked salt, pencil lead. Smooth texture, with grippy tannins and flowing acidity. Rich dense flavours of spices, plum and blackberries. This is certainly an angled, robust and manly drink. It feels like wild bush but yet it somehow manages to stay on the leash. The Footbolt has long been a wine of great value, and this 2013 release stays true to that fame. Drink now – 2020. 90

d’Arenberg Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier 2011

One of the wettest vintages on record, and most of the 2011 wines are muddled at best. But in all frankness, it’s a pretty darn good wine given the vintage conditions. Good, not great. Co-fermented, basket pressed then matured for 10 months in old French and American oak barrels. This SV blend has a purple ruby colour, and the fragrances are still fresh. Blackberries, plum, anise, fine black pepper, and that typical exotic ripeness from Viognier. But that’s the problem, that latter ripeness does come across as disjointed for me. It’s not melded into the folds of the wine. It’s a tasty wine, rich intense dark berry fruit with black plums. Hint of coffee grains too. Good level of tannins, soft and mostly resolved given the young age.  Drink now. 89.


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Zind-Humbrecht 2014 Pinot Gris, Riesling (Alsace)

After hail effectively ruined the growing season for much of France in 2013, the climate gods dealt a kinder hand in 2014. In Alsace, it was a vintage for classic dry white wines. The winter was mild and some growers really hoped for more rain. A dry turn to Spring meant early bud burst, then vegetal growth was accelerated by hot days going into Summer. That also meant speedy flowering, but heavy July rains brought high risk of downy mildew. A cooler August slowed down of the ripening process, resulting in good acidity for the wines and no blow-out in alcohol. Some vineyards were also affected by Drosophila suzukii aka vinegar flies, so meticulous sorting and quality control was vital.


These two white Turkheim wines come from the valley floor selection of the 40ha Zind-Humbrecht winery. This is a new label, largely incorporating fruit previously used for their Herrenweg wines. Middle-aged vines 25-30 years old. The Pinot Gris is expressive and delicious, the Riesling is light and typical.

Zind-Humbrecht Turkheim Pinot Gris 2014

Pale honey yellow colour. Youthful aromatics, rock melon, honey, peach. Medium-bodied wine, rich mouthfeel, excellent structure with the flush acidity. 13.5%alc. Rich flavours of melon, peach, hint of ginger. Long finish, the minerality and power of this wine really stands out. I had this with a pig ear and bean stew topped with coriander , awesome! 91/100. 2016 – 2025.

Zind-Humbrecht Turkheim Riesling 2014

Pale blonde yellow colour. Youthful delicate nose, white florals, lime zest, undertones of warm honey, hint of cardamom. Light-bodied wine, sweeping racy acidity. 12% alc. Pure flavour profile, rich, citrus, preserved lemons. An easy drinking, tasty, good structure. Medium finish. 88/100. 2016 – 2021.




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Seppelt St Peters Shiraz 2006

I read this article about it being the 150th anniversary of Seppelt and the 50th release of the iconic St Peters shiraz which provided me incentive to see how the 2006 vintage had developed in bottle. Seppelt is located in Great Western country VIC in the heart of the Grampians, about a 3 hour drive North West of Melbourne. Previously, Treasury Wine Estates announced they were ceasing operations prompting a furore of dissenting and disapproving voices. Besides the St Peters shiraz, the Drumborg chardonnay was also under threat. As were the heritage-listed 3km long network of underground cellar tunnels which make a great touristic stop. Luckily, a local businessman saved the cellar door which will remain open despite wine productions being relocated to the Barossa Valley.

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I have to admit that this has never been a regular addition to my stash. I’ve never been particularly captivated by this style of shiraz, although I was really into Barossa Valley shiraz a decade ago. And the St Peters has never been hot property off the shelves, it is well-known within VIC circles but has never transformed into a solid buy. Its premium price tag of $60 was quite a turn off back then, and is doing no favours now. Nonetheless, the longevity of the wine is historically proven. A testament to the vineyard, the Grampians micro-climate and excellent winemaking.

Clear dark purple colour, the perfume is notably toned down. Attractive aromas of spice, old black pepper, black cherries, dark berries. Gone is the alcohol and any abrasive mish-mash. Medium+ bodied wine, lovely silky smooth texture, vibrant acidity still present. The tannin is well-eased into the background now but remain sufficient to provide a well-rounded structure to the drink. Rich dark berry flavours, sweet spice. But there is that core of excitement or personality that I think is absent. A very nice drink given the age. Drink now. 92. I had it with fried braised pig trotters, yum.


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Roger Pike’s Marius 2014 releases

It takes a good effort to get me posting again, and that was delivered last week in a brown paper carton. Roger Pike has a strong following through the mailing list, and the wines have been selling out quickly in previous years. Marius wines personify what the McLaren Vale is capable for, and what I’d use to dispel the perpetual myth that South Australian wines are undrinkable highly alcoholic wines. I can vouch for the quality of these wines, which continue to be very well priced. 1 to keep, 1 to drink. Always.


Marius 2014 releases

Simpatico Shiraz 2014, McLaren Vale SA
Dark ruby-purple colour, what a lovely fresh youthful perfume. This is a wine that will grab your attention right out of the bottle. Sweet dark cherries, raspberries, bit of candy, then as it opens up you get hints of old pepper and Indian spice. A med-full bodied wine, the tannins are young, grippy initially then step back for the savoury dark fruit flavours to kick in. Moderate acidity, the overall structure of this wine is excellent. The 21 months of maturation in French and American hogsheads brings class to the glass. The back palate ends with a drier touch, the subtle long finish would make it perfect with lambs chops with a herb salad. Drink now – 2023. 93/100.

Symphony Shiraz 2014, McLaren Vale SA
The Symphony is made from a small parcel of fruit from Roger’s 4 acre ‘home block’ vineyard. Inky black purple colour, first impressions of this on the nose is that it’s more intense, it’s bigger, if it had more alcohol vapours you’d be tempted to think Barossa Valley. But the restraint is obvious, the wine is held back in leather straps. Warm aromas of blackberry, stewing cherries, cool summer floral scents, faint olive wash and tanned leather. Just like a comfy couch. What a yummy wine! First, the young tannins are obvious, still structurally taut, but the extended maturation time shows in the moderate influence on the mouthfeel. This is more serious with the wine maturing for 21 months in a mix of new and one-year-old French oak barrels. Lovely acidity refreshes the palate, then here comes the dark blackberry, cherry, olive flavour kicks. A long finish, this works so well with a nice medium-rare steak, just because you need some of those juices running. Drink now – 2030. 95/100.


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The Dogs, New Town, Edinburgh


This was my second attempt at dining at The Dogs. The first, a couple years ago, was an unfetted failure with no prior reservation for a 10pm dinner. I had heard about this no nonsense clear cut cooking restaurant that was cheap as chips. The owner I was told was unmoved by restaurant reviewers and critics could well, bugger off. David Ramsden cuts an nice smiling character in his press photos, but woah, has now grown out his beard and his gruffalo reputation precedes him. I have to admit that knowing who he was as he came to our tabel to take our order, not a word. He walked over, and we knew we had to order. What?! Change or mind?? … err… he might just take an axe to your head and there’ll be brains on tomorrow’s menu. let’s just stick with whatever we ordered. We’ll eat, and we’ll be liking it.


Walking into the establishment, you are greeted by two massive stone dogs. As you make your way past the couch in the corner (why’s it even there?), you wind up the stairs to be greeted by antlers and a cute dog in a frame. The dining area is brightly lit through the windows overseeing Hanover St in New Town. Get a table by the windows and you can even wave to the busloads of tourists that course through Edinburgh each day.


The menu is a simple one pager of rustic scottish fare. Crispy pigs ears salad with almonds, sundried tomatos and rocket. Pea and smoked ham hough soup. Soup of the day was a thick lushcious pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds. Devilled ox liver with camerilised onions, bit of bacon on a tost, all slather in this sweet and sour syrupy reduction. Mussels tossed in fennel and pumpkin, with a touch of chilli.


I had the Cumberland sausage stovies, chunks of meaty juicy sausage with potato halves, onion. Sure, sounds like and looks like my occassional sunday lunch conjoured up form saturday’s bbq leftover. But the combination, the delicious mouthwatering rich sauce enveloping the entire dish was simpky awesome. The chicken and mushroom pie was crusted in a fantastic pastry. Flavourwise it was rather mild, but the chicken breast meat was tender and succulent.


And the damage? Lunch for two, under £25. Take that you tofsy high-wannabed overpayers!

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