Friday, February 23, 2007

The More Things Change, The More They... Change

A couple of years ago, I really loved d'Arenberg and so did a lot of my friends. There's a lot to commend in this Australian winery. Their wines have a sort of Old World savouriness with a New World gloss and they're very obviously high class. A wine buddy of mine once commented that if you're new to wine and taste their Footbolt Shiraz, you really think this as good as it gets.

But then you, well, move on.

Where I started to be disillusioned was when I opened their Custodian 2001 in August 2006. The Custodian is a Grenache and I'm a Grenache fan and it has short to medium term aging potential so it's a good wine if you're starting out and want to learn how wines age. 2001 was a good vintage down below thus it seemed like a good wine to stock up on. My tasting note really reflects how my tastes had changed:

Alcoholic nose. Ripe, candied fruits with spices and hints of roasted meats. Full bodied, almost sweet, but it withdraws within itself a little after a while. I’m moving away from this style but it's well made.

Of course, you'd need to compare it with my notes for the 1999, written 2 years previously:

At first, all smoke and sour-candy fruits. Then, opening beautifully after over an hour and a half in the glass, it turned into an elegant balance of smoky oak, black plums and ground coffee. High acidity, though not enough to mar the wine's elegance, medium-bodied, a strong, dry finish with bitter, slightly minerally notes.

The key phrase here is "opening beautifully". See, I just couldn't get excited enough about the Custodian in 2006 to think about it in those terms again. It was no longer a wine whose development in glass could captivate me. I look for wines to study so a very obvious wine has little appeal to me.

D'Arenberg makes well made wines that offer good value. If you're lusting after a Cote-Rotie, their Laughing Magpie, a Shiraz-Viognier blend, is a reasonable fascimile' albeit with a New World slant. Their various GSM blends likewise ape Chateauneuf and their 28 Road Mourvedre is supposedly a Bandol copycat. They even have Port lookalikes. Get where I'm going? They're a "me too!" operation.

Things came to a head a month ago when I brought one of their GSM's, the Ironstone Pressings 1999, to a friendly blind tasting. This is a wine that at least one of the present had raved about 4 years previously. I'd had the 1995 version at a similar age and really liked it at the time. And now? The bottle was still half-full at the end of the evening. It was well made and it wasn't an obvious block-buster, which the usual suspect for turning us off. We couldn't really understand what put us off but there it was, registering zero on our excitement scale.

I won't rant on about this. It's obvious we'd all changed. We're not the same people we were 3-4 years ago, we're looking for different things and the cruelest trick played on us is that, a couple of years into this hobby, your assimilation of wines shifts into 4th gear and your taste changes radically. And then you're stuck with yesterday's paper. But anyway, d'Arenberg had served their purpose well at the time, so thanks for ride, Chester Osborn.

(Having said all that, I admit I wouldn't kick their Dead Arm Shiraz out of my bed.)

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