d'Arenberg Revisited

D’Arenberg, from MacLaren Vale in South Australia, was an important brand for Wine Route that they imported in the early 2000’s. I think whatever success they had with the d'Arenberg portfolio cemented their penchant for finding brands with both story and depth of product and making commercial sense of that. My friends and I bought quite a few wines. They taught us how the sharper New World producers tried to mirror the grapes and appellations of the Old World. I drifted away, but I still have a soft spot for the winery and decided to pay a visit when the latest vintages were offered on discount.

These three wines are the d’Arenberg South Rhônes.

D’Arenberg, Custodian Grenache, 2017

If the lot of the better Southern France reds is to express the dusty, rocky hills of their motherland and the herbal bushes that grown on them, then this is the paradigm that the Custodian aims for (and, more successfully, the Footbolt). The problem is that as lovely as such garrigue-tinted reds can be, the fruit here, black, fleshy and sweetish on the finish, is rather plodding and foursquare. Unless it improves with age, the Custodian’s lot in life is to be guest fodder.

Footbolt Shiraz, 2017

The Footbolt, named after the founder’s horse, which he sold to raise money to purchase the property, gets the higher scores (in 2017 for sure, and if I remember correctly, it scores higher every year) and it seems somewhat lither and more harmonious. I won't mince words, it's simply a better wine. The dark, peppery fruit is prettier and, while both wines share a charry character I'm not very keen on, the Footbolt is more generous with its secrets, while the Custodian guards the illusion that it might actually have any secrets to share.

Bonsai Tree, 2017

This is wonderful, a peppery Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend. I haven't drunk Chateauneufs in a long, long while. On most quality levels, in the 21st century, South Rhone reds became too ripe, jammy and extracted.  Maybe things have changed, but I've moved on - whenever I wanted something hearty, herbal-tinged reds (the way old time Chateauneufs used to be), I looked to South France appellations that were less size-conscious. This is balanced and lithe. It’s ripe but not over extracted or without form, and has the same complex lattice of herbs, with a touch of garrigue, that I associate with South Rhone, South France etc. And, such pigeonholes notwithstanding, the quality of the fruit is outstanding in any context, rich in blue flavors.