Funny old year 2011. There’s been a constant struggle with general (and somewhat ignorant) perception that the vintage was shithouse across Australia. It’s no secret that it was wet and cool in some regions, but that shouldn’t be enough to disregard every single wine released from 2011. The Hunter Valley produced a stellar red wine year. Margaret River had no problems at all (but they seemingly never do!). A lot of 2011 wines have been available for some time and yet wines from consistently excellent makers, such as Yeringberg are still being shied away from. Which brings us to the big guns. Penfolds this week gave journalists a sneak peek of their range to be released in October, which includes the 2011 Grange. At this time, all opinions and reviews are embargoed (until release in October), so we don’t know what the wine media will think of (arguably) Australia’s flagship wine from the perceived “shithouse” vintage.
d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale have also released their Icon range from 2011, comprising their top Shiraz: The Dead Arm; Cabernet: The Coppermine Road; and the blend: The Ironstone Pressings. These are not d’Arry’s most expensive wines, but they are their flagships, and like Penfolds, have held them back for 4 years before release. I’ve been fortunate enough twice, to be involved with d’Arenberg’s “Amazing Sites” tastings, in which the most comprehensive overview of geology, geography, sunlight hours, rain fall, temperature and the number of crazy shirts Chester wore for each vintage in McLaren Vale is presented. It’s enough to make a wine nerd weep tears of joy. But there was one fact presented in those tastings that has stuck fast in my head and is reiterated by Chester Osborn in the press release for the d’Arenberg Icons is:
“The first four months of 2011 were not as wet in McLaren Vale as people think, with the number of rainy days in March being equal to or lower than 2009, 2010 and 2012. 2012 was the wettest year for this period, however has been rated by many as one of the greatest vintages in McLaren Vale. The 2011 vintage conjures up words like ‘difficult,’ ‘disaster,’ along with a general feeling of ‘avoid at all costs.’ But I would like to challenge this perception with the 2011 release of the d’Arenberg Icons.”
There’s no doubt that these aren’t are the fleshiest, overt wines, but the overall acid structure will give an appropriate scaffold for these wines to climb through their ageing process. So 2011…just judge what’s in the glass and not a book by it’s cover.
The Ironstone Pressings GSM, McLaren Vale 2011
70% Grenache, 25 % Shiraz and 5% Mourvèdre. Fermented separately, new and used oak.
Complex amalgam with sharp blue and red fruit whack, chocolate, herbaceous throatie lolly, earthy/meaty note, concrete, rubber/pencil eraser and Liquid Paper. Pepper in there too with a sweet oak crema. Warm on the palate, but not slippery. This ain’t no fruit bomb. Tightly grained tannins wrap what red curranty juiciness is extracted from the lean and sinewy body. I want flesh on these bones, but instead I get tendons. Super spicy pepperberry finish. Time is definitely required
The Coppermine Road, Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, 2011
Made from low yielding, old vines. Regional McLaren Vale rubber and graphite smells mix with serious meaty black fruits. The palate is leaner than the nose suggests with solid Cabernet qualities of savoury black olive, eucalypt and blackberry flavours all neatly hemmed in tightly. No green, just lean. This is an elegant wine from a cooler year.
The Dead Arm Shiraz, McLaren Vale 2011
Love the purple edge of colour. As you expect from the Dead Arm, (which is a melange of the Amazing Site shirazes) complex nose with a broad spectrum: Coconuty, chocolate and caramel oak sits high along with campfire ash, Heinz big red tomato sauce/baked beans, blackberry, raspberry, blood plum, ink, rosemary, mixed nuts.
Almost austere palate with a coda of oak. Drying tannins that hold firm throughout the taste. A hint of gorgeous, tart/bitter chocolate note that lingers after the raspberry, blackberry all muddled in with McLaren Vale ash. Acid from the cooler vintage helps keep this on the straight and narrow rather than opulent flavour flopping over the edge. This is like a rip to the ribs when you’re expecting a hook to the jaw: it hits you in a different spot than anticipated, but still a knock out.
All wines samples courtesy of d’Arenberg