While making mushroom risotto the other night, I ran out of cooking wine. What to do when the guests are a half-hour away? I asked my better half to dip into the white wine box, grab a bottle and pour a glass for me without telling me what it was, as I always taste my samples blind (whether or not they end up in risotto).
I took a sip of this slightly golden-colored liquid, sat down to write some notes and asked my co-pilot to grab another bottle; this was way too good for each and every sip not to be enjoyed as a beverage.
I can hear you saying, “Tell us what it was.” Hold on for a second. When I scrawled down my impressions, I wrote that it tasted like a wine in the $20 to $25 range. Nope, it was the d’Arenberg The Stump Jump Lightly Wooded Chardonnay that sells for $13.
Celebrating its centennial this year, d’Arenberg is one of the most firmly established and at the same time iconoclastic producers in Australia — scratch that, the world. Joseph Osborn founded it, and today his son Francis, aka ”d’Arry,” and great-grandson Chester preside over 180 acres of vines on the estate in McLaren Vale. They also own several other vineyards in the region and land in the Adelaide Hills.
McLaren Vale is warm during the day, but not as hot as the Barossa Valley. It cools off at night. A wide range of grapes do well here, and d’Arenberg grows the full gamut.
Chester has been making the wine since 1984. He has practiced minimal intervention that goes beyond spraying. Most of the vines are dry-farmed and no fertilizers are used.
“With minimal irrigation and no fertilization, the vines develop strong root systems that penetrate deeper into the soil profile and spread wider, giving the grapes a greater expression of the soil,” Chester says.
Beyond vineyard practices, d’Arenberg uses a basket press for its wines. This method is only slightly more modern than foot treading. D’Arenberg has two such creations, both of which were made around the time of the American Civil War.
While best known for its flagship shiraz, Dead Arm ($65), d’Arenberg makes dozens of wines at lower price points that have quality and nuance. For those who have never tried the wines or are looking for immense value, the Stump Jump series, an entry-level range of whites and reds, is the way to go. Here are the highlights:
D’Arenberg The Stump Jump Lightly Wooded Chardonnay, 2011 ($13): Made from McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills fruit, you will be hard-pressed to find a chardonnay of this quality for less money. Medium-bodied with apple skin, hazelnuts and a long almond-oil, apple-laden finish, this is a delicious gem that may even appeal to those who have sworn off chardonnay.
D’Arenberg The Stump Jump White Blend, 2010 ($13): A kitchen sink of riesling, sauvignon blanc, marsanne and roussanne, this is a very aromatic wine that is equally pleasant on the palate. With a melange of kiwi, guava, pink grapefruit, tangerine and Meyer lemon, it offers a delicious basket of vivacious and refreshing flavors.
D’Arenberg The Stump Jump Shiraz, 2010 ($13): D’Arenberg does a lot of things well, but if there is one grape with which it always excels, it is Australia’s ubiquitous shiraz. Composed entirely of grapes from McLaren Vale, this is a medium-bodied wine with ample berry fruit, a little smoke and spice, eucalyptus and floral overtones.
These wines can be found through BevMo, Bottle Barn, Cost Plus World Market, Draegers, The Jug Shop, Mollie Stone’s, Sunshine Market, Whole Foods and wine.com.
Pamela S. Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.