On a recent trip to South Australia we made the drive from Adelaide to McLaren Vale to taste at one of Australia’s most iconic wineries: d’Arenberg. “Tasting” is probably not the right word; “experiencing” is a better descriptor. That is because d’Arenberg is more than a cellar door, the Australian term for tasting room. That is also because a visit at d’Arenberg is more than just a tasting; it an experience that combines wine tasting, world class dining, brashly innovative architecture, a wine museum, and of course, some great wine.
To properly understand this eclectic but wonderful vinous experience, you need to understand something about the man who conceived it: Chester Osborn. We met Chester at the front door of The Cube, the 5-story, $15 million building resembling a Rubik’s Cube that houses a wine museum, a tasting room and their amazing restaurant. Chester arrives in long skate boarder shorts, loud shirt and his signature long curly hair. His appearance is a reflection of his personality: bright, eclectic, very individual. Chester is the fourth Osborn to make wine in his family’s winery. He took over the winemaking reigns from his father D’Arry in 1984. In 2003 he conceived of the idea of The Cube. He wanted the building to be more than just a cellar door. He wanted it to be a place where one could experience wine and use their senses. It took some convincing of the rest of the family, but in 2017 his dream came to life and The Cube opened and received their first customers.
Chester wanted his creation to reflect the puzzle dimension that is inherent to wine-making. Wine-making is not formulaic, where you do the same things in the same way, every vintage. Mother nature and changing weather conditions won’t allow that. He wanted the building to resemble a Rubik’s Cube to evoke the puzzle that wine-making is. The building has won the gold medal at the prestigious Good Design Awards in 2018.
The Cube rises up from the vines on the d’Arenberg estate. Chester has placed speakers among the vines surrounding the Cube and plays music “to assist in the vines growth”. He takes us inside and we begin our tour of the Cube on the first floor in what he calls the Alternate Reality Museum. This is a whimsical take on a museum. One of the rooms is covered floor to ceiling in paper flowers that give off the various scents of wine. Chester, a big art fan and a collector in his own right, has displayed art throughout the building. Family history is also on display showing old typewriters, wine-making equipment, family photos and memorabilia. The Alternate Reality Museum is fun as well as educational, a trippy experience that explores the sensory side of wine while keeping it light and lots of fun.
On the second floor are meeting rooms for private functions and some offices. The fourth floor houses the kitchen, a gleaming, bright room with shiny aluminum everywhere, that serves the restaurant on the floor below. There we met The Cube Restaurant’s two extraordinarily talented Chefs, Brendan Wessels and his wife Lindsay Durr. This powerhouse team of culinary talent originally hails from South Africa and has Michelin 2 Star experience under their belt. Brendan focuses on the mains while Lindsay handles pastries and research and development. Brendan has appeared on several episodes of Masterchef Australia.
On the top floor are the tasting rooms. These are modern spaces with wrap-around stunning views of the vineyards below and the McLaren Vale valleys beyond. The Cube is a popular spot and the 5th floor fills rapidly. The hive of people creates quite a buzz of excitement. There is a wine club members only tasting area which offers a less busy atmosphere to taste in. d’Arenberg actually makes 72 different wines, most with label and name that adds to the puzzle theme (like the Cenosilicaphobic Cat, being one with the fear of an empty wine glass!). Judging by the rows of bottles on the shelves, you could probably taste any one of them.
After tasting in the members room, we went downstairs to the third floor where the restaurant is. Since the kitchen is in between you must take the elevator down so you don’t walk through the kitchen. When the crowds are in full swing you actually have to form a short queue to get on an elevator. The restaurant, simply referred to as The Cube, is an airy space, full of bright colours and objets d’art with tables seemingly randomly scattered about the room. But it is a comfortable space and it continues the whimsical vibe found throughout the rest of the building.
Our 10-course menu was titled “The Sisypheanic Euphoria”. Sisyphean refers to an impossible task, originating with Sisyphus, an ancient king saddled with the job of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to lose ground when he needed to rest. To our palates, this meal was up to that impossible task. Each course was positively brilliant in its innovation and originality. Chefs Brendan and Lindsay showed their amazing ability to think outside the box in creating plates you will find nowhere else. Think Seaweed Waffle with Whipped Eel Butter for sheer inventiveness; Alpaca, Tuna, Radish and Wasabi for genius in combining flavours; or possibly our favourite, the Barramundi Bush Coal—what appears to be lumps of grey charcoal are in fact crusted barramundi, the delicious local fish known for its big scales.
Each of the dishes in this degustation tasting menu had intense flavours and out-of-this-world textures. The service at the Cube is impeccable headed by Restaurant Manager Martin O’Connor. The presentation of each dish has clearly been rehearsed and comes across as perfectly choreographed. The servers, in addition to being well-trained, are friendly and helpful. They arrive with another dish exactly when it is wanted and remove your plates in such a way they are barely noticed. It is exactly how a meal should be served. A bevy of different wines are served with your meal. Two wine menus are offered: a d’Arenberg only menu and an international menu which intersperses d’Arenberg wines with some of the great wines from around the world. All-in-all we have to say this was one of the greatest dining experiences we have had. If you are in South Australia, this is a must-stop visit. Reservations are required and best to book several weeks in advance to avoid disappointment.
Keep in mind that Chester’s intention in creating the Cube was for it to be an adjunct to, not a distraction from, the experience of their wines. Some of Chester’s approach to the Cube may be light-hearted and whimsical, but d’Arenberg is very serious about making great wine. It is a well-known axiom that great wine begins in the vineyard. d’Arenberg has over 500 acres that it owns or leases and each vineyard is certified either organic or biodynamic. All grapes are crushed in the traditional method using a basket press. Red grapes are foot trod. Since 72 wines are made at d’Arenberg, the following are just a small sample of their full line up. d’Arenberg is definitely a quality focused producer. They offer a number of wines at the value end as well, that easily over-deliver for the price point.
2018 Witches Berry Chardonnay
A step up from their entry level yet almost the same price, this delicious Chardonnay shows cooler climate notes of green apple, citrus and apricot. Medium+ body and medium acid, this is a great pairing for all things seafood. Like most of the lower end d’Arenberg offerings, this is very good value.
Very Good+ (AUD $18 at the Cube Cellar Door)
The Money Spider
100% Rousanne, this textured wine offers notes of white peach, golden delicious apple on a medium+ body with low acid. With swirling we get hints of mango and nectarine. A warm climate take on the variety that emphasizes the richness of the mouthfeel.
Very Good+ (AUD $20 at the Cube Cellar Door)
2015 Derelict Vineyard Grenache
Plum and blueberry dominate the fruit profile of this medium+ bodied, 100% Old Vines Grenache wine. Notes of Kirsch liqueur combine with black pepper to create good complexity.
Excellent (AUD $29 at the Cube Cellar Door)
2016 Ironstone Pressings
Taking it up a notch is this traditional blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre. Here the influence of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is unmistakable: big bold notes of Kirsch, dried herbs and cracked pepper. At this point the tannins are still quite drying but they bode well for long development in the cellar. Full bodied, rich and structured, this wine is big and powerful but retains enough balance to be nicely proportioned.
Excellent (AUD $75 at the Cube Cellar Door)
2015 The Coppermine Road
Another powerhouse wine, this Cabernet Sauvignon is still youthfully tannic. Its fully body displays classic Cab notes of cassis, blackberry and black currant. The finish is long and shows hints of cedar and tobacco notes. Another 5 years in the cellar should show this wine at its best.
Excellent (AUD $75 at the Cube Cellar Door)
2016 The Dead Arm Shiraz
This is probably the wine that cemented d’Arneberg’s reputation as among the best in Australia. Coming from 19 of their best and oldest blocks of Shiraz, the wine leads off with blasts of blackberry and plums. Full bodied and almost as tannic as the Coppermine Road, this is robust and classically Australian. Big, bold and fruit dominated, it gains complexity from the mineral notes and the structure components are in keeping with the fruit leaving the taster with an impression of balance.
Excellent (AUD $75 at the Cube Cellar Door)
2011 Old Bloke and Three Young Blondes
Always a playful name, this moniker comes from the fact that it is predominantly old vines Shiraz that has been co-fermented just the skins of 3 different white grapes: Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. Those white skins seem to give this wine some added floral lift. Here the body is medium+, and not quite the power hitter of the previous two wines. Black and blue fruit flavours dominate and get support from woodsy secondary notes. Palates seeking more elegance will gravitate to this wine and be enthralled by its complexity and approachability.
Excellent (AUD $200 at the Cube Cellar Door)
58 Osborn Road
McLaren Vale, South Australia