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Lunch at the d’Arenberg Cube, McLaren Vale, South Australia

“Enjoyable perfection,” says Jean-Marie Simart about his visit to the crazy creation that sits in a vineyard of a winemaker who certainly knows how to think outside the box.

This is a vineyard to be loved for its surroundings, the diversity and quality of the wines as well as the personality of Chester Osborn, who I have known for the past 20 years during my time with Vintec.

Not only is he a fantastic, interesting and original character but a very good winemaker, having devoted himself to his family’s motto ‘vinum vita est’ – wine is life! For me, Chester is the Australian king of the Rhône Valley grapes, mixing them occasionally with Chardonnay.

The architecture of the Cube is definitely interesting, mimicking the famous Rubik’s cube in blue and white and representing the complexities and puzzles of winemaking. There are four floors dedicated to d’Arenberg wines, food and Chester’s personality.

Glass of Hermit Crab, anyone?

The experience starts before you even enter the building with loud speakers accompanying the walkway, diffusing Heavy Metal music and a sense of surrealism. This continues in the ground floor Alternative Realities museum, composed of a series of small rooms where you can sense various odours found in wines and see a display of paintings, videos and old paraphernalia.

The wine cellar is on the fourth floor where we were invited to taste d’Arenberg’s premium (and non-premium) wines. There, we were presented with an impressing list of 73 different wines and, for obvious reasons, we didn’t try them all but limited our reasonable list to ten.

We definitely liked the whites, particularly the mixed Roussane, Marsanne, Viognier and the Shiraz and Grenache among the reds. We were not keen, however, on the Sagrantino/Cinsault whose tannins were to the top.

Still, nobody can stay indifferent to Chester’s creativity when it comes to naming his wines, from the Hermit Crab and Money Spider to the more sophisticated Biophilic Silurian – this is all part of the game and charm of the d’Arenberg universe.

Our tastebuds activated, we were accompanied to the restaurant where the first thing you notice is not the bar but rather the beautiful landscape gleaming through 360-degree panoramic windows.

The best description of the interior can be seen through the photos and if you want to stay visible, my recommendation is to wear simple single-colour clothing or black and white.

 A menu to serve up a smile

We had booked the degustation menu – 11 dishes excluding the small canapés with aperitif. With our glass of Billecart Salmon Champagne we had a ‘grain of raisin’ which was in fact a small ball of foie gras enrobed in a thin layer of beetroot.

The menu comes with a wine pairing option which we didn’t take. Indeed, my strong recommendation is never to take the wine pairing option with any degustation menu. The quantity and diversity of wines are too much and you can’t really enjoy them.

I have never been able to remember any degustation menu with wine pairing, which is sad considering the usual cost of such an exercise.

Following the sommelier’s advice we ordered a bottle of The Last Ditch Viognier 2003 and The Feral Fox Pinot Noir 2002. Both were superb and perfectly matched the various dishes which were all delicious; small portions of various tastes, predominantly based on local products and cooked and presented with a kind of Heston Blumenthal creativity.

The dish to make the transition between the main courses and the desserts brought a smile to our faces. The equivalent of the traditional ‘palate cleanser’ or the French ‘trou normand’ was candy dust, to be ‘sucked’ up through a rolled bank note with the face of Chester on it. It was hilarious to see the three of us behaving like actors from the Narcos series.

All in all, a fantastic lunch and unique experience – absolutely enjoyable perfection!

Posted by Jean-Marie Simart

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Jean-Marie – aka "JM" – is an Australian born in Paris and long-time wine aficionado. Founder of Vintec Australia, he developed in Australia a wonderful concept he discovered in France: the climate-controlled wine cabinet.
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