Wine review | d’Arenberg 2005 “The Dead Arm”


95 Points Robert Parker $50-$75

d’Arenberg 2005 “The Dead Arm” McLaren Vale,  South Australia

Varietal:  100% McLaren Vale Shiraz

Alcohol: 14.5%

Production: ? d’Arenberg does not disclose production levels of its wines

Aging: 21 months new and used French Oak.

Price: $50-$75

If you haven’t heard of d’Arenberg, then you are missing out on some of the best Australian wine available.  d’Arenberg was founded in 1912, and is one of Australia’s most renowned producers.  The Dead Arm is their flagship wine.

The name Dead Arm actually comes from a fungal disease that effects vines all over the world.  The disease effects one half of the wine, basically reducing it to dead wood, The Dead Arm is that side of the vine.  Most vineyards dig up these vines and start over.  However d’Arenberg decided to harvest the fruit left on the other side, the side not destroyed.  The vines are very low yield and the fruit is tiny and super concentrated.  The vines are 80-120 years old and the grapes are harvested by hand.

98 Points Weekly Wine Journal

The production:  open top fermentation, the must is not plunged or pumped while fermentation takes place. Only after primary fermentation is the must pressed, and it is done so in the traditional way; by foot!  After foot pressing, the wine is basket pressed and then transferred to oak barrels for over 20 months.  Finally each barrel is assessed for its quality and only the best barrels are used to make the wine.

The Dead Arm has received a ton of critical acclaim. In fact between 1996 and 2006 Robert Parker awarded this wine four 95 point ratings, three 96 point ratings and one 98 point rating.

So how does the 2005 vintage stack up.  At this point the only other vintage I have to compare it against is the 2003.  I have to say that the ’05 is superior, even though they both received 95 points from Parker.

First off the wine is BLACK. and I mean black.  There is a fair amount of sediment present, nothing that a bit of decanting or a strainer can’t remedy.  I think the prescense of sediment is actually a good thing, a foreshadowing.

The nose is intense, full of black fruit, peppery, almost a tar or creosote like burn in the nostrils.  Followed by hints of star anise.

The palate is explosive.  The first sip seemed to excite every single taste bud on my tongue, seemed to electrify my palate.  I literally said “WOW!” out loud. Hands down the best Shiraz I’ve ever had.  Not that I’ve had thousands, but I’ve been enjoying Australian Shiraz at different price points for over 20 years now and this is the creme de la creme.

The palate consists of a subtle sour cherry liqueur which is then vaporized by a dark chocolate pepper and cigar smoke finish.  The wine is not sweet, but there is a tiny element of ripe fruit intermingled in the palate.  Parker in his review in 2007 said that this wine could benefit from 3-5 years of cellaring.  Well it is 2011 now, 4 year later and the wine is still fairly astringent.  This becomes noticeable later on after you have had a few glasses.  It is such a concentrated powerful wine it almost hurts, almost, but it doesn’t.  Another feature that is thankfully absent is the “Aussie fruit bomb” characteristic.  It’s not a sweet jammy syrupy wine.  It is dry, concentrated, complex and tannic, and extremely well balanced.

If you are a pinot noir drinker, this wine will punish you, however if you are a fan of the bigger bolder, and drier wines I think this will be exactly what you are looking for.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 98 points

Wine review: Bonterra Vineyards 2006 Syrah Organic Mendocino County

I always scan the Costco wine departments for “Markdowns”.  On a recent trip I found Bonterra Vineyards 2006 Syrah Organic from Mendocino County.  It was $9.97.  I don’t know what the original price was but $10 bucks seemed like a good idea at the time.  I don’t know enough about Organic or biodynamic farming, at this point, to talk confidently on the proof of that.  I can talk about the taste and how it makes me feel, and how I am going to look into that, later.

So some technical stuff:

The Blend: 97% Syrah, 2% Petit Sirah, 1% Grenache

Aging: 18 months in French and American Oak.  44% New, 22% once used, 22% twice used.

Alcohol: 14.4%

Production: 6,500 cases

Price: $9.97 on markdown at Costco.  Normal retail is $17.99

On the Nose: berries, not a heck of a lot going on in the nose for me

The Palate:  The palate is a nice surprise.  Fruit forward. Dark berry fruit.  Cocoa, black pepper and nice strong tannins on the finish.  There is a fair amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle.  I like to see that in a Shiraz/Syrah.

The verdict: 88 points.  There is nothing about this wine that I find out of balance or unpleasant, it would be a very decent daily drinker.

If this doesn’t sound like a glowing review, it isn’t.  But that’s not because I don’t think the wine is good.  I’m just guessing however you found this article, you’d probably appreciate the honest truth.  It’s good.  It’s something I would drink again, probably serve at a party, and will buy again if I see it in the $10 range.


Wine Review: Flinders Run, 2006 Shiraz, Southern Flinders Ranges, Australia

Where from?  Southern Flinders Ranges, Australia
How much? $25-$35
Aging: 18 months in American and French Oak, 50% new french oak.
Alcohol: 15%
980 cases imported to the United States

I am always up for trying out a new Shiraz, so when I noticed Flinders Run on the shelf at my local wine store, it caught my attention.  I always resist buying wine on the label, so I picked up the bottle looked at the interesting label and put it back down.  Well I kept seeing it sitting there every time I was in the store, just staring at me..the wine bottle with the googly eyes!   I noticed the appellation, Southern Flinders Ranges.  Interesting I thought, I am used to Barossa, Hunter, Claire, McLaren, Coonawarra, Padthaway, but I don’t often come across a wine from the Southern Flinders Ranges.  I whipped out my smartphone, and noticed a 92 point rating from Stephen Tanzer, and 91 points from Wine Spectator.  I also noticed that the Southern Flinders Ranges region is located next to the Claire and Barossa valleys and I have enjoyed a lot of wines from both those regions. One thing I couldn’t find was the winery’s website.  But I picked up a bottle anyway, let’s cut to the taste shall we?

Color: Opaque purple with a ruby-red rim
Nose:  Big, fragrant, raspberry
Palate: creamy in weight, ripe and spicy

This wine is decadent, hedonistic yet well-balanced.  If you like a big juicy and spicy this is the wine for you.  As far as complexity, this wine keeps it fairly simple, sticks to what it’s strengths are.  If you are looking for a complex one minute echo of a finish, this wine doesn’t have that, and you will probably need to spend a minimum of $50 for a Shiraz that does.  I would liken the flavor profile to the wines of the Barossa Valley, yet without the earthy component that they sometimes have.  All in all, a good effort.  I think that 91-92 points would be an accurate rating.

Wine Review: Tait 2008 Barossa Valley, The Ball Buster

I saw this wine in Costco and I wondered if I should give it a try.  I’m weary of wines with outrageous or edgy names.  I picked up a bottle and read the back label, and there I noticed the alcohol content: 16%!  Okay what the hell its only $15, I’ll give it a try.  I had it in my fridge for a few weeks before I could get around to trying it out, and Friday night seemed like the right night.  It was a busy hectic day, an end to my first week back from my vacation to Vancouver, British Columbia where I “experienced” the men’s gold medal hockey game.  That means I watched the game in a casino right next to the stadium.  I poured the wine in my decanter and then decided to run some errands while the wine opened up.  I returned 3 hours later!  And ready to drink some wine too!

The Blend: 76% Shiraz, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot

Tait, The Ball Buster

Alcohol: 16%

Where from?:  Barossa Valley, Australia

The nose: slight cigar box, licorice, cherry.  The nose was not incredibly aromatic, even after 3 hours in the decanter.

The Palate:  Here’s where this wine got really interesting.  Right away I noticed the incredible texture.  This wine has the consistency of heavy cream, incredibly silky almost slippery, weighty. The next thing I was hit with was how concentrated the fruit was.  Almost like a liqueur with a very ripe blackberry flavor.  Then I noticed the tannins, which were quite well-rounded.  I expected the tannins to be chewy and out of control for some reason, but they are actually quite soft for such a big wine.  One thing that is absent from this wine is the earthiness that some Barossa valley Shiraz’s have.  That can be good or bad depending on how “earthy” or funky you like the aroma of your wine to be.  Personally, I can go either way, as long as it’s in balance.

The Finish:  Powerful almost Port like with licorice and chocolate.  Surprisingly less heat than one would expect from a 16% wine.

Conclusion:  I would recommend this wine to anyone that says they like the big bold fruit forward styles of Shiraz and Zinfandel.


Wine Review: Wyndham Estate, George Wyndham Founders Reserve Shiraz, 2005

Wyndam Estates Shiraz

Wow thats a long name.  Wyndham Estates bin 555 was my “First” wine.  The first wine that I actually enjoyed beyond the effects of just the alcohol.  From what I remember, it paired well with Classico brand pasta sauce.  I haven’t had any Wyndham Estates wines in ages, I’ve been on a California Cabernet kick for a while, but I decided when I was at Costco the other day to give ‘ol Wyndham a try again…

Technicals (from the Wyndham website):

Bottled: July 2007

Aging:  One and two year old American and French oak for up to 16 months

Alcohol: 14.5%

Price: $12.79 at Costco

Wyndham Estates tasting notes are short and to the point:

Color: Dark Cherry with bright purple hues

Bouquet: Spicy Choc mint nose with lifted violets and vanilla bean

Palate: Dense ripe blackberry fruits with a  luscious mid palate and a velvety tannin finish

Here’s what I found:  Dark cherry color.  Spicy oak nose.  I did not notice any violets or vanilla.  On the palate it was big on the “Dense ripe Blackberry fruits”.  The mid palate was not as “luscious” but plummy and gently tart. I equate luscious with sweet, maybe I’m wrong.  There were some velvety tannins on the finish.  All in all this wine is actually a little more to my liking than say the Pillar Box Red which I reviewed a little while ago.  This wine is not as sweet, and quite a bit more subdued.  And it should be, it’s a 2005, it’s had enough time to settle down.  And just for old times sake I paired it with Classico Florentine spinach and cheese pasta sauce with a little added ground beef and served on whole grain spaghetti noodles with a side of sour dough bread with melted parmesan Reggiano on it.  Follwed by Hagen Daaz dulce de luce ice ream and frosted lemon cake.  I kinda freaked out on the sugar eh?

Henry’s Drive, Pillar Box Red, 2007

The Technicals:

Shiraz 65%, Cabernet Sauvignon 25% Merlot 10%

14.7% alcohol

75% French oak, 25% American Oak


from the company literature:  “Displaying a dark colour and a vibrant purple hue, the 2007 Pillar Box Red has bright aromas of blue and dark berry fruit entwined with liquorice, spearmint and cigar box complexity. The palate is rich and fleshy, with flavours of fresh blackcurrant and blueberry fruit combined with orange rind, dark chocolate and spicy smoke oak characters. Whilst the tannins are full, the palate is round, soft and well balanced, leading into a lingering harmonious finish.”

First, I must say that is quite a well written wine description!  I have seen this wine at Costco for quite some time, it’s usually around $10.  I am sceptical of wines that use unusual marketing and graphics to try to promote the wines.  Maybe its some of those Big House Wines that sort of soured me on buying wines because they look cool.

How is it?

Yes, the wine is dark, its red wine, its Shiraz, pretty dark.  It actually looks like dark pomegranate juice.

The nose:  The nose is a little intriguing, I can’t quite place the aromas.  Sweet liquorice and sweet cigar is as close as I can figure,  it’s pleasant.

The Palate:  Ripe blackcurrant, ripe blackberry, very ripe fruit on the edge of being too sweet, but I can handle it. Rich milk chocolate, and the spicy smoky oak is there too.

Tannins are there, they’re strong, and they’re not soft or round, but they are well balanced. But then again, young tannic wine is not a problem for my palate.

I reviewed Henry’s Drive Dead Letter Office a while back, and I was quite hard on them about it, so I wasn’t really looking to be wowed by a wine that is a half to a quarter of the price depending on where you buy it.  But I was pleasantly surprised.

At $10 a bottle , this could be a daily drinker for me.  I know I like to drink mind blowing wines all the time, but my wallet and actually my palate can’t handle it.  This wine would be perfect for newer wine drinkers.  Wine drinkers that can handle the tannins in red wine, but not yet the earthiness, or dry spicy oakiness, or other features that are difficult to process when you are just getting into wine.  This is by no means a substandard one dimensional Shiraz, it’s far better than most especially at this price point.  Overall, decent, I will buy it again.

Wine Review: Shingleback 2004 D-Block Reserve Shiraz


100% Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia

Alcohol: 14.7% on their website, 14.5% on my bottle?

about $55 Fry’s (Kroger)

93 points, James Halliday Wine Companion 2008, Platinum award, Best of Class Gold Medal-2008 L.A. International Wine & Spirit Competition.

After 1 hour decanting, the nose was still fairly subdued.  Blackberry, black cherry.  On the palate very smooth, nice ripe blackberry and black cherry again.  I am getting a little tired of the over the top fruit bomb style of Shiraz, I am also getting tired of the massiveness of a lot of Shiraz on the market.   By massiveness I mean too much tannin too much oak too much alcohol heat.

Day 2.  24 hours later.  Superb.  Just a nice smooth extremely well balanced wine.  It’s not very complex but it is far more gentle than most of my recent Shiraz experiences.  Blackberries, I taste a lot of blackberries.  Just to make sure I went into the fridge and ate a couple of blackberries.  Affirmative, it’s blackberries.  Little bit of oak, no alcohol heat, a tiny bit of earthiness which I like.  I don’t like funky in your face earthiness.  I like the subtle kind of earthiness that if you breath out through your nose after a big sip, you can detect it.

Wine and Champagne for New Year’s Eve

It’s hard to believe that we are already celebrating the arrival of 2010.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were getting panicky about Y2K and the impending end of civilization.  So lets celebrate that not happening!

I know times are tough, but you know what?  Sometimes you just have to go out and treat yourself!  Plus the economy depends on it.  So I suggest that everyone spends at least 2 times what they would normally spend on a bottle of wine or champagne.   You only live once, you can’t take your $$$ to heaven and numbers like 2010 don’t come around very often.

In no particular order: (I’m not going to get into flavor profiles, because these suggestions are all based on “prestige, $$$, and point scores) Those are the things that you are going to  brag about at your New Year’s parties when someone asks you what you are drinking.

1. d’Arenberg “The Dead Arm”  Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia.  Retails for around $60 (US). Consistent 94,95 point scores.  Big bold Shiraz

2. Elderton Wines, Barossa Command Single Vineyard Shiraz. Saw it at Costco for about $80. 97 points Robert Parker.  Buy one for New Years, and hold the other because they say it’ll be good through 2035.

Those are two good suggestions if you like big bold wines and Shiraz in general. But what if you don’t?  How about something like a Cabernet Sauvignon then?

1. Chimney Rock, Stag’s Leap Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Retails for around $50. Nice 90 point wine, great with grilled meat, or by itself.

2. Spring Mountain Vineyard, 2004 Cabernet.  Great for drinking slowly over the course of the night, maybe get two bottles if there is more than one true wine lover at the party.  Retails for around $60

**Note** I would be suggesting the much less expensive  Cameron Hughes Wines but they are not available at most retail outlets, so I’m just going with wines everyone should be able to find at their local wine merchant.  If your local merchant doesn’t have these wines, it might be time to think about shopping elsewhere. (wow how wine snobby does that sound?!)

Okay so Shiraz and Cabernet are still just to big and acidic for you.  You need Pinot Noir.  You still want to be featured on Robin Leech’s Life Styles of the Rich and Famous though, so don’t be skimping and buying a regular $15 bottle of Pinot okay?

1. Hartford Court, Pinot  Noir, Land’s Edge, 2005 Sonoma. Retail $55.  96 points

2. 2006 Cambria “Julia’s Vineyard” Santa Maria Pinot Noir.  Retail $25.  I know this one isn’t that expensive but the accolades are impressive.  93 points, Editors Choice and #1 wine of the year in Wine Enthusiasts top 100 for 2009.

Okay on to Champagne!  What no white wines?  Yup thats right. No whites.

If you want to make a big impression and look like a super star you need to pick up a bottle of Dom Perignon.  And if you want to take it even farther and really rock it this New Year’s you need to pick up a bottle of Cristal.

1. 2002 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne.  98 points about $200+  but I have seen it at Costco in the metro Phoenix area for $167.  Nothing says “It’s good to be the King” like Cristal.  Name that quote…

2. Okay so the Cristal might be a couple bucks too much so try Louis Roederer Brut Premier instead.  90 points and about $40.  42,000 cases were imported so if your local wine merchant doesn’t have it then maybe it’s time to find a new place to buy your wines.

2010 will hopefully be a better year than 2009.  Let’s drink to that this New Year’s Eve.  Or if you had an awesome 2009 then drink to that.  All joking aside, I am serious about laying down some serious dough for some seriously good wines this NYE.  We all deserve it!  You can’t just keep squeaking through life missing out on the finer things, something has to eventually give!

Cheers, Happy New Year!

A small airplane and free wine

In the spring of 2000 something happened with a credit card company and their travel miles and some kind of notice went out that the unused miles had to be used soon or they would be lost.  I don’t even know if that’s the story, but I know this.  I had to fly from Terrace, British Columbia, to Vancouver for a training course and my dad had these extra air mile points that he couldn’t use so he asked me if I wanted to upgrade to first class for the trip.  Fore sure! Awesome!  The flight is only about an hour, about 500 miles over mostly ice.  Terrace has always reminded me of the David Lynch creation “Twin Peaks”.  A logging town with a bit of a weird side to it.  The plane that usually flies out of Terrace holds about 50 people,  and I didn’t even realize there was a first class.

I don’t know why I did this, but I guess it’s my nature…

I decided to dress up in a full on business suit for the trip.  It was the heady days of the dot com stock market too.  I waited in the tiny terminal in my super awesome business suit and when they announced boarding and first class I was the only passenger to board first class!  I sat down in my big soft seat, I think there were 8 first class seats, and relaxed.  Then I purposely pulled out the newspaper and opened it to the stock summary page, you know–really businessman like.  That’s weird actually if you think about it, do they still print stock prices in the newspaper and if they do, what the hell for?

So when all the regular passengers started boarding there I was, mr important business traveler reading his stocks and bonds in the newspaper…I could see the other travelers out of the corner of my eye sneaking a peek at me…all the while inside I was laughing my ass off!!  The plane took off and then the in flight services began.  Now this is the awesome part:  I had my on personal stewardess!  She asked me if I would like some wine, and I asked what kind it was.

“Wolf Blass Presidents Selection, 1998”

I’ll have a glass, thank you.  It tasted awesome! that’s really all I remember because right after I finished that glass the stewardess brought another and I realized we were already half way through the one hour flight, so I began to drink faster and faster.  All of a sudden the business schtick was gone, and I was just a guy trying to guzzle as much of this delicious and expensive wine as possible before the table trays had to go up.   So I drank that whole bottle  in one hour, which isn’t really a speed record but I was sure happy when I wandered out of the airport.

Just looking at while I am writing this, the 1998 Wolf Blass President’s Selection was rated 95 points by Wine Spectator and 93 points by wine advocate and is currently going for $244 a bottle, although I think it was closer to $90 when I drank it.    If I could, I would do it all over again!


Not the same old Holiday wine pairings

I am tired of the same old wine pairings for the traditional Christmas Dinner.  So this year I am looking to try something different.

Shiraz before dinner, Cabernet Sauvignon with Turkey Dinner and Muscat after dinner (which is probably not that unusual).  And for Christmas morning, at the suggestion of Tony from Yalumba, I will enjoy Viognier for breakfast!

The details:

Before I leave for work in the morning (around 7:30am) I will put a bottle of 2006 Marquis Phillips, Shiraz 9 in the decanter.  I’ve had it before, and it weighs in at 16% alcohol.  It is MASSIVE.  It’s not a fruit bomb either.  I brought it over to a friends for a dinner party and the quote of the evening from my friend who generally likes Pinot Noir: “This wine is hurting my mouth!” I laughed mercilessly at him.  I’m interested to see what 12 months has done to the wine.

I’ll probably get home from work around 3 in the afternoon, and by then that Shiraz 9 will be ready for conspicuous consumption.  I might have to share a little bit of it with the other Christmas dinner guests when they arrive at around 6pm.  I am choosing this wine because of its sheer intensity, but also, from what I remember last year, it tasted really good.  Sorry, I’m also a bit tired of the same old wine descriptions so I’m not going to elaborate on the taste in this post

At around 4pm I will open up the remaining two bottles of Chalone Vineyard Cabernet that I bought recently.  If you read my review of it, you’ll know that I recommended about 3 hours in the decanter for this wine to truly open up.

Christmas Dinner will consist of Turkey, ham, stuffing, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, salad, and probably something else.  It’s always a potluck dinner so I never know exactly what to expect. I will gorge myself on Christmas dinner and wine, and then for dessert I will open up a little bottle of Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat.  I pour myself a tiny glass and also drizzle this on Hagen Daz vanilla bean ice cream.  This wine tastes like strong black tea and sweet dried apricots.  It’s enough to leave you twitching in a diabetic coma by the end of the night. Yum!

Christmas morning I might be feeling a little rough, and so that’s when I will pop and pour some Yalumba Viognier, and have it with a toasted bagel and plain cream cheese.



Yalumba Museum Reserve

Chalone Vineyards Cabernet Review