Monday, August 26, 2013

Two Old Shiraz...Not Too Old Shiraz

My father's birthday wines continued with these two gems from Down Under.  I am a huge fan of Aussie wines but one must be selective to avoid getting stuck with overly thick, overly oaked clodhopper wines.  We were not shopping for bargain wines, so things got much easier.  The impressive list at Vickers' Liquors in Newport, RI made it simple.  Choosing two classic producers, who do impressive work from their entry wines up, increased our odds of finding an aged beauty.
We started with D'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz 2003.  My father took my recommendation about more current vintages of this wine for some golf outings and was applauded for his choice.  He has also become a fan of the wine, so it made lots of sense to try an older bottle.
The wine is named after a vine disease that kills one arm of a vine but leaves the other in good shape. This concentrates all of the growing power and nutrients and flavors into those fewer grapes, resulting in very intense wine.  I also heard that they half cut an arm near harvest to limit water supply to the grapes while still allowing the ripening process to continue.  The former explanation is on D'Arenberg's website though, so that gets the nod for the official story.  
McLaren Vale offers warm weather but tempers it with the cooler influence of the ocean.  (If you want to read more, here is an educational Australia post I wrote).  This provides the richness we expect from Australia but keeps the wines fresh and vibrant.  I love the wines from this region and Dead Arm is no exception.  
The 2003 showed amazing color, still ruby red.  The nose was all wild berries with a touch of framboise and just a bit of that slightly gamy funk the French call "sauvage."  The aroma was nearly "brambly," a term often used to refer to zinfandels, reminding me of a patch of wild berries on a hot summer day - juicy, ripe fruit that gets a slightly roasted quality from the sun.  A bit of dried fruit and oak show too but the wine seemed delightfully fresh and young.
The palate was mouth-filling and still brims with bright acids followed by mouth-drying tannins which mingled nicely with the big, juicy fruit.  The long finish leaves a dryness with fine but persistent tannins and lasts for a long time.  The final impression is of a very approachable, suave wine despite the edge of tannin, reminding me of a man with a few days of beard growth in a perfectly tailored tuxedo who has great stories and a penchant for using curse words as adjectives.
The other shiraz was from Torbreck, a fantastic winery, with big scores and prices to match.  The Struie, apparently named for a hill in Scotland, is a shiraz from Barossa, much of it from Eden Valley which is at a higher elevation and enjoys somewhat cooler temperatures.  This 2004 vintage showed some of the classic, slightly baked Barossa pie fruit.  It seemed a bit compact or pinched, but it was lovely.  Black pepper flared my nostrils and there was just a hint of light acidity adding to that feeling. The wine really coated my tongue and the tannin was much less obvious than in the Dead Arm.  However, it was much drier on the finish.  It was delicious.  I'm not one to wax poetic about the perfect fruit or aroma but this wine had juniper on the palate and was herby on the nose.  Not herbal, which to me often means unripe, or under ripe, but herby, which bring to my mind an array of fresh herbs laid out to be prepped for cooking.  It opened nicely and blossomed with a little time in the glass.  Green peppercorn came on strong on the mid-palate which grew to be a bit too intense for me.
Overall these wines were brilliant and a lovely treat to experience.  Vickers' Liquors clearly stores their wines well, just look at these corks!  I look forward to an excuse to purchase more of their inventory in the near future.

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