Friday, April 4, 2008


Thursday evening, and after dinner has been served, and the dishes are languishing in the sink, I have settled down to my Grandpa Brennaman’s old dinner table, to taste through a couple of wines we just got in courtesy of the Grateful Palate, an importer of powerful fruit bombs championed by the likes of Robert Parker and Harvey Steinam, as well as high-alcohol wine fans everywhere. Though not my usual cup of tea, I decided that I’ll exercise my palate by tasting the new Strong Arms Shiraz 2006 ($9.49) from Grateful Palate big cheese Dan Phillips, and his latest hired gun winemaker superstar Chris Ringland, as well as a pair of ultrarare oddballs from Tscharke: The Curse Zinfandel 2006 and Only Son Tempranillo Graciano 2006 (both $18.49).

Tasting order be damned, I started with the Strong Arms Shiraz, which is one of the latest concoctions from Chris Ringland and Dan Phillips’ R Winery. What starts off fairly subtle, this little red has a ruby red to light purple color in the glass, giving off lots of raspberry, blackberry and hints of red flowers and cinnamon in the bouquet. There is more red berry and spice across the palate, with splashes of dark chocolate, notes of tobacco and smoke, and medium body and tannins throughout the finish. All-in-all, not a bad drink for $10. (My wife didn’t like this one much, though the label did catch her eye.)

Next up, I opted for the Tscharke The Curse, a late harvested Zinfandel clocking in at 15.5% alcohol. I fully expected a very sweet, raisiny dessert wine, but instead, was greeted by a medium-to-full bodied red with a surprising balance of acidity. The color was a bit more purple than the Strong Arms, and the aroma lent itself to more licorice, red currants and white pepper. On the tongue, there were elements of raspberry, dragonfruit, espresso and cocoa powder. A bit odd, I know, but so is a Zinfandel from the Barossa Valley. It finishes long, with medium tannins, and good balance. It is definitely one of those wines you should try for yourself. (My wife agreed that this one was the best of the three.)

So before I head off to bed (my eyes start drooping before the 10 o’clock news), I wrapped up my little taste test with the Tscharke Only Son, a high-alcohol blend of Tempranillo and Graciano (neither of which is all that prevalent in Australia, with Graciano fast becoming an endangered fruit even in its native Spain). Essentially an Aussie Rioja, this medium-to-full-bodied red was deep purple in color with more floral character in the glass than The Curse. It possesses quite a lot of red berry fruit, even a bit of black cherry and hints of cola. There are a lot of spices on the palate, though those notes exercise much restraint under the veil of oak. Once again, a big alcohol wine that you really couldn’t tell by the taste, that’s for sure. The finish is round and pleasing, as if taking a bite out of a caramelized red berry tart with mocha powder. (My wife thought the finish was too tart, and gave this a Caesarean thumbs-down.)

All three of these wines aren’t long for our shelves. We received only a small allocation of the Strong Arms (15 cases) and a laughable few bottles of the two Tscharkes (I felt compelled to try these two only because I never seem to know how to answer people when asked whether I’ve had these ridiculously allocated wines). I hope that you can try these, and I look forward to sharing more tasting notes with you.


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