Recently, a good friend of mine remarked that they’d never had a d’Arenberg wine that hadn’t disappointed them. Thinking about it for a second, I almost agreed, but then thought back to a fortified Shiraz that wasn’t at all bad, and of course their cheap white wine usually isn’t bad either. Which brings me to the three bottles of The Dead Arm that have been languishing in my cellar for years. I wouldn’t have ordinarily bought them, but a wine shop in southern California somehow managed to score a few cases at a closeout price of roughly half what they usually cost. Of course, the reviews at the time were universally middling, but I figured what the heck: surely this is just idiosyncratically good and therefore confusing, right?On the nose, there’s lots of sweet cherry fruit along with a dirty eucalyptus mint that’s hinting at the bottle age this wine’s racked up over the last few years. Rich, candied meat also shows itself eventually, as well as a distinct medicinal tang not unlike St. Joseph’s children’s aspirin (think oranges spiked with embalming fluid). There’s also a subtle supporting note of quality wood, which sets it all off rather well, I think. At this point in the wine’s evolution, it schizophrenically struts between thick, rich, young Aussie red and older, mature, claret. It’s entertaining.The entry on the palate is at first remarkably shut down, and then the acids hit you: huge, grabby, shocking acids. It’s all surprisingly rustic and more suited to a cheap vin du pays d’Oc than an often-hyped, fairly expensive Aussie shiraz. Then, it all dies off with a whimper. What was that? Another mouthful reveals a midweight palate, along with generic, unidentifiable fruitiness, the same surprising acidity, a bit of bottle age, and then… bupkus. Eventually, some gum-assaulting, drying tannins show up as well as a bit of funkiness, but even that’s curiously half-assed. With some time and air, it started to resolve itself a bit more in terms of its flavor profile, but honestly? This wine probably wasn’t a good deal even at half price, and it seems to be drying out and dying at the moment.d’Arenberg
Price: US $24.99 (distributor closeout; current release is US $54.99)
Date tasted: December 2007—On second thought, about ninety minutes later, I realized that this wine actually is displaying a low level of cork taint, which is a bummer. A lot of the muted flatness is more likely the result of TCA; it’s clear to me now that it’s difficult to distinguish between “bottle age” and TCA, at least for me. I’m glad to see that d’Arenberg have moved to screwcaps for some of their production, but it’s too late for me – no way to return this wine given its age, and it’s on its way to the recycle bin, alas.