Caduceus Cellars: 2014 Menti Rosso (VSC)


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The early years of planting in Arizona were not nearly as regimented as they are now. When Al Buhl planted the vineyard that now bears his name almost 30 years ago, one of the grapes he thought he was planting on the Willcox Bench was Cabernet Pfeffer. But something didn’t seem quite right. It didn’t follow most of the growing and taste traits of this obscure grape. When Maynard Keenan acquired Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard a few years ago, he had genetic testing done on these particular vines and found to his surprise that these grapes were an even MORE obscure varietal: Gros Verdot. And thus the 2014 Menti Rosso was born. With the 2015 vintage being offered in the Caduceus tasting room currently, I thought I should crack open my 2014 and see how it was doing. Normally, you have to be a member of the wine club to get this bottle, but I was lucky enough to grab a bottle after a really fantastic dinner at Merkin Osteria last year.

2014 Menti Rosso

The 2014 Menti Rosso is a good thinking wine, made from 100% Gros Verdot. The name comes from the Spanish for liar. Pictured: my pairing for this wine.

The Grape: Before we get into the wine, I thought I’d look up this grape in Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes and learn a bit more. This grape has actually been banned in France since 1946, even though it was once an important varietal in the Queyries vineyards of 19th-century Bordeaux. It is therefore probably extinct in France. This means that, other than the planting here in Arizona, Gros Verdot survives only in a couple vineyards in California and 7 acres in Chile.  (It is, as it turns out, one of the grapes allowed for Meritage blends, however.)

The Wine: The 2014 Menti Rosso is made from 100% Gros Verdot, sourced from Maynard’s Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard on the Willcox Bench, the heart of the Willcox AVA.  The wine was hand-picked and hand-sorted. These grapes underwent an open-top and submerged-cap fermentation at the crush facility in the Verde Valley.  This wine was then aged for 18 months in new and neutral French oak puncheons, then underwent additional bottle aging.  The wine was made by MJ Keenan, and named “Menti Rosso” after the Spanish word for “liar”, due to the history of these vines as I mentioned above.  It is a deep red in color, but not nearly as dark as Petit Verdot vintages in Arizona; instead, the 2014 Menti Rosso is a rich garnet red, with some tawny edges showing its extended age (for an Arizona wine, anyway).

The Nose: When first uncorked, the nose of the 2014 Menti Rosso opens with aromas of cherry, plum, and cedar, intermingling with notes of pepper, petrichor, vanilla, raspberry, sandalwood, lingonberry, and strawberry, along with the classic Willcox AVA dust.  The fruit aromas are lighter than what you might expect for such an ostensibly bold grape; I was expecting lots of dark fruits instead! After decanting this vintage for an hour, the nose gains an additional bright minty aroma that intermingles with the other aromas.

The Palate: The 2014 Menti Rosso has high acidity and high tannins, but is still much lighter than a Petit Verdot of the same age. Fruity notes that make me think of stewed a compote containing cherry, plums, lingonberries, and marionberries, with hints of strawberry are decidedly noticeable, intermingling with vanilla, slate, and creosote.  Yet this wine also has a jammy character as well.  The finish of this wine lasts for 57 seconds when straight out of the bottle, with strong tannins intermingling with notes of blackberry, cherry, creosote, vanilla, allspice, and lingonberry.  After decanting this wine for an hour, the tannins mellow dramatically and additional notes of lavender and mint emerge.  After decanting, the wine has a long, lingering finish that lasts for 1 minute and 30 seconds.

The Pairing: I want to drink this wine with rustic peasant fare; potroasts, porkroasts, and ratatouille.  I honestly feel like I want Rhone style cuisine with this vintage, even though this is decidedly not a Rhone varietal! At the Caduceus/Merkin Velvet Slippers Club dinner last year, Chef Christopher Smith paired this wine with some fun meat-filled ravioli that worked quite well.  Pork chops with rosemary also strike me as a potentially excellent pairing. I also would strongly consider pairing this wine with a maduro cigar (This was what I did, and it worked really well).

Impressions: Despite Maynard naming this wine for the Spanish word for “liar,” I would say that this is not a wine that lies.  It is what it is, and doesn’t try to lie about it.  Instead, I would use the Italian translation for this wine as “Thinking Red.” The 2014 Menti Rosso is a wine that has made me sit down and think about the quirky history of grapes, grape growing, and planting here in Arizona, let alone in France.  By the stroke of a pen in post World War II France, a grape became extinct only to reappear in the high deserts of Arizona more or less entirely by accident, and that’s a pretty awesome thing.  It tastes great now, but you could probably cellar this wine for another five years easily.

Since this is a Thinking Red, this wine is a linguist who’s hobby is trying to translate songs in other languages he’s never heard based on the languages he already knows. He will listen to a medieval Welsh Lullaby and work out the words based on his extensive knowledge of other Indo-European languages, for example.  He likes sitting in an overstuffed chair in his office, pouring over books, and names his MMO Character after linguistic puns.

2014 Menti Rosso

This was Chef Christopher Smith’s pairing with the 2014 Menti Rosso at the Velvet Slippers Club dinner last year.

Rune Winery: 2014 Viognier


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I’ve apparently been drinking a lot of Viognier lately, but it is one of the best white grapes in Arizona after all.  And James Callahan, as I’ve stated before, is one of the top winemakers in the state.  As I’ve mentioned before, each specific Rune wine style has a label story.  Considering the specific label theme for this series being set among the pueblos built by the ancient peoples of Arizona… I had no choice but to take my last bottle of the 2014 Rune Viognier to Perry Mesa for some in-situ photography at one of my favorite archaeological sites in Arizona.

(I should note: one of the reasons why my updates have been so erratic lately is due to bad winter lighting for wine photography.  I don’t like taking photos of wines in the dark… usually.  I digress.)

2014 Rune Viognier

The 2014 Rune Viognier with petroglyphs and that vibrant blue Arizona sky.

The Wine: The grapes for the 2014 Rune Viognier were sourced from Pillsbury Vineyard, in the Willcox Bench, of the Willcox AVA.  As before, I believe this vintage was fermented in stainless steel, with some aging on neutral French oak, though I could be mistaken; the main difference is that I am pretty sure this vintage may have entirely been a wild ferment. It is a bit darker in color than the previous vintage; sort of a blonde or jasmine yellow shade.

The Nose: This wine opens with an intense salvo of apple and pear notes, intermingling with limestone, white flowers, gardenia, datura, lily, butterscotch, and vanilla.  As the wine opens, additional notes of honey, peach, and papaya emerge. Overall, the longer the 2014 Rune Viognier is open, the less floral this wine is on both nose and palate–this was true of the 2013 vintage as well.

The Palate: This is a medium-bodied Viognier with medium acidity.  The palate opens with notes of apricot, peach, and papaya, along with floral notes of gardenia, lily, and yucca flower.  As the wine opens, additional notes of apple and pear emerge. The finish of the 2014 Rune Viognier lasts for 29 seconds, filled with notes of tropical fruit, white flowers, and the classic limestone/caliche minerality I associate with white wines coming from the Willcox AVA.

Pairing:  Serve this wine with lemon-grilled chicken and a side of rosemary russet potatoes.  However, I do oddly feel that this wine will work with a KFC bucket and a good sports game too–and that is a versatility that shouldn’t be laughed at. A lightly spiced Pad Thai will work for a vegetarian pairing.

Impressions: The 2014 Rune Viognier is drinking well; if you have this in your cellar, I’d open it and enjoy it within the next year or so. It is another stellar example of what this grape can do in Arizona.  I’d argue that this vintage has the classic “Kublai Khan pleasure palace vibe” of Condrieu, also, so if you’re into that particular style of Viognier, this vintage, as well as the 2015 Vintage, should not be missed.

Personified, I feel this particular Viognier is a quiet historian, prone to deep contemplative thoughts over a white chocolate mocha while working on a thesis on Senaca and other aspects of Stoicism in the early Roman Empire.  She had a rough year last year, but philosophy kept her going.  She has a pot of white flowers on her desk: orchids, from her mother.

2014 Rune Viognier

Viognier and Petroglyphs: silence.

Nebbiolo Podcast (Piedmont vs. Arizona and California)


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These are the Nebbiolo vintages we imbibed over the course of recording this podcast.

Nebbiolo is a grape that tends to evoke certain images in the mind’s eye.  It evokes images of fog-shrouded mountains in Northern Italy, mysterious and ethereal.

In this podcast, I drink with Emil Molin, Joe Bechard, Kris Pothier, Dean Pfanis, and Steven Elston. The focus of this podcast is Nebbiolo.

Some grapes in Arizona do amazing things that compete directly (or surpass) the wines made from them in their motherland, like Malvasia, or Graciano.  Other grapes do equally good things, like Teroldigo. Other grapes still, like Nebbiolo, just don’t seem to compare at all to the wines in their Urheimat. Why does Nebbiolo fall into this category? Take a listen and find out.

Southwest Wine Center: 2017 Amphoria Rosé


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The Southwest Wine Center, as I’ve stated before, is focused around educating the future members of the Arizona wine industry. The students make their wines, and they’re all good. In fact, the Mourvèdre I reviewed earlier this summer picked up grand accolades at the Jefferson Cup in Missouri recently. Last year, they experimented with a Beaujolais style wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon that was a big hit. This year, they experimented again, and the result is the 2017 Amphoria, which I personally like more than last year’s experiment. (They also made a lot more of this year’s experiment, which is a Very Good Thing, as far as I am concerned.)

2017 Amphoria

The 2017 Amphoria: a memory of summer in a cold winter world.

The Wine: The 2017 Amphoria Rosé is made from 100% Sangiovese, sourced from the Yavapai College Vineyard in Clarkdale, Arizona. I actually helped pick the grapes that went into this wine, so it’s really neat to drink this. The wine was made utilizing carbonic maceration, the same method used to make Beaujolais Nouveau, as well as the New Wine from Garage-East. (I explained the process in that entry, so go and take a look there.) What also makes this wine so unique and experimental is that after fermentation and press, this wine was aged in replica Roman amphorae created by SWC student Tom Schumacher. The wine was, like all wines from the Southwest Wine Center, made by the students of the Viticultural and Enology program at Yavapai College. The 2017 Amphoria is medium-bodied rosé which is a lovely light salmon pink hue.

The Nose: The 2017 Amphoria opens with aroma notes of grapefruit, pomelo, fennel,  and sage, rounding out with hints of strawberry, peach blossom, and acacia blossom. Subtle hints of minerality and the faintest hint of black pepper lurk beneath the fruit, herbs, and flowers.  As the wine opens in the glass, notes of apple, apricot, and rose petals emerge.

The Palate: This wine is a well-integrated, medium-bodied rosé with mouthwatering acidity and slight tannins. There is a hefty load of citrus on the palate, with notes of pomelo and grapefruit intermingling with strawberry, rosehips, sage, papaya, and acacia. The finish of the 2017 Amphoria lasts for 52 seconds, filled with notes of papaya, guava, pomelo, thyme, with subtle hints of black pepper, coriander, and pottery/schist.  

The Pairing: I really want to pair the 2017 Amphoria with roasted goose. Or quail, cooked in a coq au vin style.  Birds, in general, strike me as a good pairing for this wine.  Rich Chinese food dishes would also potentially work well, offering a vegetarian or vegan pairing option, if that is your thing.

Impressions:  This is a great local rose made in an interesting way, and I suspect that the minerality notes are actually imparted by the use of Amphorae to age this wine, as they seem to have the same “placement” in the palate structure that oak tends to (at least, for me), and it is a different sort of minerality than I typically associate with whites and rosé coming from Willcox.  (I will put on my geologist hat for a moment here: the minerality in this vintage is more like licking a piece of schist, or even ancient Hohokam pottery, rather than a piece of limestone.)

Now, the question from a neuroenological perspective is: Is my brain tricking me into thinking this, or is it an actual flavor difference? (Is neuroenological a word? It needs to be a word.) I honestly don’t know, but what I do know is that I get this same schist-earthenware flavor note in the few Qveri-aged Georgian wines I’ve tried over the years, which are aged in a similar style. That’s the neat thing about this wine; it’s a good conversation starter between wine geeks.

Personified, this wine makes me think of sitting inside on a cold winter’s day, staring at snow out the window, and wishing for wildflowers and roses in springtime.  This bottle is drinking great now (which makes sense, considering the style), but I suspect could age for another year easily.  I do not recommend aging this wine for more than a year.

2017 Amphoria

These are some of the grapes that went into this vintage.

Deep Sky Vineyard: 2013 Aurora Viognier


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As I’ve mentioned before, Deep Sky Vineyard is focused upon astronomical themes for their label, and the 2013 Aurora Viognier is no exception to the rule. (I always felt that the names of the Aurora and Nebula should have been switched, but that’s just me.) I picked this bottle up in the tasting room on my birthday in their gorgeous new tasting room and winery in Sonoita, Arizona. Naturally, I decided that as befitting the theme for these wines, I had to drink and photograph this vintage during a spectacular astronomical phenomenon: the Gemenid meteor shower. (After all, the last time I saw an Aurora in Arizona was in March 2001, which was ironically on the same night I got interested in wine in the first place…)

2013 Aurora

The 2013 Aurora Viognier and a wayward Geminid meteor.

The Wine: I was not able to acquire a tech sheet for this vintage, so some of the following is guesswork. What I do know: the grapes of this vintage were sourced from the Deep Sky Vineyard in the Willcox AVA, and the wine was made in the Aridus facility, likely by Rob Hammelman. (James Callahan is the new winemaker for Deep Sky, for the record.) I am guessing that this wine was fermented in neutral oak, and aged in stainless steel. (I could be wrong, if I find out one way or the other I shall amend this post.) I also suspect this wine may have gone through a partial Malolactic fermentation. Like most Arizona Viognier, the 2013 Aurora is a medium-bodied white; blonde in color.

The Nose: The nose of the 2013 Aurora opens with notes of honey, apricot, pear, white peach, acacia, gardenia, intermingling with aromas of vanilla and brown sugar. Honey is to be expected in an aged Arizona Viognier, I have noticed.

The Palate: Notes of Peach, apricot, honeydew, honey, apple, pear, and orange peel intermingle with notes of white tea on the palate of the 2013 Aurora. This wine is medium-bodied, with medium acidity. The finish is filled with the typical minerality I associate with the Willcox AVA, intermingling with what honestly reminds me of Danish butter cookies, apricot, and white tea, lasting for 46 seconds.

Pairing: Viognier is a very friendly wine for the holidays; it will pair well with duck, turkey, and honey-baked ham. The 2013 Aurora is no exception to this. For a vegetarian or vegan pairing, a low-spice Pad Thai dish with lots of coconut and curry would also work quite well.

Impressions: The 2013 Aurora is a good example of what I could almost call (after tasting many of them) the Standard Arizona Viognier. Viognier tends to age relatively well here in Arizona (you can hold onto bottles for a while), but I feel that 2013 Vintages will be nearing their peak in the next year or so. Drink or hold this vintage, but hold it no more than another 2 years or so.

Personified, this vintage is like a blonde scientist, her eyes glued to the telescope, stirring her spiced chai in the cold of a mountain night.

2013 Aurora

Distant clouds glow like an aurora here…

Thirty-Three Degrees: 2014 Sangiovese


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The last time we met a wine from the Thirty-Three degrees label was in a podcast, recorded with the winemaker, where we also briefly talked about the inaugural vintages of Malvasia, Petit Sirah, and Tempranillo. I meant to review the Thirty-Three Degrees 2014 Sangiovese late last summer, but life got away from me at the time. Better late than never, and considering the age-worthy nature of Sangiovese from Arizona in general, this isn’t a bad thing.

2014 Sangiovese

Here, the Thirty-Three Degrees Sangiovese stands against an old stone wall with memories of the past…

The Wine: The Thirty-Three Degrees Sangiovese was sourced from Todd Bostock’s Cimmaron Vineyard, in the heart of the Willcox AVA.  The wine was made using the standard bin fermentation method and pressed after 7 days macerating on the skins.    The 2014 Sangiovese was aged for 20 months in neutral French oak.  Tim White was the winemaker for this vintage.  This sangiovese is pretty dark; a rich garnet red.

The Nose: The nose of the 2014 Sangiovese opens with notes of cherry, red plum, oregano, rose petals, vanilla, and hints of roasted pecans and nutmeg. After decanting, additional notes of violets, pomegranate, fennel, and a slight hint of mint emerge.

The Palate: The Thirty-three Degrees 2014 Sangiovese is a fruit-forward, medium-bodied Sangiovese with high acidity and medium levels of tannins.  The palate of this wine opens with notes of cherry, plum, cinnamon, and violets, intermingling with rosehips, dust, tomato, and toasted pecans. Before decanting, the finish of this wine lasts for 47 seconds, filled with nutty, leathery tannins, cherry, anise, and dusty earth.  After decanting, additional notes of mint, plum, fennel, and myrrh emerge on the palate, and the finish lasts for 52 seconds.

The Pairing: Like any Sangiovese, the 2014 Sangiovese would pair very well with pizza: especially one with a hand-made crust, with red sauce, taleggio cheese, basil, and mushrooms. If you are of a carnivorous bent, throw some finocchiona salami onto this pizza for a fun treat.

Impressions: The 2014 Sangiovese from Hidden Hand is a bit of a more riper, New World style, in comparison to the many more Italian style versions of this grape coming from Arizona; it’s far more fruit forward, rather than earthy.  This is an excellent demonstration of the versatility of Sangiovese in Arizona. After drinking this vintage, I tried a 2007 Sangiovese from California that I suspect resembles what this vintage will become with a similar amount of aging: entirely juicy fruit and acidity, with the tannins having faded away.  Therefore, I do strongly recommend cellaring this vintage for a good 5-10 years.

Label Notes: The label was designed by Daniel Martin Diaz, and features a weeping eye with rays of light. I asked Daniel to explain the label he designed, thinking that it was partially a nod to Masonic imagery, (which makes sense, as the successor to this label, Hidden Veil, will eventually be sold in the old mason lodge in Cottonwood.) I was wrong.

Daniel writes: “Personally, the weeping eye signifies the pain and suffering one goes through for what they believe in. It could be working hard at something for years. Honing in a skill that eventually leads to success. Not a monetary success but, a spiritual success. A positive moral quest. Not religious with all the bullshit dogmas. But, a Zen success. The drip or drop could represent the Blood, Sweat, and Tears one goes through to achieve a goal. The eye is the ability in envision or manifest an idea into fruition.”


Garage-East: 2017 New Wine


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In France, the first wine of the harvest year, Beaujolais Nouveau, is a cause for celebration and feasts. People wait with baited breath for the release, as it is often the first indication of how good the harvest was in any given year. The release is the same day every year: the third Thursday of November. The style is often described by wine critics as a wine which intended to be enjoyed but not analyzed, and quaffed rather than sipped. (Oops.) As an homage to that tradition, Garage-East has released their second Arizona “New Wine,” although this one is not made from Gamay at all…

2017 New Wine

The 2017 New Wine from Garage East is the perfect holiday wine.

The Wine: The 2017 New Wine is, like Beaujolais, made using a process of carbonic maceration. This is a whole berry anaerobic fermentation which tends to emphasize fruit flavors, without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins. In this process, grapes usually loaded into a sealed container that is filled with carbon dioxide; though for this vintage it was an open-top fermenter. Grapes that are gently crushed at the bottom of the container by the weight of their compatriots start to ferment normally, emitting more CO2. All this carbon dioxide causes an enzymatic fermentation to take place inside the uncrushed grapes. This tends to produce a light-bodied, light-colored, fruit forward wine, and this vintage is no exception. But this is where the resemblance to Beaujolais Nouveau ends. The 2017 New Wine Vintage from Garage East is made from a co-fermented blend of 50% Tannat and 50% Counoise, sourced from Cimmaron Vineyard in the Willcox AVA, and was then released in 1-liter cans. (last year, it was made from Aleatico.) The cool thing about this particular blend is that Tannat is one of the last grapes I would expect to use a carbonic fermentation process on, so I was really excited to try this.

The Nose: The nose opens with aromas of stewed boysenberries, prickly pear, lime-candied cranberries, and herbs like rosemary and creosote.  Additional notes of strawberries and watermelon jolly rancher. It is bright and fruity!

The Palate: This wine is a light-bodied, fruit forward red with high acidity, and just a tiny bit of tannins. The palate opens with flavors of red vines, prickly pear, strawberry, watermelon, and a bit of smokey creosote, along with just a bit of effervescence. The finish lasts for 45 seconds, with notes of anise, nutmeg, watermelon jolly rancher, flint, while that effervescence dances across the tongue.

The Pairing: Gary and I ended up pairing the 2017 New Wine wine with Thanksgiving; though our Thanksgiving was a bit unorthodox with Turkey Gyros and a Mediterranean theme. That being said, this style is a perfect wine for Thanksgiving turkey, or really, any other holiday meal (like honey-baked ham and the like).  

Impressions: Gary chided me for taking notes on this wine and quantifying it, accusing me of quantifying the unquantifiable, and in a sense, he is absolutely right.  As mentioned above, wine critics who have a much bigger readership than myself tend to see this as a wine to be enjoyed, rather than analyzed, and this is a correct assessment of this style.  It is light, rich, fun, and savory. It is a great wine to be enjoyed with friends, or alone.

The 2017 New Wine from Garage-East is kind of like your genuinely happy, and bubbly close friend.  No matter what happens in life, she is always optimistic and can find the silver lining in everything. She wants to see you cheered up from your dour mood.  And that’s more or less how this wine operates! Tannat can be so big, broody, and tannic, but here it’s bright, young, and exuberant.

I could also describe this wine (and did, at the Thanksgiving table) as being kind of like a hot date… except I’m actually enjoying it.  Thankfully, the folks at Garage-East made a lot more of this vintage than last year’s, so there are still some cans to be had in their tasting room in Gilbert.


Sand-Reckoner: 2014 Red Tree Ranch Syrah


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The Chiricahua Foothills are a very different place from the rich, agricultural soils of the Willcox Bench which forms the heartland of the Willcox AVA. Here, the prehistoric paroxysms of ancient supervolcanic eruptions have provided an entirely different geology of eroded granites and tuff from the volcanoes, along with gneiss thrust up from the once-tortured earth. These soils eventually formed a sandy loam interspersed with gravel and cobbles, creating the unique soils at the remote Red Tree Ranch Vineyard. This vineyard is located at about 4,975 feet above the Willcox basin. The 2014 Red Tree Ranch Syrah is the first vintage which Rob Hammelman has created to showcase the terroir of this particular vineyard site. Indeed, I believe this is the first vintage depicting a labyrinth on the label. According to Hammelman, this symbol will be used to designate specific unique vineyard explorations of terroir.

Red tree ranch syrah

The 2014 Red Tree Ranch Syrah, atop Mingus Mountain.

The Wine: The 2014 Red Tree Ranch Syrah is 100% Syrah, sourced from the aforementioned Red Tree Ranch vineyard in the Chiricahua foothills. This wine spent 4 weeks on the skins during fermentation, and was aged for 18 months in old French oak barrels, on the lees. This wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The wine is a rich, deep garnet color; darker than many Syrah vintages to be found in the state. It is also more full-bodied than many other vintages of this varietal here in Arizona.

The Nose: The nose of the Red Tree Ranch Syrah is reminiscent of Syrah from cooler climates, like the Northern Rhone. This vintage opens with a resounding cavalcade of olive tapenade, boysenberry, latakia/perique pipe tobacco, cherry, and creosote, intermingling with additional pomegranate, allspice, graphite dust, and anise. After decanting for some time, the rich scent of olives vanishes, replaced by additional notes of myrrh, violets, lavender, and cinnamon.

The Palate: This is a full-bodied, intensely tannic syrah with high acidity. Indeed, these tannins, when first opened, simultaneously lash the tongue and grasp it tightly, intermingling with rich, flinty earth, and cedar woodsmoke.  It is only after a moment that other, more delicate flavors emerge from this tannic monolith: violets, pomegranate, cherry, latakia tobacco, and nutmeg.  The finish lasts for 43 seconds, filled with notes of rosemary, tobacco, anise, cherry, and with big lingering tannins and acidity. After decanting for almost two hours, those sharp, leathery tannins which lash the tongue begin to fade into a more mellowed, leathery quality, intermingling with additional notes of cherry, rosemary, and lavender along with the aforementioned flavors; the finish, still filled with tannins and juicy acidity, lasts for a minute and thirty-seven seconds.

The Pairing: This is a syrah that demands smokey, rich foods, like lamb, venison, or beef spare ribs, smoked and grilled with lots of herbs, with perhaps a touch of prickly pear fruit juice for flavor. However, if you seek a vegan or lenten pairing, a French Onion Soup would do the trick. In general, I feel if you treat the 2014 Red Tree Ranch Syrah as you would a vintage from the Northern Rhone in terms of food pairing, you should end up quite pleased.

Impressions: Longtime readers and listeners to the podcast version of this blog may remember when I compared an estate Syrah from Sand-Reckoner to a Cornas from the Northern Rhone. In retrospect, this bottle should have been the one used in that podcast instead, as it is very similar to me in a lot of aspects.  The main difference is that the Red Tree Ranch is less monstrously tannic in comparison, but there are enough similarities to resonate.  If you like Cornas or Crozes-Hermitage, you will like this Syrah immensely.  In fact, I would also consider aging this vintage as you would a good vintage from the Northern Rhone; it should cellar well for at least another 10 years.

The more Syrah I drink from Arizona, the more I feel this is a grape that produces inconsistent vintages here, but when it is good, it is deeply satisfying. In my opinion, this is currently one of the best, or at least most unique and intriguing Syrahs to be found in any tasting room in Arizona, and should not be missed, especially, once again, if you dig Northern Rhone Syrah. The aromas to be found on the nose are especially intriguing; I could sit with my nose in the glass for hours. Indeed, it is the unique aromas that bring to mind the characterization of this wine to me: Mayor Pamela Winchell, from the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. (I suppose this is where I note that the whole town featured in the podcast is, to me at least, eerily reminiscent of Willcox itself.) The 2014 Red Tree Ranch Syrah is simultaneously brash, bold, weird, fascinating, striking, beautiful, and subtle all at once.

(Admittedly, this characterization is mostly due to Episode 17 [“Valentine’s Day”], where Mayor Winchell says: “The Mayor smells of olives. The Mayor burns like a match tip and casts her flickering light on the darkened path of fate. The Mayor does not have keys to the Stone Door; the Mayor is the Stone Door and all that quivers behind it. The Mayor is forgiving. The Mayor makes no mistakes. The Mayor clutches tightly to your lungs, all six arms embracing your savory breaths. Let the Mayor out. Let the Mayor out. Let the Mayor out.”  Which… ironically is a pretty good description of how this wine feels on the palate when I first opened the bottle, at least in my opinion.)

Red tree Ranch Syrah

Another view of this Syrah, looking across the Black Hills.

Oddity Wine Collective: 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma


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Some wines evoke images in the mind when imbibed.  For others, it is the label on the shelf that evokes ideas.  And for still other vintages, the name of the wine itself can provide curious images to the consumer. The 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma from Oddity Wine Collective is one of those. For me, that mental image is of Victorian-era scholars standing dumbfounded over an Archaeopteryx skeleton emerging from a limestone slab–or of me spending late nights hunched over a computer in the dark, playing games based on Jurassic Park, and frustratingly clicking a mouse frantically trying to get the game to operate. Luckily, this wine is far more enjoyable and less frustrating than those game nights back in high school! Anyway, onto the wine.

Darwin's Dilemma

The 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma from Oddity Wine Collective among rocks from the Supai Group overlooking the Verde Valley.

The Wine: The 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma is made from 50% Counoise and 50% Mourvèdre, sourced from Deep Sky Vineyard. These grapes were destemmed together, and then cofermented. The wine spent 9 days on the skins during fermentation. This wine was then aged in 100% neutral American oak. The wine was made at the Four-Eight wineworks facility in Camp Verde by Aaron Weiss. These two varietals are, as it happens, among the last grapes to be typically harvested in Arizona, so this was the plan for this vintage all along. The name, Darwin’s Dilemma, is a holdover from when Bree and Aaron wanted to create a label called Vinosaur Cellars. That name was already taken, as it turned out, but the team at oDDity liked Darwin’s Dilemma and decided to carry it over into a new era. The color of this wine is a bright ruby-red, with some translucent character–indicative of a medium-bodied red wine. The pH of this wine is 3.95, making for a food-friendly blend.

The Nose: The nose of the Darwin’s Dilemma launches with explosive juicy fruit notes that reminded me of a forest berry pie, straight out of the oven: raspberry, cherry, boysenberry, and elderberry, and, oddly for a red, apple, intermingling with vanilla, petrichor, sandalwood, sage, and earth. As the wine opens up, additional notes of nutmeg, purple flowers, allspice, and anise emerge.

The Palate: The 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma opens with notes of cherry, apricot (again, odd for a red), plum, white pepper, boysenberry, and sandalwood. The fruit notes are bright, and almost refreshing in character. This wine has high acidity and slight, velvety tannins. The finish of this wine lasts for 28 seconds, with notes of anise, dust, flint, white pepper, and cigar tobacco emerging during this time.

Impressions: oDDity likes to do fun, interesting wines that generate a lot of contemplative thoughts. While it may seem odd to release a red blend this early, the 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma strikes me as a great young red blend that is near its prime. Cellaring this wine for longer than another two years strikes me as unnecessary when this wine is tasting so great right now.  You could, mind you…and it will still be good, but why? This wine is a fun, hip, easy-going exploration into two late-ripening varietals that do fun things in Arizona’s unique terroir.

The Pairing: While light enough to potentially work with smoked or deep-fried turkey, I feel as if the Darwin’s Dilemma will shine with a cheeseburger or ribs; it strikes me as a good wine for a cookout. If you want to be fancy, Rhône-style cuisine like a nice coq-au-vin, or a vegan ratatouille will work nicely.

This wine makes me think of a sassy, smart research associate specializing in Molecular biology and DNA hybridization, seeking to make sense of the complicated order of life found on our planet. You have no idea how she makes Cladistics fun, but she does after a few shots. She has also found a unique way to explain how CRISPR works using the bowl of stale Chex mix at the bar.

Podcast: Châteauneuf-du-Pape vs. Chateau Tumbleweed


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I’ve delayed posting this podcast for a long time because of Reasons, but the camaraderie and wine should still be shared… and here it is!  Finally.

In this podcast, my friends Abby, Chad, James and myself compare the Wild Will E. Cox from Chateau Tumbleweed (100% Arizona grapes) to a classic Vieux Telegraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhone, while eating a really fancy meal cooked up by Abby, one of the masters of the Flat Iron. Who will win? You’ll possibly be surprised.

Rhone vs. Arizona

(Since I hate clickbait, I’ll tell you. Arizona wins… but not because of why you would think.)

This podcast, recorded back in July, is kind of the first in the “Let’s compare Arizona versus the World” series I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Consider this the first Rhone vs. Arizona podcast.

Rhone vs. Arizona

The food was amazing. Thanks again, Abby and Chad!