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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.
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.