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Recently, word came to me that a vineyard and winery down in Willcox that I was not familiar with (outside of following them on Facebook) was releasing its first vintage. I naturally set forth to acquire a bottle as soon as possible, to review. (I figure extra publicity for them wouldn’t work, but that’s probably giving myself far too much credit as a voice for the industry at this point.) Life, however, has gotten in the way of my wine drinking, so it took me a couple of weeks longer to get to this wine than I intended. And so, with some further ado, I introduce the 2013 Big Paw Syrah from Four Tails Vineyard, a wonderfully classic Arizona Syrah.
The Vineyard: Owned and operated by Cale and Barb Coons, Four Tails Vineyard is nestled at the base of the Dragoon Mountains in Pearce AZ. The name, “Four Tails” comes from the four-legged greeters at the vineyard; all adopted rescue dogs with unique personalities. The property was originally owned by Lew and Alice McGuire, Cale’s grandparents. Cale and Barb have therefore been regular visitors to the area since the mid-90s and always helped out with chores around the small cattle ranch.
In 2013 Cale and Barb purchased 40 acres of property from the estate of Cale’s grandparents and Four Tails Vineyard was launched. With the help of many friends from the local viticultural community, Cale and Barb began the challenging task of starting the vineyard. The small block test area was planted in 2013 with the additional big block planted in 2014 for a total of 5 acres of vines. The 5 acres planted includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, and Viognier.
Four Tails Vineyard is located at 274 E Pearce Rd, just a few miles west of Historic Pearce. The vineyard is not currently open to the public, but it will be open by appointment in the future, and will also eventually have an on-site winery. They expect their first harvest of estate fruit, their Cabernet Sauvignon, to be this year; they hope to release their next vintage in bottle, a Viognier, later this year.
The Wine: The grapes for this particular vintage came from the Pillsbury Vineyards, located on the Willcox bench; the same vineyard where many of the grapes for Rune Winery are sourced, as well as the Symphony in the Duet from Flying Leap, and, of course, everything from Pillsbury Winery. This wine spent 18 months on neutral French oak. The winemaker for the 2013 Big Paw Syrah was James Callahan. The color of this wine is a stunning, crisp, deep garnet.
The Nose: The nose is largely that of a classic Arizona syrah, with notes of smokey latakia, dark cherry, sagebrush after a monsoon rain, along with clove and allspice. After the wine has had time to open, aromas of vanilla, boysenberry, thyme, and, oddly, mint emerge from the glass. The smell makes me think also of juniper and pinewood smoke around the campfires I experienced when I was young.
The Palate: The palate of this wine is pretty smooth, with bunches of that classic Arizona spice cabinet of anise, clove, allspice, and tarragon. Hints of white pepper and latakia intermingles with boysenberry, pomegranate, rosemary, black cherry, and a little bit of smoke. It has a lovely luxurious mouthfeel, with an excellent balance between tannins and acidity; you could either drink this with food or on it’s own. The finish lasts between 17-22 seconds at this point in time.
Pairing: BBQ Ribs, slow-smoked and slow roasted on mesquite or applewood. Seriously, ribs with this wine is a no-brainer. Grilled or smoked portobello mushrooms would work, if you need a vegetarian or vegan pairing.
Impression: I’ve always liked Arizona Syrah. It’s delicate like Rhone Syrah, but sometimes has the fruit and kick of the warm climate versions. It’s a nice combination of characteristics of both warm and cool climate Syrahs here in the state, and if you want an introduction to this grape here in Arizona, the 2013 Big Paw Syrah is a great one to reach for first. There’s also some tannins here which indicate that you could hold onto this for a while longer, if you like, but if you’re looking for a wine for a summer cookout, this is perfect.
This Syrah is lounging on a white chaise lounge in a red dress, with turquoise ear-rings and a simple gold necklace of an aspen leaf around her neck. She has a tattoo beginning on her ankle that runs up her leg depicting a grape vine, done in simple black-and-white, along with another on her sleeve in ancient Sumerian that nobody knows how to read but her. She’s brunette, with long hair, casually reading a copy of The Drunken Botanist, while a hookah resides next to her, filled with rose-flavored tobacco.
Additional comments: The more Arizona Syrahs I drink, the more I think that, tastewise, this really is one of our best varietals here. I am well aware that sometimes Syrah has its own eccentricities in the vineyard that can make it difficult to work with, but I think we should keep at it. Something else I’ve noticed is that most Syrah from Arizona does have notes of latakia and often mint; it’s something that distinguishes our syrahs here from elsewhere, at least to my palate, and this combination is something that often tells me in a blind tasting that “This Syrah is from Arizona”. (Syrah from Lebanon does also often have a latakia note, but these wines are harder to find here.)