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Hidden away in Clarkdale, the Southwest Wine Center at Yavapai College promises to be the focal point for the next generation of local winemakers and grape-growers to learn their craft. On site, students learn everything they need to know to become the next movers and shakers in the industry.
In fact, there’s a lot of cool experiments going on in the vineyards there, being performed by the folks at Merkin Vineyards that I am totally geeking out about. Some of these involve water usage; two rows of the vineyard will be dry farmed completely, while another two rows are being watered until flowering, and then dry farmed. Another set of experiments involve bringing down 50% of the vineyard to a single shoot and cluster combo (most vines are pruned to have two). Furthermore, some rows will be pruned to have only the top cluster producing fruit, and the others the bottom cluster; the rationale here is to determine whether cluster placement has a direct influence on fruit and wine quality and chemistry.
The idea behind these projects is to determine the best possible way to make wine here in Arizona. It also just so happens that they are growing several grapes which are found nowhere else in the state, and one of them is the centerpiece for the Four-Eight Wineworks Red. The newest iteration of this vintage is made from 100% negroamaro grapes.
“But, Wine Monk, what IS negroamaro? Why haven’t I heard of it?” Well… it’s a grape that’s so hipster that even I haven’t had all that much experience with it! Grown primarily in the heel of Southern Italy, the name literally translates to “dark and sour.” According to Wine Grapes, by Jancis Robinson (or as I like to call it, “My Big Red Sacred Wine Book”) this grape is known for growing well in calcareous soils, and being drought-resistant, which is why Maynard Keenan and the crew at the Southwest Wine Center and Merkin Vineyards decided to experiment with planting this grape here in the Verde Valley.
The 2013 Four-Eight Wineworks Red is the first vintage of this grape produced in Arizona, and some of the first fruits of these experiments. In the glass, the “dark and sour” moniker certainly fits, for it is one of the darkest, most brooding wines I’ve seen coming from the Verde Valley, almost mahogany in color. The wine is more than a little herbaceous on the nose, with notes of anise, eucalyptus, rosemary, and mint, intermingling with hints of cassis and plum. After being decanted for a few hours, however, this wine opens up with new aromas of monsoon petrichor, cumin, and raspberry.
The palate continues the dark and sour theme; there’s a lot of tannins to be found here. The Four-Eight Wineworks Red is deep, and brooding, if a bit simplistic when first poured from the bottle, with prominent notes of sharp plum, sour mulberry and blackberry, intermingling with an almost rosemary-cilantro like quality that is quite difficult to describe, alongside a high tannin load. There’s also a lot of acidity in this wine, too. Directly out of the bottle, the finish of this wine lasts for 36 seconds. When decanted, however, the wine becomes far richer, with notes of earth, raspberry, and cherry, and the finish lasts longer, clocking in at just shy of 2 minutes. (This is why you should decant, my friends! It adds to your enjoyment, even if it means you can’t drink nearly as fast!)
In terms of food parings for this wine, because of that high tannin load you will want something heavy, like a slow-baked lamb or elk steak, with rosemary and waxy potatoes and maybe some Parmesan cheese. A great vegan or vegetarian pairing for this wine would be a pepperonata stew, made of onion, garlic, and peppers with tomatoes and basil, and perhaps a few morels thrown in (if you have any; I certainly don’t).
This wine, being deep and broody, is decidedly a pretty, introverted writer fond of blue eye-shadow, who is quite shy when you first meet her. Once you sit with her for a while, she opens up quite a bit about experiences that influenced her poetry, but patience is required, and do not expect to know this wine thoroughly straight out of the bottle. The high tannins and high acidity mean that this wine should cellar pretty well, too. 110 cases of the Four-Eight Wineworks Red were produced, and you can grab your bottle at the Four-Eight Wineworks tasting room for $32.