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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.