Dektown Cellars: 2013 Checkmate


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Fort Bowie Vineyards has been dead and gone for over a year now and for some people, the wound still is fresh. It was a major source of fruit for many winemakers in Arizona. It still happens that I have a few bottles of wine made with from fruit sourced from this vineyard… and since I was thinking about the transience of things in the earthly realm, I figured it would be fitting to open one of those bottles while looking for fossils along the Mogollon Rim. I decided on the 2013 Checkmate from Dektown Cellars.

2013 Checkmate

The 2013 Checkmate from Dektown Cellars is made from 100% Merlot sourced from Fort Bowie Vineyard.

The Wine: The 2013 Checkmate is made from 100% Merlot, sourced from Fort Bowie Vineyards, which was once located in the small town of Bowie, Arizona. The wine was aged in French oak.  The wine was made by Kimberley Meyers at Pillsbury. It is a dark garnet color; lighter than Merlot from California, but still darker than many other vintages I’ve encountered in Arizona except for a precious few.

The Nose: The nose at first is very tight, with notes of cassis, blackberry, raspberry, mulberry, intermingling with pomegranate and sandalwood notes.  After decanting, additional aromas of lilac, Cavendish pipe tobacco, earthy petrichor, and anise emerge.

The Palate: The palate opens with cassis, blackberry, black cherry, and plum, with nice acidity, medium tannins, but is still pretty tight at the opening.  The finish of this wine has notes of rich earth, flint, cassis, anise, and lilac on the finish, with medium acidity, lasting for 53 seconds.  After decanting, additional notes of Cavendish pipe tobacco, and bay leaves emerge on the palate.

Pairing: I feel the 2013 Checkmate would pair very well with a nice New York strip steak, with a side of grilled asparagus and a baked potato.  For a vegetarian pairing, focus on mushroom based dishes–a nice mushroom Lasagna will work quite well.

Impressions: The 2013 Checkmate is a very satisfying Merlot overall, and a good sendoff to Fort Bowie of Blessed Memory. A bottle of this wine is well worth the potentially difficult trek to acquire; though Kimberly Meyer is happy to help you out if you reach out to her.  This wine could age very well for another few years yet; drink now, or cellar for an additional 3-5 years.


Cellar Dwellers: 2009 Tarantula Hawk


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In that brief Indian Summer between the end of Monsoon and the coming of the first chilly nights, the desert is full of Tarantula Hawks, a fascinating giant wasp that has adapted and evolved to hunt tarantulas as nurseries for their young. It is also, in my opinion, pretty much the only wasp that isn’t an asshole–they keep to themselves instead of attacking people. This jaw-dropping insect is the namesake for the Zinfandel produced by Cellar Dwellers. It just so happens that I had a bottle of one of the earliest vintages of this wine in my stash. Knowing that Zin doesn’t have the longevity of other reds, I decided I should crack open my bottle of the 2009 Tarantula Hawk.

2009 tarantula hawk

The 2009 Tarantula Hawk Zinfandel is a blast from the past.

The Wine:  The 2009 Tarantula Hawk is made from 100% Zinfandel, sourced from Golden Rule Vineyards near Dragoon, Arizona. This wine was made by John Scarbrough at Page Springs Cellars.  I am guessing, based on the palate, that this vintage was aged at least partially in American oak–as is the tradition for Zinfandel.  The wine is beginning to show its age: the rich vibrant color of Zin is starting to fade on the edge to burnt orange and maroon.

The Nose: The nose of this wine is still surprisingly vibrant, with notes of spiced plum, nutmeg, cherry, and mulberry. Additional notes of anise, black pepper and myrrh round out the bouquet of the 2009 Tarantula Hawk.

The Palate: This is a full-bodied Zinfandel, beginning to show its age.  There are next to no tannins left in the 2009 Tarantula Hawk; the few that are left are soft and velvety, providing a full-bodied, soft mouthfeel, with medium acidity. This wine opens with notes of spiced plum, nutmeg, vanilla, mulberry, and cassis.  As the wine opens, anise and earthy black pepper emerge. The finish lasts 38 seconds, with earthy notes, black pepper, and brambly jam.

Pairing: I would pair this wine with the food you would associate with the last cookout of summer: pulled pork, ribs, and that ilk. Roasted veggies would make for a great vegan or vegetarian pairing for this vintage.

Impressions: Long-time readers, or those who know me personally, know that I am decidedly not fond of Zinfandel in most cases.  Even some of the best, world-class Zinfandels coming from old vines in California or Primitivo really don’t float my boat.  It’s just my palate.  That proviso being said, the fact that this particular Zin has aged 8 years and aged well says a great deal about the skill of the winemaker and the quality of the vintage.  It is starting to show its age, yes, but it is still a quality vintage–to the point where I actually kind of liked it for a Zinfandel!

That being said, if you still happen to have a bottle of the 2009 Tarantula Hawk in your stash, drink this wine now, as it is at the edge of its peak. Past this year, it will begin its slow descent, and won’t be enjoyable.

Personified, this wine is an older Entymology professor, tweed on his coat, teaching classes on bug identification, a year from retirement.

Pairing Arizona Wine with Halloween Candy


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Autumn has finally arrived here in Northern Arizona; that beloved season filled with falling leaves, cooling temperatures, and pumpkin spice infused EVERYTHING. It is also a season for transition; time toring out the bottles of red for cold winter nights. It is the season for finishing up fermentation and racking everything in barrels to wait for the bottle and the shelf. Most importantly, however, October is time for Halloween, which means candy. Lots and lots of candy. In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d pair some of our fantastic Arizona wines with candy you can steal from your child’s trick-or-treating haul. Or… you know, buying aforementioned candy yourself since you’re a grownup and don’t need to rely on stealing candy from a baby to get what you want. Without further ado, let’s get started. All pairings are based on a combination of the flavor of the given candy, and texture of the sweet item in question, and how well it goes with the flavor and mouth-feel of the featured wine. All wines are from Verde Valley wineries.


Chardonnay is often touted as the premiere pairing for the often-maligned dark horse candy of Halloween: Candy Corn. This actually makes a great deal of intuitive sense, as Chardonnay often has the same sort of reputation in many circles. Sourced from Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard in the Willcox AVA, the 2016 Trademarked (formerly called The Matriarch) is a stellar example of this often-ridiculed grape. Winemaker Corey Turnbull elected to take a Burgundian approach to his latest vintage, aging this wine in 10% new French oak for 10 months, and inhibiting malolactic fermentation. On the nose, rich aromas of vanilla intermingle with smoked Meyer lemon, grapefruit, green apple and apricot, with a slight hint of limestone dust. On the palate, the vibrant acidity of this vintage stands like a granite monolith against a backdrop of rich apricots, sliced pears, limestone, cliff rose, peaches, and starfruit. The finish of this wine lasts for 1 minute and 10 seconds. The Burgundian-style flavor profile of the 2016 Trademarked will also pair rather well with a few other Halloween candies, namely Butterfingers, and Starbursts. Grab your bottle from their tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood for $28.


For fans of the peanut buttery goodness of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, look no further than the 2015 Chupacabra. This Rhone-style Blend has been a staple of MJ Keenan’s Merkin label for many years; the 2015 vintage is a blend of 45% Grenache, 40% Syrah, and 15% Mourvedre, sourced from Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard, in the Willcox AVA. Aged in both neutral and new French oak barriques, the Chupacabra is a classic take on the GSM blends we do so well here. On the nose, this wine opens with notes of cherry, rhubarb, petrichor, vanilla, violets, latakia pipe tobacco, anise, and rich earth. The palate of this medium-bodied red is a bit young and very tight at first, with cherry, leathery tannins, and tobacco notes. After the wine opens, additional notes of anise, black pepper, dust, and violets emerge on the palate. The finish of this wine lasts for 50 seconds, and is filled with notes of anise and raspberry. A bottle of this wine will run you $24 at the Merkin Osteria in Old Town Cottonwood.


I love Shiraz, and Shiraz-based blends. This côte-rotie style co-ferment of 97% Shiraz and 3% Symphony from Pillsbury Wine Company is one of my favorites to be found in any tasting room of the Verde Valley. Sourced from Sam’s vineyard in the Willcox AVA, the 2014 Guns and Kisses is a stellar example of the Shriraz/Syrah wines (it’s the same grape, sort of) that we make here in Arizona. The nose of this wine is rich, with aromas of petrichor, lilac, black cherry, plum, and orange blossom. On the palate, this wine is a rich medley of medium tannins, vanilla, dark cherry, cedar, frankincense, and incense. The finish of this wine lasts for 56 seconds, filled with dank, rich earth, explosive, bright fruit, and lilac. This vintage was made by James Callahan and Sam Pillsbury working in tandem. The rich flavor profile of the Guns and Kisses will work quite well with Snickers and Tootsie Rolls. A bottle of this wine will be $65.


Malbec has been gaining in popularity quite a bit lately, and it’s good to see some Arizona versions of this Argentinian mainstay. Considering the climate and soil geology of the Willcox region, it is perhaps no surprise that this grape seems to be here in Arizona to stay—great news if you’re trying to pair with Hershey’s Chocolate or M&Ms. (Fun Fact: Malbec is originally from Bordeaux!) Made by John Scarbrough, the 2016 Fire is technically a blend of 87% Malbec (Sourced from Carlson Creek Vineyard), and 13% Merlot (sourced from Paso Robles). The nose of this wine opens with the classic Malbec notes of jammy plum, raspberry, blackberry, cassis, and black cherry, intermingling with notes of vanilla and petrichor. This full-bodied red wine has some big, leathery tannins, and rich mulberry, blackberry, and cedar notes on the palate, intermingling with violets, plum, and black pepper. The finish lasts for 57 seconds, with nice acidity and rich tannins, intermingling with earth and petrichor. A bottle of the 2016 Fire will cost you $33.


The 2013 Dala is a stellar example of Cabernet Sauvignon from Arizona Stronghold that will be great with the Twix and Kit-Kats in your stash. Sourced from Bonita Springs Vineyard on the other side of Willcox from the Bench, this wine was again made by Corey Turnbull in his stint in the cellars. This big, bold red opens on the nose with aromas of rich vanilla and cedar, intermingling with black cherry, cassis, anise, and Willcox dust. On the palate, this full-bodied red seems at first only lightly tannic, but this is a deception. Instead, this wine saves its big, leathery tannins for a robust finish. Additional notes on the palate include anise, cherry, rhubarb, and strawberry, intermingling with woody vanilla, those aforementioned tannins, and sage. The finish of this wine lasts for 1 minute and 4 seconds. The 2013 Dala is the only wine in this article that will be easily acquired away from the tasting room, as it is distributed in many Arizona supermarkets, such as Safeway. The tasting room price for this bottle is $18.00. Pair this wine with the Kit-Kats and Twix bars in your stash.


The Cellar 433 Tasting room overlooks the dramatic vista of the Verde Valley, providing one of the best views of any tasting room in the state, pairing well with their unique blends. If you are seeking to pair your tart candy, such as Sweet Tarts, Red-Hots, Skittles, and Sour Patch Kids, The Moon from their Bitter Creek label will seem tailor-made for this purpose. This non-vintage blend of equal parts Gewürtztraminner, Malvasia Bianca, and Pinot Grigio is sourced from Dragoon Mountain Vineyard, and was made by John McLaughlin. On the nose, this light-bodied white wine opens with aromas of rose petals, tangerine, pears, and honey, with just a hint of limestone minerality. On the palate, this wine contains hints of orange peel, white tea, green apples, and pears, intermingling with allspice, honey, and that classic Willcox minerality. The finish of this wine lasts for 54 seconds and is filled with striking acidity, honey, and white tea. A bottle of The Moon will cost you $18.


Nebbiolo is a grape much beloved by wine geeks the world over, as it is known for producing some of the most famous Italian wines in the world. Made by Jason Domanico, the 2014 Nebbiolo from Passion Cellars is a uniquely Arizona take on this grape that will pair well with any Crunch bars or Krackel that you acquire on All Hallow’s Eve. These grapes were sourced from Dragoon Mountain Vineyards, near Willcox, and the vintage was aged in French oak for 24 months. While ghostly pale in color, this wine is a lot more than meets the eye. The classic aromas of “tar and roses” associated with this grape emerge on the nose, intermingling with notes of anise, petrichor, dust, strawberries, and raspberries. This wine has a hefty load of woody tannins and bright acidity, which play well with other flavor notes: mint, raspberry, cherry, anise, and earth. The finish of this wine lasts for 1 minute and 4 seconds, and is filled with dust, anise, and hints of vanilla. If you like Nebbiolo, this is a wine that should not be missed. A bottle of this wine will cost you $35 in the tasting room, located across from the House of Joy in Jerome

Southwest Wine Center: 2016 Mourvèdre


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The last time I was in the Southwest Wine Center tasting room, Phil and Michael said they had something special to share with me.  Lo and behold, it was their 2016 Mourvèdre, and they asked if I would be kind enough to review it prior to its release sometime this October.  Since I love this grape, and how it expresses itself in our high desert landscape, I couldn’t say no, especially since no other grape so typifies fall to me in the way pumpkin spice does for others. (If I had to pin down just why, I would say it has to be the rich, spiced scent of so many wines made with this grape.) So, I went out into the desert and poured myself a glass to welcome the first day of fall.

2016 Mourvèdre

The 2016 Mourvèdre from the Southwest Wine Center is a geeky vintage, perfect for the arrival of fall.

The Wine: The 2016 Mourvèdre from the Southwest Wine Center is made from… 100% Mourvèdre. The grapes were sourced from Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard, in the heart of the Willcox AVA. The grapes were harvested on September 1st, and fermentation for this vintage took place in open-top fermenters. The resulting wine was aged in neutral American oak for about 9 months. This Mourvèdre is a little lighter in color than some other vintages made from this grape here in Arizona: a translucent garnet hue. (This makes sense, as it feels to me a little lighter-bodied.) All wines offered at the Southwest Wine Center are made by students of the Yavapai College Viticulture and Oenology program.

The Nose: The 2016 Mourvèdre opens with aromas of boysenberry, cherry, cedar, vanilla, and strawberry, which intermingle with rosemary and rich, dusty earth. As the wine opens, additional notes of allspice, fennel, and tobacco emerge.

The Palate: As I mentioned above, this particular Mourvèdre is a lighter-bodied wine when compared to many of its brethren, with medium tannins and nice acidity.  This vintage opens with notes of cherry, juniper, strawberry, petrichor, and sage. The finish lasts for 41 seconds, filled with notes of flint, allspice, cherry, sage, and stonefruit.

The Pairing: I ended up pairing my bottle of the 2016 SWC Mourvèdre with my special pork pot roast recipe, which uses green chilis, red chilis, a lot of red wine, rosemary, and mushrooms. You could also easily pair this vintage with a similarly hearty venison stew. For a vegetarian or vegan pairing, a roasted veggie casserole will work wonders. Keep in mind that Mourvèdre is a great wine to pair with fall comfort foods in general!

Impressions: As I mentioned above, no wine signifies fall for me more than Mourvèdre, and this 2016 offering from the Southwest Wine Center is no exception. Since this vintage is lighter-bodied, it will be more easily approachable for the average consumer than some of the other, far more tannic, examples this state has to offer. This makes the SWC Mourvèdre a no-brainer for fall family affairs. This does mean that it will not age nearly as long, however, so I would recommend cellaring this vintage for no longer than three years. If you must decant this wine, do so for no more than a half hour before serving, but this isn’t a necessary step.

Personified, the 2016 Mourvèdre is feminine, with a penchant for wilderness camping and a degree in microbiology.  She is geeky enough to have her favorite soil bacteria.

2016 Mourvèdre

Here is the 2016 SWC Mourvèdre with my food pairing.

Chateau Tumbleweed: 2015 Arneis


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Arneis is an interesting grape that comes from the Piedmont Region of Italy, most commonly found in the hills of the Roero. The name comes from the Piedmontese dialect for “Little Rascal,” since it is apparently very difficult to grow.  Historically, this grape was often blended with Nebbiolo, to lighten the tannins of that grape. Interestingly, it was also planted alongside Nebbiolo both for use in field blends and with the (dubious) with the aim of having the sweet scent of ripe Arneis berries attract birds and bees, so as to keep them away from the more valuable Nebbiolo clusters. (The reason why this is a dubious aim is that most birds do not have a strong sense of smell, though I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for the bees.)

In Arizona so far, only one vineyard has planted this intriguing white grape: Dragoon Mountain Vineyard.  So far also, only one winery has had a chance to play with this particular varietal–Chateau Tumbleweed.  We’ve taken a look at the 2012 vintage once before, now let’s take a look at the 2015 Arneïs.


The 2015 Arneis is a great, full-bodied white wine, perfect for big fall meals.

The Wine: The 2015 vintage is made from 100% Arneis.  These grapes were harvested on August 18th, at 23.1 Brix.  The grapes were cold-soaked for 24 hours, then whole-cluster pressed. The resulting must was chilled and settled 48 hours prior to racking and innoculation. The wine was then barrel-fermented in two neutral French oak barrels at 65 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 days. This wine did not undergo Malolactic fermentation and was aged for 6 months in stainless steel. The 2015 Arneis underwent minimal cold-stabilization, no heat-stabilization, and was filtered, but unfined. The wine finished with less than .10 % residual sugar. The final numbers for this wine came in with a TA of 5.6 g/L, and a pH of 3.39. The winemaker, as for all Chateau Tumbleweed vintages, was Joe Bechard. As one would expect for a full-bodied white wine, the color of this vintage is a rich, golden yellow.

The Nose: The nose of the 2015 Arneis is quite voluptuous. Rich aromas of apricot, peach, pear, nutmeg, and orange blossom form the opening salvo.  As the wine opens, additional slight citrus notes emerge also.

The Palate: The 2015 Arneis is a full-bodied, balanced, acidic white wine. Notes of peach, apricot, vanilla, and pear intermingle with notes of acacia blossom, Meyer lemon, mint, papaya, and a touch of limestone minerality. The finish of this wine lasts for 44 seconds, with notes of limestone, lemon, papaya, and peach.

The Pairing:  The full-bodied texture of this wine combined with its high acidity to me just screams to be paired with poultry dishes. Indeed, one immediate thought was Thanksgiving dinner.  Meals based around duck will also work really well with this wine. For a vegan pairing, a jackfruit-based dish will work quite nicely. Chinese takeout is also not a bad option, as would some sort of roasted chicken pasta dish.

Impressions:  If you are a red wine drinker who insists that all whites should be shunned, give this vintage a try. This is a white wine which has as much body as many Barbera vintages I’ve encountered over the years, so this may be something you will like.  Arneis is a geeky grape that doesn’t get nearly enough street cred, but I’m happy to see that it is getting more popular, and it is a grape I think everyone should try. You could age this for another couple of years, but it is drinking great right now.

Personified, I feel like this wine is a friendly and exuberant pastry chef. She is known especially for her cakes, and always has flour on her nose.  She is also blonde and curvy, and gives fantastic hugs.

Lightning Ridge Cellars: 2016 Vermentino


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Harvest is starting to wrap up across the state right now, which will finally give me some time to update the blog again. I’ve been pretty busy helping several vineyards with harvests, as well as a few stints down in Willcox for Passion Cellars (including aiding in the harvest of Arizona’s first crop of Corvina). In these hot days between the end of monsoon and the coming of fall, it’s time for a crisp, acidic white–and the 2016 Vermentino from Lightning Ridge Cellars fits the bill.

2016 Vermentino

The 2016 Vermentino from Lightning Ridge Cellars, perched in the mountains.

The Wine: While under the Lightning Ridge Label, the 2016 Vermentino is sourced from Flying Kite Vineyard, down in the Sonoita AVA. I am unsure of the fermentation and aging process on this wine, but if I had to guess, I feel like this wine may have seen some aging in neutral French oak. Like all the wines at Lightning Ridge, this wine was made by Ann Roncone. As you would expect for a wine of this varietal, this vintage is a translucent, pale yellow-green color.

The Nose: The 2016 Vermentino opens with notes of key-lime pie, intermingling with briny sea-salt/seashore on a cold, windy day, and just a hint of tangerine. As the nose opens, additional notes of white peach, grapefruit, apple blossom, and mint emerge.

The Palate: This wine is light-bodied and has high acidity, but on both counts it is fuller-bodied and a little bit lower in acidity than other Vermentino vintages I’ve had from both Arizona and Italy. Notes of grass, key-lime, grapefruit, sea-salt, and almond round out the refreshing palate of this vintage. The finish of the 2016 Vermentino lasts for 47 seconds, and has notes of limestone, sea-salt, and Meyer lemon, with just a touch of tangerine.

The Pairing: For some reason, the cheerful, bright nature of Vermentino always makes me think of bringing it on picnics with sharp cheeses and fennel pork sausage. Despite this, I have yet to do so.  This wine will also pair well with chicken tacos or roasted trout.  For a vegetarian or vegan pairing, serve this wine with a spinach quiche, or some roasted zucchini with garlic and herbs.  For that matter, serve this wine with anything covered in pesto.

Impressions: The 2016 Vermentino is a great, easy-going, light-bodied, high-acid white wine for the last days of summer.  Drink this wine young, and drink it now while it’s still hot. Bring it for a picnic, or bring it on its own.

Personified, I feel like this wine would be kind of like a down to earth, tall, blonde, Italian fashion model who oddly prefers to be in the woods. In fact, she’d rather model for REI, or maybe The North Face, sleeping on the side of a rock face, instead of being on a catwalk.

Video Review: 2016 Steven Seyval, Chateau Tumbleweed


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Apologies for the lack of posts lately; harvest and crush has been a bit crazy… as per the usual.  In the meantime, here’s a video review of the 2016 Steven Seyval, from Chateau Tumbleweed.  Enjoy!

Night Harvest: September Noise Article


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Something a little different this time around: I decided to expand and work on a creative writing piece about night harvesting Mourvèdre at Page Springs for this month’s Noise article.  This is probably one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever produced… so, please, enjoy. Continue reading

Rune Winery: 2014 Grenache


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I wonder if sometimes I’m the only one who decides to come up with weird wine pairings with life events or astronomical phenomena. Sometimes, though, you have to embrace that weirdness. On the day of the Great American Eclipse of 2017, I decided to park myself on a hillside near Jerome and review my bottle of the 2014 Grenache from Rune, while the sun underwent a dramatic occultation.

(In retrospect, I probably should have done the Petit Sirah because of the label for that wine totally has a sorcerer holding grapes up to the sun, but… hey, everybody makes mistakes, right?  Also, that wine as of my last taste of it still needs to be decanted, and trying to carry a decanter into the wilderness is not easy.  That, and it’s harder to find room for one in photo opportunities on desert hillsides–there isn’t enough flat rocks that are big enough for such an endeavor. Or maybe I’m just a slacker.  I digress.)

2014 Grenache

The 2014 Rune Grenache, and eclipse glasses.

The Wine: The 2014 Grenache from Rune is 100% Grenache, sourced from Pillsbury Vineyard, on the Willcox Bench.  The wine was fermented with specially selected yeasts, and aged in French Oak for about a year. This wine was made by James Callahan. The label of this wine is a continuation of the story depicted on the label of the 2013 vintage of the Rune Grenache, who had a run in with the captain on the Pirate ship depicted on the Chardonnay.  Clearly, this encounter did not go as well as the Captain had hoped:

‘The black flags waving in the sunset mark the reality of the situation. As the galleon nears its demise the sound of cannons echo across an otherwise calm sea. “Overboard!” yells the captain. The precious cargo, jettisoned into the dark sea below, floats idly beside the doomed ship. In that instant, the waylaid crew follows suit.  They wonder if they will ever come home.’

The Nose: The nose of the 2014 Grenache is less spicy than the preceding 2013 vintage, which was full of warm baking spices; instead, the stronger notes are stronger notes of vanilla, sandalwood, and cigar-box to me suggest a stronger influence of oak aging on this wine. (That being said, these cinnamon/baking spice notes are still present, but hidden.) Additional aromas of cherry, raspberry, petrichor, and anise also emerge from the glass.

The Palate:  The 2014 Rune Grenache is a light-bodied red with high acidity. The palate opens with notes of sour cherry, anise, rosemary, vanilla, black pepper, and Willcox dust.  As the wine opens up, additional notes of blood orange, bitter herb, and raspberry emerge.  The finish lasts for 40 seconds, and is filled with notes of blood orange, anise, dust, and roasted pecans.

The Pairing: I want to pair the 2014 Grenache with a cheeseburger, covered in green chilis and jalapenos.  A vegan chili or some fancy macaroni and cheese would also work really well with this wine, I think.  Heavier Indian dishes may also work.

Impressions: I admit, I liked the 2013 Vintage of the Rune Grenache a lot more than this 2014 one. To me, this vintage seemed a little bit less vibrant and less exciting. That being said, it is an excellent introduction to Arizona Grenache as a whole, and may well benefit from some more cellar time. It drinks pretty easy now, but to me it is not the most exciting wine in the Rune lineup currently. (Also: keep in mind, I am not the biggest fan of most Arizona Grenache.)

Personified, the 2014 Grenache reminds me of the main character in the song “Old Admirals,” by Al Stewart– a man, born and raised on the tall ships of the line of the British Navy finds himself living far from the sea, remembering his past days of high adventure, with grandchildren on his knees.  He is telling them a story of a battle he experienced back when he was a mere midshipman.

2014 Grenache

Against the sky…

Passion Cellars: 2014 Aglianico


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Aglianico promises to be an upcoming rock star in the world of Arizona wine, for a whole host of reasons.  Unlike some other red, super tannic grapes, Aglianico seems to preserve its acidity in the harsh June summer temperatures while producing a unique and intriguing flavor profile. It also tends to bud a little later, meaning that frost pressure is reduced.  There is still the risk of rot pressure in wet monsoon years, but this is pretty normal.  This late ripening, however, means that it doesn’t always suffer that pressure as extensively. Aglianico is used in several blends, but there are a few single-varietal vintages floating around. The first of these we will look at is the 2014 Aglianico from Passion Cellars.

2016 Aglianico

The 2014 Aglianico, on the road to Perkinsville.

The Wine: The 2014 Aglianico is actually a varietal blend of 95% Aglianico and 5% Grenache, sourced from Dragoon Vineyard near Willcox. The grapes underwent an extended maceration, and the wine was aged in French oak for 24 months. It is a rich, dark garnet red in color.

The Nose: The nose of the 2014 Aglianico is complex, sometimes dizzyingly so. Aromas of violets, Cavendish tobacco, cherries, spiced plum, smoke, and lilac intermingle with the rich earthy petrichor I associate with wines coming from Willcox.

The Palate: The 2014 Aglianico is a rustic, full-bodied red wine.  The wine opens with notes of spiced plum, cedar, vanilla, dark cherry, violets, coffee, and tar, intermingling with frankincense and rich earth. There are plenty of rich, leathery tannins to be had in this vintage as well. The finish lasts for 1 minute and 20 seconds, and is filled with notes of anise, earth, tobacco, and cherry.

The Pairing: I want to pair this wine with a rack of lamb, slow cooked, smoked, using a prickly pear based glaze, with a side of rosemary-baked red potatoes.  This meal will pair well with such an earthy and rustic vintage with a big load of tannins and acidity. For a vegetarian or vegan pairing, I would serve this wine with grilled portobello mushrooms with a side of artichokes and potatoes.

Impressions: I feel like the 2014 Aglianico is going to age beautifully for 10 years or more. I had originally planned on aging this bottle for a special occasion a year or so from now, to be followed by a revisit 10 years after that point so… drinking it now. Over time, I expect more floral notes to emerge on the palate and nose.  If drinking now, I do strongly recommend decanting for an hour.

If you like big, bold, tannic wines, and want to try something other than a Cabernet Sauvignon, this is definitely a vintage you want to try.

Personified, if this wine was a person, it would be your aged Italian grandfather, a former chef and pipe smoker.  Possibly, also, he was a deacon.

2014 Aglianico

And here it is, again, at Upper Sycamore Canyon.

Bonus: Occasionally, I wrote poetry. At the time when this Aglianico was fermenting, I was undergoing a really hard time, and a late-night Aglianico punch-down inspired me to write the following poem, entitled “Willcox Nights”:

Midnight comes like a soft blanket 
down on the bench,
as Orion looms 
over the Dos Cabezas
like a dismembered pagan god,
splayed out upon an altar like a sacrifice
either to ward off some 
unknown existential doom;
or to drive off one known to all.
As the owl calls, portending death,
I look above at the vault of heaven
while the brilliant stars above
cut into my soul like obsidian knives
slicing it into slivers of despair;
I gasp in pain in the cool fall air.
“Never again the pain of the heart,”
I mutter to the indifferent skies,
pausing momentarily while
thinking of alternate worlds
where everything was beautiful and
nothing ever caused pain.
Worlds which will never be;
that which is forever
blocked from me
as a victim of circumstances.
I unlock the door, 
turning on the lights which
flicker indecisively,
while the soft tones 
of byzantine chant fill my ears;
prayers for a better tomorrow
as I open the bin, 
top sliding onto the floor
as the rich, yeasty, purple scent 
of fermenting Aglianico fills my nose–
Ripe plums, currants, cloves;
history, and hope.
I pray as I slowly push 
against shocking violet skins,
sending them into 
inky midnight depths
wine intermingling with teardrops
in the deep watches of the night.  
It’s punch-down time for the soul,
and I push the feelings and skins 
down deep, tannins seeping 
into the center of my heart.
So these things go sometimes.