Sand-Reckoner: 2014 Red Tree Ranch Syrah


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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.

Oddity Wine Collective: 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma


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Some wines evoke images in the mind when imbibed.  For others, it is the label on the shelf that evokes ideas.  And for still other vintages, the name of the wine itself can provide curious images to the consumer. The 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma from Oddity Wine Collective is one of those. For me, that mental image is of Victorian-era scholars standing dumbfounded over an Archaeopteryx skeleton emerging from a limestone slab–or of me spending late nights hunched over a computer in the dark, playing games based on Jurassic Park, and frustratingly clicking a mouse frantically trying to get the game to operate. Luckily, this wine is far more enjoyable and less frustrating than those game nights back in high school! Anyway, onto the wine.

Darwin's Dilemma

The 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma from Oddity Wine Collective among rocks from the Supai Group overlooking the Verde Valley.

The Wine: The 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma is made from 50% Counoise and 50% Mourvèdre, sourced from Deep Sky Vineyard. These grapes were destemmed together, and then cofermented. The wine spent 9 days on the skins during fermentation. This wine was then aged in 100% neutral American oak. The wine was made at the Four-Eight wineworks facility in Camp Verde by Aaron Weiss. These two varietals are, as it happens, among the last grapes to be typically harvested in Arizona, so this was the plan for this vintage all along. The name, Darwin’s Dilemma, is a holdover from when Bree and Aaron wanted to create a label called Vinosaur Cellars. That name was already taken, as it turned out, but the team at oDDity liked Darwin’s Dilemma and decided to carry it over into a new era. The color of this wine is a bright ruby-red, with some translucent character–indicative of a medium-bodied red wine. The pH of this wine is 3.95, making for a food-friendly blend.

The Nose: The nose of the Darwin’s Dilemma launches with explosive juicy fruit notes that reminded me of a forest berry pie, straight out of the oven: raspberry, cherry, boysenberry, and elderberry, and, oddly for a red, apple, intermingling with vanilla, petrichor, sandalwood, sage, and earth. As the wine opens up, additional notes of nutmeg, purple flowers, allspice, and anise emerge.

The Palate: The 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma opens with notes of cherry, apricot (again, odd for a red), plum, white pepper, boysenberry, and sandalwood. The fruit notes are bright, and almost refreshing in character. This wine has high acidity and slight, velvety tannins. The finish of this wine lasts for 28 seconds, with notes of anise, dust, flint, white pepper, and cigar tobacco emerging during this time.

Impressions: oDDity likes to do fun, interesting wines that generate a lot of contemplative thoughts. While it may seem odd to release a red blend this early, the 2016 Darwin’s Dilemma strikes me as a great young red blend that is near its prime. Cellaring this wine for longer than another two years strikes me as unnecessary when this wine is tasting so great right now.  You could, mind you…and it will still be good, but why? This wine is a fun, hip, easy-going exploration into two late-ripening varietals that do fun things in Arizona’s unique terroir.

The Pairing: While light enough to potentially work with smoked or deep-fried turkey, I feel as if the Darwin’s Dilemma will shine with a cheeseburger or ribs; it strikes me as a good wine for a cookout. If you want to be fancy, Rhône-style cuisine like a nice coq-au-vin, or a vegan ratatouille will work nicely.

This wine makes me think of a sassy, smart research associate specializing in Molecular biology and DNA hybridization, seeking to make sense of the complicated order of life found on our planet. You have no idea how she makes Cladistics fun, but she does after a few shots. She has also found a unique way to explain how CRISPR works using the bowl of stale Chex mix at the bar.

Podcast: Châteauneuf-du-Pape vs. Chateau Tumbleweed


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I’ve delayed posting this podcast for a long time because of Reasons, but the camaraderie and wine should still be shared… and here it is!  Finally.

In this podcast, my friends Abby, Chad, James and myself compare the Wild Will E. Cox from Chateau Tumbleweed (100% Arizona grapes) to a classic Vieux Telegraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhone, while eating a really fancy meal cooked up by Abby, one of the masters of the Flat Iron. Who will win? You’ll possibly be surprised.

Rhone vs. Arizona

(Since I hate clickbait, I’ll tell you. Arizona wins… but not because of why you would think.)

This podcast, recorded back in July, is kind of the first in the “Let’s compare Arizona versus the World” series I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Consider this the first Rhone vs. Arizona podcast.

Rhone vs. Arizona

The food was amazing. Thanks again, Abby and Chad!

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings


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Thanksgiving is a holiday traditionally associated with massive quantities of delicious food. Indeed, one could argue that the food is the point of the entire holiday, rather than actually giving thanks for the blessings we have received over the course of the year. With such a vast array of food available, it can be a daunting task to come up with wine pairings that will be suitable for a meal. Not to mention the fact that within a family and guests, there can be a multitude of different palate preferences sitting around the dinner table, which can also make things difficult. Different dietary restrictions, whether medical or self-imposed, can also make it a struggle to keep everyone happy around the dinner table. But, never fear, the Wine Monk is here! I have created a carefully curated list of eight wines of varying styles that should pair with just about any set of food you are planning on serving on Thanksgiving day; whether vegan or carnivorous. These eight wines will also appeal to a wide variety of palates, so finding one or two bottles on this list to keep everyone happy around the dinner table should be fairly easy, thus allowing for that inevitable family fight of why you aren’t providing grandchildren to take precedence instead.


Roussanne is a lesser-known Rhone varietal that has potential in Arizona, and it is often overshadowed by its northern cousin, Viognier. (The Roussanne has a penchant for sailing through the late frosts we get here without any problem, putting it at an advantage over other varietals.) Colibri Vineyard, located in the shadow of the Chricahua Mountains, nestled between the towns of Portal and Paradise, provided the grapes for the 2015 Colibri Roussanne by Page Springs Cellars. Melissa Gagliardi and Eric Glomski were the wine makers. This white wine opens on the nose with the classic aromas of white pepper that I often associate with this vineyard. Additional notes of apricot, Meyer lemon, and grassy herbaceous notes emerge on the nose of this vintage, intermingling with pears, flint, white peaches, and white tea on the palate. The finish of this wine lasts for 32 seconds. The high acidity and medium body of this wine will pair with most of your Thanksgiving meal, as this flavor profile is very versatile; even with vegan Tofurky as your centerpiece. A bottle of this will run you $28 at the Page Springs Cellars tasting room in Cornville.


Seyval Blanc is a member of a special group of varietals known as American Hybrids–grapes which resulted from a cross from European varietals and indigenous American species; these grapes are often more resilient in the face of cold weather. The 2016 Steven Seyval is a medium-bodied dry white wine was sourced from D.A. Ranch Vineyards, near Page Springs. It was also fermented in 50% French Oak. The nose of this wine opens with aromas of vanilla, apricots, lemon meringue, and toasted marshmallows. On the palate, the Steven Seyval proves to be a medium-bodied white which opens with intense citrus notes, intermingling with pear, limestone, white pepper, and apricot, with a finish that lasts for 48 seconds.  You can grab a bottle of this wine at the Chateau Tumbleweed tasting room for $24.


Semi-sweet rose wines have often been maligned of late with the resurgence in popularity of dry, French-style vintages, but I believe they still have their place at the table. The NV Rosato, made from 100% Syrah sourced from Dragoon Mountain Vineyards, is probably the best wine to be found in the tasting room at Oak Creek Vineyards in Cornville. The nose of this dark-colored rose opens with aromas of mint, rose, red currant, and strawberry, intermingling with just a hint of cherry. On the palate, this vintage has notes of cherry, red currant, mint, strawberry, and limestone  The finish lasts for 34 seconds, and this wine has about 1-2% residual sugar which provides a bit of a tart sweetness on the palate as well, intermingling with medium acidity. This wine will go well with honey-baked ham, or strawberry-themed desserts on your Thanksgiving table.


Nebbiolo, as I mentioned last month, is a rich and supple grape from the Piedmont in Northern Italy. However, here in Arizona, we do things that nobody in Italy would dream of: we make it into a rosé. The 2015 Lei Li Nebbiolo Rosé from Caduceus Cellars is sourced from the Elephante block vineyard, here in the Verde Valley. Handpicked, this wine was whole cluster pressed and aged in stainless steel and oak puncheons. The nose of this salmon-colored rosé opens with notes of white peach, grapefruit, watermelon, and herbs growing around water. On the palate, thirst-quenching acidity intermingles with pomelo, peach, mint, rosemary, and limestone, with subtle hints of black pepper on a finish that lasts for 42 seconds. This wine will make a fine centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table, at $40.


Sangiovese, the main grape of Tuscany, is arguably the most food-friendly grape in the world; it’s a very good thing that this grape does so well in Arizona. Wines made from this grape will pair with a wide variety of food, and the 2016 Sangiovese from Javelina Leap, sourced from Carlson Creek Vineyard in Willcox, is no exception. The nose opens with rich earthy notes, bright cherry, a little bit of rosehips, vanilla, and sandalwood. On the palate, this wine opens with notes of cherry, raspberry, and roses, intermingling with earth, anise, spice, and petrichor, with a light load of leathery tannins. The finish of this wine lasts for 45 seconds. This medium-bodied, high acidity red wine will pair with anything and everything on your Thanksgiving table—that is the miracle of Sangiovese. A bottle of this Sangiovese will run $32 at the Javelina Leap tasting rooms in Cornville or Sedona.


Cabernet Sauvignon is not a good wine to pair with Thanksgiving meals, as it is too bold and too tannic. Lovers of Cabernet, however, will adore this wine as it has many characteristics reminiscent of their beloved, but is lighter and more thanksgiving-friendly. Like Cabernet, Carménère is a Bordeaux varietal, that was lost from Bordeaux and rediscovered growing in Chile. Grown in Paulden, the 2015 Carménère (Barrel Select) from Del Rio Springs Vineyard was made at the Aridus wine-making facility in Willcox. This full-bodied red wine is a rich sensory experience on both the nose and palate. Rich aromas of tobacco, bright red fruit, and violets emerge on the palate, intermingling with fertile earth. The palate is a similar satisfying flavor explosion of complexity, with notes of cedar, tobacco, cherry, raspberry, earth, and spices, with a lingering finish that lasts for 53 seconds.  This wine will be a bit more difficult to find, but bottles can be found at Plaza Liquor Deli in Prescott for $40, along with the Del Rio Springs tasting room which can be visited by appointment.  This will pair well with the meat and roasted vegetable portions of your Thanksgiving meal.


Vidal Blanc, like Seyval Blanc, is an American Hybrid varietal. The 2016 Vidal Blanc from Page Springs Cellars was sourced from the only vineyard that grows this varietal in the whole state: Bruzzi Vineyard, near the small town of Young in Gila County, along the Mogollon Rim. This off-dry white is very reminiscent of Vouvray to me. The nose opens with notes of bright pear, stone-fruit, quince, lemon meringue, and toasted sugar.  On the palate, this light-bodied semi-sweet white wine has notes of roasted pear, caramelized sugar, creamy papaya, and apple, and a bit of creamy texture on the finish, which lasts for 23 seconds. This wine, while off-dry, is not super sweet and will be a good pairing for desserts on your Thanksgiving table.  A bottle of this wine will cost you $29 in the Page Springs tasting room.


Verdhelo is a grape that has a special place in the hearts of many who search for the perfect dessert wine, as it is one of the four main grapes used to make Madeira. The NV Late Harvest Verdhelo from Passion Cellars, made by Jason Domanico is a nice homage to the classical late harvest wines of Spain and Portugal. The nose of this wine opens with rich tropical fruits: mango, pineapple, and papaya, intermingling with notes of vanilla, anise, caramelized sugar, and cilantro. On the palate, this golden dessert wine tastes of vanilla, honeysuckle, mango, melon, caramelized sugar, and starfruit. The finish of this wine is slightly creamy, intermingling with a food-friendly acidity, lasting about 45 seconds. This wine strikes a balance between sweet and dry, making it the perfect companion for pumpkin or pecan pie. You can acquire this wine for $20 at the Passion Cellars tasting room in Jerome.

There you have it guys!  A nice, well-curated collection of wines to make your Thanksgiving (or any other holiday dinner) a success!  Happy Holidays!

Four Tails Vineyard: 2015 Double Trouble


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I am doing this review a little differently this time around. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much of my new favorite YouTube Channel, Regular Car Reviews.  Dang it, Gary.  I am holding you responsible for this.

Double Trouble

 Anyway. Enough of blaming Gary. Let’s drink! Here is the 2015 Double Trouble from Four Tails Vineyard.

People often ask me why I am so into wine, so obsessed with it. While sipping on the first estate release from Four Tails Vineyard this week, the 2015 Double Trouble, I was thinking about this question. And this wine has helped me crystallize an answer, or at least, part of an answer.

Cabernet Sauvignon has traveled a long way from its native Bordeaux to be rooted in Arizona soils. Every place where the world is warm enough to grow vinifera grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon is almost always the first in the ground; in California, Arizona… South Africa, Australia, even India and China. It’s comfortable and friendly, like a close relative. People can pronounce it, which also helps. (Imagine the middle-aged suburban housewife going drinking with friends away from the kids, saying to a waiter “Yeah, I’ll have a glass of the house Cab sav.” That sort of thing.) The 2015 Double Trouble is the first wine made from the first estate crop of Four Tails Vineyard. The first vines that the owners, Barb and Cale Coons planted in their vineyard in Pearce, Arizona?  Why, Cabernet Sauvignon, of course.  (They also planted Viognier and Tempranillo.)

The ubiquitousness of Cabernet Sauvignon makes me remember that, even though I was born here in Arizona, I’m not really a native here. I am only the first generation. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, part of my genetics are connected to France. The fact is, even the native peoples of Arizona came from elsewhere. Are we really native *anywhere* other than to the Kingdom of God? And if this wine, made from a workhorse noble grape that’s grown everywhere (or at least almost everywhere), on 6 out of 7 continents, can make me think such deep thoughts, how could I NOT like wine? What other mysteries lurk in my glass of this wine?

Onto the technical stuff. The 2015 Double Trouble, as I alluded to above, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate vineyard at Four Tails Vineyard, in Pearce, Arizona. The wine was made by James Callahan; his last vintage making wine for Four Tails. Future wines from this vineyard are being made by Gary Kurtz.  I haven’t been able to reach James for information specifically how this wine was made, in terms of maceration time or oaking regimen, but I’d have to guess this wine was likely made with a commercial yeast and saw at least one year in some percentage of new French oak; I get none of the characteristics that to me indicate American oak. The wine itself is named in honor of the owner’s two yellow labs, Bubby and Bruno who are thick as thieves, and never apart.

I really like this wine. The nose of the 2015 Double Trouble opens with notes of rich, dark cassis, plum, and black cherry, intermingling with notes of sandalwood, frankincense, petrichor, and pomegranate. It smells like what you imagine purple velvet should smell like. On the palate, gripping leathery tannins dance amidst notes of tobacco, cedar, cherry, and plum, with just a hint of granite, graphite, and sage. The finish of the Double Trouble at first is short, but hopeful: like a coffee date that both parties really want to turn into a dinner date, but didn’t plan to like each other this much, and are trying to cancel evening plans to stay in each other’s company; only 21 seconds. As the wine decants for a few hours, the finish opens to about 45 seconds, and those tannins slowly relax and open. Notes of Lilac and violets emerge amidst all the fruit. The first minutes of that awkward date, filled with anxiety have passed.  Now the two parties involved are conversing over cocktails, ignoring the rest of the world. Love–or at least lust with direction–are filling the air.

I want to drink this wine with a good medium-rare steak, just with a bit of salt and pepper, with some baked potatoes on the side, while smoking a decent cigar from the Dominican Republic. Something simple, but elegant–not fancy.  Homey. Yeah,  That’s what this wine is kind of like.  It’s comfortable but elegant–like a well-worn suit jacket that you find $50 bucks in the pocket from the last time you were at a wedding with an open bar, so you use the find to treat yourself to something nice. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s damn nice. In fact, I think this wine is probably the best Cabernet Sauvignon I’ve had from Arizona in a while.  That’s kind of what Cabernet Sauvignon is like for me; a close friend that you see perhaps once or twice a year, but you’re always able to pick up where you left off like it was only yesterday.  It’s drinking great now, but you could cellar it for a few more years no problem. I don’t know that there are any bottles left, but Cabernet Sauvignon should be a regular feature from Four Tails Vineyard from now on, so check their website.

Wine, by nature, is a drink that engenders deep philosophical conversation, and thoughtful contemplation, which is, of course, the lion’s share of what I’ve been writing about.  The fact is, wine always has a story to tell, for anyone willing to pay attention. And that’s why I like wine so much. The stories.

I like listening to those stories, and attempting to translate them for a wider audience.  In fact, this is sometimes why I like wine more than I like most people. Arizona wines are just beginning to tell their stories.  I’m glad to simply be here, listening.

Double Trouble

 Here is the 2015 Double Trouble amidst the vines that made this vintage.

Podcast: Mourvèdre and Kerner with Robin Black


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It is a dark and windy night in Sedona. The wind rattles and shakes the walls of the yurt. “Mourvèdre,” it whispers. You pull out glasses and three bottles.It is a dark and windy night in Sedona. The wind rattles and shakes the walls of the yurt. Your friend Robin reaches into her cold pack. “Mourvèdre,” she whispers. You pull out the 33 Degrees Mourvèdre, and a Bulgarian Mavrud. “It is time for the ritual,” you reply. “Bring forth the glasses!”  Her husband shakes his head.

Welcome to a special podcast with my friend Robin Black, a photographer and wine blogger from California.  In this podcast, we compare a Paso Mourvèdre with one from Arizona… and a Mavrud from Bulgaria, which some wine folk believe is actually a clone of the Rhone and Spanish staple, brought to Bulgaria by the Romans. We also compare a California Kerner with one from Alto-Adige! Take a listen!

Del Rio Springs: 2015 Carménère Barrel Select


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Carménère is a grape which I honestly wish that was more widely planted in Arizona. As of right now, I am only aware of two vineyards in the state growing this fascinating varietal; Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards, down in Willcox, and of course, Del Rio Springs Vineyard in Paulden. I’ve been holding onto this bottle of the 2015 Carménère Barrel Select for some time now, and since it is another varietal that often makes me think of fall, I decided I should finally open it while taking a jaunt among the quaking aspens in all their fall glory. It is especially sad to drink this vintage for me, considering that it will be quite a few years before we see another vintage of this wine coming from Del Rio, as most of the Carménère block got accidentally nuked by a neighbor spraying herbicide on a windy day.

The 2015 Carménère Barrel Select in the Aspens

The Wine:  The 2015 Carménère Barrel Select is made from 100% Carménère, sourced from Del Rio Springs vineyard in Paulden, Arizona.  This vintage was made in the Aridus facility in Willcox, Arizona, by Leah Shanker (I think, but it could also have been Marc Phillips). The wine was aged in medium toast French oak barrels for somewhat longer than their non-barrel select, but I am unaware off hand just how much longer.  It is a rich crimson red in color, partially translucent.

The Nose: This wine has a rich nose, with aromas of cherry, Perique tobacco, anise, blackberry, cassis, red currant fruit, plum, and violets.  As the wine opens, the wine gains rich earthy notes as well, intermingling with additional notes of lilac and green peppercorn.

The Palate: Like the nose, the palate is a rich sensory experience, especially after decanting.  This medium-bodied red opens with notes of cherry, plum, raspberry, strawberry, and cassis, with firm, leathery tannins.  As the wine opens, additional notes of anise, black pepper, allspice, cinnamon, lilac, vanilla, and tobacco emerge, along with intense, rich earth.  The finish of this wine lasts for 55 seconds and is filled with intense earthy characters, green peppercorns, plum, anise, allspice, and rich tannins and tobacco.

Pairing: I want to pair this with venison or elk stew or steaks, or even wild boar. A roasted vegetable casserole would also work well.  Savory is your key with this wine, I think, but it would also be great with a cigar on the patio on a fall evening.

Impressions: This wine will actually be a very good medium-bodied red wine to pull out for Thanksgiving dinner, and may well be a delight for Cabernet lovers in your family–it will work while Cabernet Sauvignon won’t.  The 2015 Carménère Barrel Select is a rich and savory wine that is an intense flavor experience once it has opened fully–this to me indicates this wine has not quite peaked yet.  I would consider cellaring this vintage for at least another 2 years or so, but it also is great now, if you’re patient.

This wine feels distinctly masculine to me; I feel its personification to be that of a Biologist who specializes in discovering rare tardigrades and other microbiotic fauna in rich earth.

Podcast: Arizona vs. Rhone (Cornas and Sand-reckoner)


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In this podcast, a couple friends and I drink an Arizona Syrah with one of the crown jewels of the Rhone: Cornas. Who will win? Why is Syrah so interesting? Take a listen.
(SoundCloud audio embedding doesn’t seem to be working on WordPress right now, please go to the link below)


Que Sera, Syrah. Cornas vs. Rhone!

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.