As Cupid begins his countdown to the most romantic day of the year, it’s high time that I go public with my love affair. Her name is Syrah, and although my affection has been aggressively pursued by some of her competitors over the years, my loyalty to her is steadfast.
For the uninformed, relax, she’s a red grape, but she always seems to find a way to my heart through the volume of varietals jockeying for position on my palate. Don’t get me wrong; I love most wines, and truly treasure a big Cabernet, a mushroomy Pinot Noir, a smoky Malbec and a jammy Zinfandel. But there’s something about Syrah that makes me smile every time a bottle is uncorked.
Arizona winemaker Rob Hammelman agrees, and his passion for this grape recently led to a gold medal at the Jefferson Cup in Kansas City for his 2014 Cochise County Syrah.
“This wine emphasizes deep, rich, blackberry fruit, with a meaty quality and a savory edge, along with some black olive and spice,” said Hammelman, winemaker at Sand-Reckoner Vineyards in Willcox.
Sounds exquisite, but how do you pull each of those flavor profiles from a single grape? Hammelman said the answer is in the geography. And while this wine is 100 percent Syrah, he ended up using a blend of Syrah grapes sourced from three different vineyards in the region.
Deep Sky Vineyard, just south of Willcox, produces fruit that represents 70 percent of Hammelman’s award-winning blend. He says it’s the intensity, richness and thick skins of these grapes that are the stars behind his Syrah’s success.
Fifteen percent of the blend comes from Sand-Reckoner’s own estate vineyard, harvested from 20-year-old vines that give these Syrah grapes what he calls, “old vine character, a nice structure and a bit of eucalyptus.”
The remaining 15 percent comes from Syrah grapes originating from the Red Tree Ranch Vineyard near the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains. Hammelman appreciates the way that these grapes give his blend a “vibrant lift.”
So, will this Cochise County Syrah work for a romantic Valentine’s evening? Hammelman’s wife Sarah, his business partner and fellow wine sophisticate, said “yes.”
“It has rich flavors that would work really well with a romantic meal,” she said. “It’s also an enjoyable conversation kind of wine; it’s fun to muse over and spend time with.”
Adding to the romance of the Willcox Syrah story is Scott Dahmer, owner/vintner at the award-winning Aridus Wine Company, who ranks his 2015 Syrah among his favorites in the Aridus portfolio.
Dahmer also sourced his grapes for this 2015 vintage from Deep Sky Vineyard because they produce, as he says, “simply impeccable fruit.”
“The Syrah grows so well out here, and it’s an outstanding climate and elevation for the grape,” he said.
Dahmer says it’s the earthiness and concentrated flavors that make his Syrah a showstopper, along with the right balance of tannins and the distinct “deli meat notes” that he gets from the very first sip.
Deli meat notes. I love this guy.
This Valentine’s Day, unleash the love with a bottle of Arizona Syrah. Her beauty knows no bounds. Try the Sand Reckoner-Tasting Room located in Tucson at 510 N. Seventh Ave., #170.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.