Shape Shifter

Here’s a question for you. And this will be totally lost on the 99% *drink what you like* *bigger is better* score-addicted numskulls, but as a critic, as someone who evaluates wine objectively–obviously there’s a tiny bit of personal taste involved, hence: KNOW YOUR REVIEWER–at what point do you move a region’s wines out of the “I don’t like these wines”/”These wines are poorly made”/”This region shouldn’t be producing wine” and over into a slot where you start understanding their version of ripeness, their distinct *taste*, and start to nod along down a path of quality-ability? I was this way with Calaveras and Amador Counties for years: toasty, almost-burnt, dark wines lacking complexity. Oregon suffered for years under a blanket of “citrus and tinny astringency”. It is well documented on these pages my criticism of Paso Robles, but that fell along lines of marketing, mostly–NOT the region’s ability or potential–that there’s such a huge quantity of ‘tourist wines’ made there which appeal to a demo lacking good taste. Although my experience with Temecula is quite limited, ALL the wines I have experienced from there fail to woo me. I have become increasing critical of Napa–at the opposite end of the ‘tourist-wine’ spectrum, as the wines more and more fall into homogeneity for the wine-bro’s palate. When I first started visiting Valle de Guadalupe about 15 years ago, there was CLEARLY a learning curve at work, as the wines were very often RIDICULOUSLY flawed in the cellar, but no region I have witnessed has exponentially raised their quality in the past years. But this isn’t about necessarily all that–though it factors in–this is about Arizona.

I’ve drank a good quantity of Arizona wines, and at first they puzzled me. They weren’t *normal*. They didn’t fit into my little pigeon-holes of varietal-correctness or chemical composition. Yes, many of those were big, ripe, burnt things: and those will continue to receive poor marks. But as I have groped around further, a distinct *place-mark* of the region–almost exclusively in regards to the ripeness–has emerged. I’m starting to get it. First of all, the elevations are ridiculous. I mean: almost Andean elevations. Where the highest vineyards in CA are basically 3000′, these things grow at 4000+. There’s a funkiness–a very strange sort of ripeness–these wines exhibit from the bottle. This wine is a PRIME example.

Light red with a rim of amber-pink. Effusive fruitiness flows out of the glass: but it’s not your typical fruitiness. And I have seen this across numerous wines–hence the long preface of something I am working–out loud–through my brain. I can’t even really put words on the fruitiness. It’s candied, but incredibly light. There’s a stiff roasted mineralific briar at work below which additionally compels. And then you taste it.

Light and balanced over the tongue. As “balanced” as a wine I am currently creating descriptors for can be. It’s beautiful in the mouth, but not something considered *beautiful* anywhere else in the world. At least that I can think of. Rich and vibrant while sparkling clean and almost-watery. It’s quite perfect once you wrap your head around “their” version of ripeness. Bitter and black in the finish, tannin on 11, grippy and edgy… but still that candied fruit. And so LIGHT! Near-impossible contradictions in wine. But it works.

2019 MERKIN ‘Chupacabra’ GSM 35/35/30 Wilcox Arizona 13.2

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