Monday, July 20, 2015

Wine Country Arkansas: Circle T Vineyards And Winery

Arkansas winemaking got its start in the late 19th century, when German and Swiss settlers took advantage of the grape-loving climate there. There are not very many commercial wineries in Arkansas - can we still count them on two hands? Even so, the state has three designated American Viticultural Areas - and half of Arkansas's counties are dry. It’s a conundrum wrapped up in a riddle, given its own AVA.

The motto at Circle T Vineyards is, "Grow the best fruit nature allows, craft wines that embody its finest qualities." Owner and winemaker John Trickett adheres to that mission statement by growing his Syrah grapes organically. The wine is not labelled as "organic" due to a trick of the requirements - he introduces CO2 into the product in a way technically different from that prescribed by federal regulations. So, it's organic wine, it just doesn't get to say so on the label.

Trickett formed a fondness for wine during his years in the motion picture business, when he was stationed in Dallas, Texas. When he retired and settled on the Arkansas land that had been in his family for over a century, he decided that he would grow Syrah grapes. Not only were they a personal favorite, but he felt they were well-suited to the climate and the soil there. His initial releases are the 2013 Syrah and the dessert wine, described below. Mother Nature presented obstacles last year which prevented him from harvesting a vintage. He is looking forward to a good crop for 2015 and will hopefully have more Arkansas terroir to show for his patience.

Circle T Winery and Vineyards Rock House Red 2013 Syrah

The grapes are organically grown in the Arkansas Mountain AVA, in the Ozarks of northwestern Arkansas. The wine’s name is an homage to the retirement home Trickett's ancestors built rock-by-rock on the land. Alcohol sits at 13.75% abv. It is 100% Syrah, estate-grown.

Rock House Red is a medium dark ruby red in color, with a nose that exhibits a rocky earthiness and a bushel basket of minerals. The fruit is dark and funky, with a rhubarb edge to the cherry and blackberry aromas. Notes of coffee linger. It’s very dry in the mouth, with flavors of blackberry and plum laced with beefy tannins and a mouth-watering acidity. The wine feels a little lighter in the mouth than typical Syrahs from France or California, with less heft but just as much spirit as its more renowned brethren.

Circle T Winery and Vineyards MST Sweet Dessert Wine

This an astounding dessert wine, although it really doesn't taste like dessert at all. It's made dry, Port-style and hits 19% abv. I would never had guessed a number that high, as smoothly as the wine drinks. Dessert wines always seem bombastic in one way or another - "Check out all this residual sugar!" or "How 'bout that fortification, buddy!" This one is as elegant and smooth as a good tawny. The fruit is dark and plentiful - brooding and slightly funky on the nose, rich and perfectly balanced on the palate - like a Syrah oughta be. The tannins are extremely gentle. Afterward, it's the fruit you remember, not the spirits.

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