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.


Southwest Wine Center: 2016 Sunlight


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As I’ve mentioned before, the Southwest Wine Center is a fantastic resource for future winemakers in Arizona, with a full production winery and vineyard for students to get hands-on practice with the specific viticultural conditions within the state of Arizona. The 2016 Sunlight is, to my knowledge, the second wine made with estate Verde Valley fruit, and the first white! Let’s dig in.

2016 Sunlight

The 2016 Sunlight, from the Southwest Wine Center, at dawn.

The Wine: The 2016 Sunlight is a blend of 62% Malvasia Bianca, 38% Viognier, sourced from the vineyards at the Southwest Wine Center.  It is the second estate wine released by the college. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, and then aged in neutral American oak. It is a bright straw yellow in color.

The Nose: The nose of the 2016 Sunlight is heavily influenced by the Malvasia in this blend.  This wine has aromas of fresh green growing things, apricot, flowers, grass, peach, quince, jasmine, and cliff rose, intermingling with a hint of white pepper and meyer lemon.

The Palate: While the nose is Malvasia influenced, the palate is heavily influenced by the Viognier. The 2016 Sunlight is a medium-bodied white wine with medium acidity. Notes of apricot, siltstone, citrus, white pepper, and apple intermingle with honeydew melon, guava, and the telltale floral notes of Malvasia.  The finish has notes of baking spices, guava, limestone, and lasts for 40 seconds.

The Pairing: I want to pair this wine with enchiladas, made of chicken and green chili. It would work with Thai food, but not as well as most full Malvasia vintages.

Impressions: The 2016 Sunlight is an intriguing blend that holds much promise, though I personally found it a little underwhelming and disjointed, and was missing something; maybe acidity, maybe something else. The Viognier and Malvasia, I feel, did not integrate terribly well with one another, but it is possible that this wine will further integrate over time, and I imbibed this wine too young.

Furthermore, I feel that if this wine had an additional varietal, say Picpoul, this wine would have totally been a rock star. I know that Picpoul is grown at the college, but I’m unsure when the ETA for the first harvest of that crop is. A similar blend with even 10% Picpoul would truly shine like a beacon, in my opinion.


Update: A Weekend in Willcox


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So life took a strange, unexpected turn last week, and things did not go nearly as well as I planned. As a result, I ended up in Willcox for the weekend, visiting a few friends, tasting a few wines, and also helping the winery I work for as my day job (Passion Cellars) get ready for our first grapes of the year.  Suffice to say, I needed to take my mind off a few things that went dreadfully, shockingly wrong.

Here are a few highlights; Wine reviews should resume next week.

Gary Kurtz, of Greater Than Wine, is doing an Orange Chardonnay this year; here’s a punchdown on said fruit.

Here, Gary is checking a hydrometer to measure residual sugar content, to see if the wine has finished fermenting. He plans to leave it on the skins for an additional two weeks after fermentation is complete.

Malvasia Bianca grapes and the 2016 Vintage at Bodega Pierce

A weekend in Willcox

Fearless and Fun Wine Folk on the Bench. From Left to Right: Gary Kurtz, Robert Carlson, Dan Pierce, and Jeff Hendricks.

Lisa Strid, of Aridus, running me through a barrel tasting.

A weekend in Willcox

Cleaning barrels and bins at Passion Cellars

A weekend in Willcox

Chardonnay grapes at Carlson Creek Vineyards

A weekend in Willcox

Vermentino at Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards

Jason lifting off a tote of Chardonnay, pressed and ready to begin fermentation soon, sourced from Carlson Creek

A weekend in Willcox

Dry Ice Clouds

A weekend in Willcox

A friend of mine came up and shared their bottle of the 2015 Colibri GSM Rosé, from Burning Tree Cellars. It is a blend of 37% Syrah, 35% Mourvedére, and 28% Grenache.


Zarpara Vineyards: 2013 Odisea


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Zarpara Vineyards, on the heart of the Willcox Bench, is one of my favorite vineyards. It has been well known for a while when it comes to producing really great wines, but they are vintages which are difficult for me to get ahold of here in my mountaintop lair.  I picked up this bottle way back in January during the AWGA awards Gala and wine festival.  I was craving Tempranillo this week, especially considering the recipe I was planning, and I remembered the 2013 Odisea being quite good when I tasted it at the festival… so I decided to crack my bottle open.

2013 Odisea

The 2013 Odisea against a wine-dark sky. Homer the Poet would be proud.

The Wine: As one might expect from a Vineyard who’s name comes from the Spanish word for “set sail,” the name of the 2013 Odisea is a nautical theme: derived from the second of Homer’s epic tales. This wine is a blend of 65% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah, and 10% Garnacha, from the Zarpara estate vineyard in the Willcox AVA.  The Tempranillo in this blend was on the skins for 21 days. Then, it was aged in new American (Appalachian) oak for about 6 months, while the rest of the time was spent in neutral oak, with a total of 20 months in barrel. The Syrah and Grenache in this blend were both aged in neutral oak. 65 cases were produced, and at 14.5%, this wine is pretty big.  The 2013 Odisea is a rich, deep, ruby-red.

The Nose: When the bottle is first opened, prior to decanting, this wine opens with notes of coffee, chocolate, petrichor, and plum, with hints of lilac, lavender, and frankincense.  After a two hour decant, the floral notes on the nose fade, and notes of nutmeg, star anise, plum, cassis, and eucalyptus emerge, intermingling with the earlier notes I mentioned, along with that classic Willcox dust.

The Palate: Prior to decanting, the 2013 Odisea opens with notes of vanilla, cedar, plum, and cherry, with hints of rosemary and dust. There are a hefty dose of tannins to be found on the palate as well, and the acidity in this full-bodied red wine is pretty high.  Early in the game, the finish has notes of rosemary, cherry, lavender, and dust, lasting for only 28 seconds.  After a two hour decant, additional notes of cinnamon, eucalyptus, nutmeg, lilac, and coffee emerge on the palate, and the finish lasts for 41 seconds. After an extended decant (open for a day), additional notes of Cavendish tobacco, dark chocolate, and coffee emerge, intermingling with all the aforementioned characteristics, and the finish lasts for a full minute.

The Pairing: I paired the 2013 Odisea with a pork roast I made in my crockpot, with green chiles, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and potatoes, and it worked beautifully.  Any sort of Spanish-style pork dish will work well with this wine, as that is the traditional pairing for Tempranillo-based vintages in general.  It is big enough to work with steak, or roasted mushrooms.  Heavy, vegetarian-themed Mexican food would also work really well with this wine.

Impressions: If you try to drink this wine without decanting, you’re going to have a bad time; it’s still good, but more one dimensional at that time. The 2013 Odisea needs at least a two hour decant to really shine forth, or an aerator.  In fact, I felt this wine was at its best after being open for almost two full days.  Patience is going to be your friend with this bottle.  Savor it, slowly.  I would even recommend cellaring this bottle for at least another three years, if not more.

I would even recommend cellaring this bottle for at least another three years, if not more. But your patience will be immensely rewarded, and if you love Tempranillo (especially vintages coming from Ribero del Duero rather than Rioja), this wine is NOT to be missed. While I don’t normally place value judgments on the wines I drink publically in this blog, I’d rank the 2013 Odisea as among the top 4 Tempranillo vintages currently being offered in the state.

The 2013 Odisea wears a bright red dress that hugs her curves, revealing a tattoo on her back shoulders in Sanskrit. She likes singing opera, sea-shanties, and Homer in its original Greek Hexameters.  She carries a knife inlaid with mother-of-pearl and turquoise.  She’s difficult to get to know, but once you do, she’s a lot of fun to hang out with.

2013 Odisea

Another shot of the 2013 Odisea against a monsoon rainbow.

Bodega Pierce: 2015 Rosé


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As much as I hate to say this, the summer of Rosé reviews is almost over; I have just a few more vintages of Rosé in my stash. (Now that being said, there are plenty of fantastic Arizona Rosé wines I just won’t have time to get to, either because I don’t have them or because I just don’t have the time to examine almost 50 different vintages of this fantastic style.) That being said, I have saved this bottle for towards the end of this exploration, due to the high accolades the 2015 Bodega Pierce Rosé obtained at the Arizona Republic/AWGA gala all the way back in January.

2015 Bodega Pierce Rosé

The 2015 Rosé from Bodega Pierce in the refreshing waters of Bitter Creek.

The Wine: The 2015 Bodega Pierce Rosé is made of 100% Grenache, sourced from Rolling View Vineyards, in the heart of the Willcox AVA. According to Michael Pierce, the winemaker, this pick of Grenache was made earlier than the remainder of the fruit which was destined to be made as a red wine. The purpose for the slightly earlier pick was to retain acidity. The fruit went straight to press and was settled in stainless.  This vintage then underwent fermentation in barrel, with no ML and with a few weeks sur lie aging. The wine is a salmon pink hue. This wine won Best Rosé in the AWGA/Arizona Republic competition last January (if I’m remembering right; I can’t seem to find the actual award listing anywhere.)

The Nose: The wine opens with notes of apricot, peach, nectarine, and raspberry, intermingling with hints of mint, goji berry, and crushed grass. As this wine opens, additional notes of hibiscus and rosehips emerge from the glass, as well as a scent reminiscent of toasted sourdough bread, and a hint of citrus.

The Palate: The 2015 Bodega Pierce Rosé is a full-bodied Rosé with medium acidity. Apricot, peach, and raspberry notes are repeated on the palate, with additional hints of vanilla, grass, and mint. The finish of this wine lasts for about 30 seconds, with notes of apricot, pomelo, sea-salt, and limestone rounding out the palate.   

The Pairing: Since this is a fuller-bodied Rosé, this wine allows for a different suite of pairing options. I personally would pair this wine with some sort of quiche featuring a trinity of gruyere, green chile, and bacon…. or a really nice gyro. I could also envision this wine pairing well with salmon, or some sort of lighter, mushroom-themed pasta dish.  Suffice to say I feel this wine will be very versatile.

Impressions: The 2015 Bodega Pierce Rosé is a beach bum, who prefers to spend his time searching for sunken pirate treasure throughout the summer, and works as a chef in the off season, when it’s too cold to be at the Beach. Once he strikes it rich, he hopes to build his own restaurant.

You *could* cellar this wine for another year, but personally, I’d serve it with a nice summer brunch right about… Now.

2015 Bodega Pierce Rosé

It was really hard to decide which of these photos to use… so why not both?