Caduceus Cellars: 2013 VSC Barbera


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Long-time followers of my blog know about the long-planned Barbera podcast that finally took place on New Year’s Eve of last year. What you may not know is that there were a couple of wines that had to be dropped for the podcast due to time constraints, and due to a smaller crowd than was expected. One of those wines is now going to have its moment in the sun: the 2013 VSC Barbera from Caduceus Cellars.

The 2013 VSC Barbera is particularly unique, as it is the first example I’ve tasted of this varietal sourced here in the Verde Valley.  (The only other vineyard other than the block in which Maynard sourced his which grows it here is at the Dos Padres site owned by PSC, but I have yet to see any releases from that block of wines.)

With the obliteration of Fort Bowie, Barbera is a harder grape to come by in Arizona these days; Dragoon Mountain Vineyards is now the only major accessible source of this grape for the average wine drinker.  Some Barbera has recently been planted near Dewey by the owners of Mogollon Winery, though, so this will pass in time. (Also of note: the Sacramental wine at St. Pasius Monastery, near Safford, is made of Barbera, grown on site, but it is *really* not kosher to be commenting on terroir notes while taking communion–even if you are the Wine Monk.)

The 2013 VSC Barbera is probably the most cerebral Barbera I’ve encountered this year.

Notes about Barbera: Barbera is originally from the Piedmont of Northern Italy, under several DOC’s and DOCG’s.  The most famous of these are Barbera D’Asti, and Barbera D’Alba is probably the most famous, and we tasted two of these in the aforementioned podcast.  The Nizza DOCG is the newest area set aside in the Piedmont specifically for Barbera.  By and large, Barbera is meant to be a table wine, imbibed while waiting for more tannic reds to age.  It is also the third most planted red grape in Italy, and is attested in sources as early as the 13th century.

The Wine: The 2013 VSC Barbera is 100% Barbera, sourced from the (x) block, here in the Verde Valley. Like all of Maynard’s wines, the grapes for this vintage were handpicked and hand-sorted.  The wine underwent fermentation and maceration in open-top fermenters, and of course underwent manual punchdowns during the process.  The wine was aged in new and neutral French oak puncheons for 18 months. This wine is whole shades darker than Barbera sourced from Fort Bowie; almost a blood-red shade.  Then again, this could be due to the soils geology: wines from Fort Bowie were historically always several shades lighter than their counterparts from other vineyards, and when compared with Barbera from California or Italy, the color is

The Nose: The wine has primary and secondary notes of sour cherries, unripe plum, cinnamon, smoke, and vanilla.  Tertiary notes, collected in my new fun glass, consist of roasted marshmallows, sandalwood, crushed limestone, and raspberry.

The Palate: As one would expect for a Barbera, this wine opens with notes of dark cherry, strawberry, and plums, with additional notes of violets, and anise. There are also strong notes of vanilla, along with a lot more tannins than I was expecting from a Barbera, but it still has the high acidity that is common in this varietal. There is also a distinct, unique note that I’ve had some trouble placing in this wine on the finish–after some thought, it reminds me of a mossy piece of limestone. The finish of this wine lasts for 57 seconds, and is filled with notes of rosemary, violets, anise, and cherry, along with the aforementioned limestone.

The Pairing: Normally I’d be all for pairing Barbera with a friendly pepperoni and mushroom pizza, but this wine demands something a little more complicated and rustic.  After some thought, I think a lavender and rosemary encrusted lambchop with a side of risotto would work well with this wine.  A vegan take on tajarin pasta, using truffles and eggplant would also work well.  Savory is the key here.

Impressions: Right out of the gate, I want to tell you that this Barbera is weird. Not in the same way as the Wild Ferment from Fort Bowie, mind you. We’re talking weird in the same way that people described me in High School.  For one, I’d recommend decanting this particular wine for an hour–something I’d normally never suggest for a Barbera.  You could also potentially age this wine for another year or so, too, for the same effect.  This is a Thinking Man’s Barbera.

This wine, if personified, is the odd kid from high school who had a super-geeky interest in food. He would spend hours in the kitchen preparing awesome meals for his friends (and maybe for even those who were not his friends–he was a genuinely kind person, after all), based on innovative flavors and spices.  Indeed, he has a collection of odd spices from far-away places, the same way other high school kids collected Pokemon cards or sports memorabilia, or Lord of the Rings action figures.He has different meal pairings for different sodas.  You laugh at him for this, then try it, and see he’s right. He will grow up to be a celebrated chef, but at this point in time, he’s a little awkward.


Podcast: Albariño with Lacey Ritter

Albariño is one of my favorite grapes that is gaining some traction in popular wine culture lately. In this podcast, I sit with my friend Lacey Ritter, and we compare three vintages of this grape which is fond of oceansides–and see how the wines grown upon the bones of our lost sea compare to those of the modern seashore. It’s a grape that’s beginning to take the world by storm; indeed, I discovered several vintages growing it during my venture to Rhode Island, which is why this post is so tardy.

We also talk vineyard care, and vineyard life; pruning, growth, and the like, so if you’re interested in vineyard life, be sure to give this a listen as well.

Albarino on the porch


A visit to Bruzzi Vineyard in Young, Arizona


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Having only one day off in a while can make it tough. But sometimes you make it worthwhile by visiting a vineyard you’ve never been that’s at the edge of the wine industry… with that in mind, I decided to visit one of the (very) few Vineyards in neighboring Gila County, Bruzzi Vineyards.  This vineyard happens to be one of the most unique in the state. Why?  Bruzzi Vineyards the only vineyard exclusively devoted to higher-elevation hybrid varietals. It is also the only vineyard in Pleasant Valley that is truly sourcing their fruit exclusively from Pleasant Valley, providing an authentic examination of terroir from this unique region. Let’s get to it.

Bruzzi Vineyard

Here I am with James Bruzzi, the owner of this site. James actually started the vineyard as a hobby, after escaping the city of Phoenix. The vineyard began as an idea of vines around the driveway but quickly expanded across most of his acerage.  One of the reasons for this was the desire to find out what varietals would work in this high-elevation site.

Bruzzi Vineyard

After trying to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, and Marquette, James stumbled across a perfect fit. His vineyard is the first site in Arizona to grow Vidal Blanc.  This varietal is a grape known for extreme hardiness in the face of late frosts and cold weather. Both of these are the major challenges of growing in Young, Arizona, in the center of fertile Pleasant Valley. So far this grape has been rugged enough to survive–indeed, thrive–in this rugged landscape with a rugged history.

Bruzzi Vineyard

The vineyard is small when compared to the larger vineyards of Willcox, but as one of the only vineyards in Gila County, holds the seeds of promise for the future. (The only others I am aware of are a small, private vineyard on top of the rim, and a vineyard recently planted in Globe). James plans on expanding their planted acreage…

Bruzzi 4

In this particular plot of land, all prepped and tilled, James plans on planting 50 Baco Noir vines, a cold-weather adapted varietal normally associated with the Niagara Escarpment region of Canada and New York State. It is a varietal which I’ve had my eyes on for planting in sites along the Mogollon Rim for a while. I’m happy someone else had the same idea. There are plans to plant Seyval Blanc as well, which has proven to be very successful at D. A. Ranch.

Bruzzi Vineyard

The soils here are very rich and fertile with a long history of agriculture. Pleasant Valley was inhabited in prehistory by various clans of Ancestral Puebloans (Mogollon and Anasazi cultures, specifically), who planted crops of corn, bean, and squash in the area. According to James, this particular vineyard site was once planted with Pinto Beans. Today, James also plants several rows of crops such as pumpkins, as well as several rows of raspberries and blackberries, seen here.  To reach water, one needn’t drill as far as you would in Willcox–James says the average depth before striking water is a mere 28 feet.

Bruzzi Vineyard

The growing season here starts later, and harvest is finished up by mid-October, most years. Most telling for me is that most of my vineyard friends down in Willcox are frantically posting pictures of bud break, often coupled with expletives, while the Vidal Blanc vines here are quietly slumbering, and will do so until mid-April.  Pruning hasn’t even started yet. (This means I may be able to get my pruning in after all, this season.) The harvest yield is about 1.5 tons per acre.

Bruzzi Vineyard

The landmark windmill on the property is something that will, James hopes, be part of the label for his wines. Here James Bruzzi himself gleefully stands in front of his vineyard, a jewel of Pleasant Valley.  His wines are currently made at the Arizona Stronghold facility in Camp Verde; indeed, I reviewed the first vintage produced. James plans on continuing this relationship with Arizona Stronghold indefinitely, and profusely thanks both Corey Turnbull and Eric Glomski for coming to his aid with his first harvest in 2015.

Bruzzi Vineyard

I also tasted a sneak peak at the 2016 vintage that will be poured exclusively at the Bruzzi Vineyard tasting room. Fruit from this vineyard will end up also in the Tazi from Arizona Stronghold at about 3%. In addition, there will be another vintage under the Page Springs label. I found the 2016 vintage to be bright, and crisp, with bright apple notes. Slightly sweet, it struck me as a great white wine for hot summer days. I look forward to sitting with a bottle later in the year. The tasting room is open on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at noon.

I also popped into Trident Winery, as no trip to the Mogollon Rim country is complete without a visit here. Both wineries can be visited within the same day, as they’re only about an hour apart from each other. I highly recommend doing so. Why? The drive alone is worth it, as you will be traveling through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the state.  That, and good wines can be found at both. Here is a preview of the Amber Chardonnay that Ray made, which is also pretty tasty.


Passion Cellars: 2013 Jerome White


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Fort Bowie Vineyard was one of the major sources of grapes in Arizona, and its loss still resonates, for better, or for worse.  (Someday, I should write an introspective about that vineyard, but today is not that day, and tomorrow doesn’t look terribly good either.  Many Arizona wineries got their start with fruit sourced from Fort Bowie, and Passion Cellars was among them during it’s first crush season, when the 2013 Jerome White was made.

As part of my research for the upcoming Certified Specialist of Wine exam at Yavapai, I’m going to relay a bit of extra information about the various varietals in the wines I review–this also will serve to put our Arizona wines in a broader, worldly context.

2013 Jerome White

The 2013 Jerome White is 100% Chenin Blanc.

The Wine: The 2013 Jerome White is 100% Chenin Blanc, sourced from Fort Bowie Vineyards.  It is interesting to note that so much of Arizona’s Chenin Blanc was sourced from Fort Bowie, which is no longer in existence.  As far as I’m aware, this means that the last remaining source for this grape in Arizona (that I am aware of) is Dragoon Mountain Vineyard. The wine was fermented, and aged in stainless steel.  No Malolactic fermentation took place. This wine was made by Jason Domanico, as part of the first crush season at Passion Cellars, and won a double silver from the 2014 AWGA Festival at the Farm.  This wine is a light greenish-yellow in the glass.

Nose:  The 2013 Jerome White opens with notes of mint, lemon, apple, and apricot. As the wine opens up a bit, additional notes of honeysuckle, muskmelon, and honeydew melon emerge from the glass.

Palate:  This wine is fairly light-bodied. When freshly opened, this wine has a delicate, minty quality that would make it deeply refreshing for hot summer days.  This mint flavor intermingles with notes of peach, lavender, apricot, and pear.  As the wine opens, additional notes of muskmelon, and apple emerge, along with a very slight minerality.  The finish of this wine lasts for 43 seconds.

Pairing: Grilled Atlantic Char or pan-seared Rainbow trout, with a side of wild rice and roasted bok choi is what I’d pair this wine with; if you seek a vegan or vegetarian pairing for the 2013 Jerome White, make an Asian-style veggie stir fry with oyster mushrooms and again, wild rice.

Impressions: I’m normally not fond of Chenin Blanc, but when I tasted a bottle of the 2013 Jerome White in the tasting room last week where I was pouring it as a bonus pour, it actually really stuck out above the ordinary for me.  That’s what led me to take home a bottle and sit with it.  It strikes me as a great summer vintage.  For some reason, I picture this wine as a pigtailed tomboy in her late teens, getting all muddy after jumping into rivers from swings.

How does this wine compare with one from this grape’s Urheimat?: The few Chenin Blanc wines I’ve had from the Loire tend to have a more marked minerality, possibly from the region’s Tuffeau soils–a layer of limestone in the subsoil.  I suspect that if Chenin was ever planted in the Verde Valley, it would be very, very similar to Loire versions. That being said, since Arizona seems to have abandoned the Chenin bandwagon, this isn’t likely to happen.  In short, it’s a little fruitier than Chenin Blanc from the Loire.

Fun Facts: Chenin Blanc is a varietal that comes from the Loire Valley, in France; also known in California and South Africa, used in Vouvray in France, and a whole host of other AOC’s in the Loire Valley.  There are even sparkling versions of this grape to be found coming from the Loire. It is also one of the oldest known varietals, records of this varietal date back to 1455.

Thoughts from the AWGA Gala in January…


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Continuing our theme so far this month of “Stuff I should have posted eons ago,” here’s an article I wrote about my thoughts inspired by the AWGA Gala and awards ceremony last January, that didn’t get published anywhere… yet…

Also, for the record, posts are potentially going to be a bit spotty for the next few months, as I study for the CSW exam and class at Yavapai College.  While I have a great handle on Arizona and the US, my knowledge of the rest of the world is rusty at points, so there’s a lot of studying ahead.


My friends and I at the gala. This selfie is all the more hilarious when you realize it was taken with a Nikon D90.

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Podcast: Long Long Ago and Not-so-far Away

In this Podcast which I recorded last December (!), long-time Amigo Gary Kurtz and I talk about Rogue One while drinking Chateau Tumbleweed’s 2013 vintage of the Lil’ Frankie.  (50-50 Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc)

I love how I said this podcast would “probably” be posted three weeks after the winter solstice.  “before the inauguration.” I am clearly the biggest slacker EVER. Actually what happened here was that this podcast was a victim of the restructuring of this blog where I decided to post and upload a podcast bi-monthly…but I digress.

Spoiler alert for Rogue One. Trigger Warning for some political commentary, where you finally learn where my politics sort of align. Academic warning for film discussion. Bordeaux Warning for Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Flipping-the-Bird warning because it’s with Gary.

Rogue One

Neither of these lovely ladies appear in this podcast, but one of the wines do!

Provisioner Release Party


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I was lucky enough to score a few tickets for the release party honoring the new Provisioner vintages last Thursday. I don’t get to go to these sort of events very often. It was great fun, with some fantastic food, and of course, bull-riding. The strangest thing, though, was not being the only person around wearing a bolo tie. Anyway, enough preamble; let’s talk about the party.  And of course, the wines. The party was at the monOrchid in Phoenix, and sponsored by Arizona Stronghold.


Let’s go to the party.

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Golden Rule Vineyards: 2013 Black Diamond


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As we’ve mentioned before, Golden Rule Vineyards is a bit of an outlier in the Willcox region, geologically, thus imparting a particularly unique terroir in wines produced from grapes grown there.  The 2013 Black Diamond is no exception to this rule.

2013 Black Diamond

Here we see the Black Diamond overlooking the Verde Valley.

The Wine: Like most of the wines from Golden Rule, the 2013 Black Diamond is named for a mine in the area.  The Black Diamond Mine was a silver and copper mine that opened in 1880, forming a small boom town of about 100 people.  The post office associated with the town closed in 1908.  This wine can be classified as a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, as it consists of 80% that grape.  It is also made from 10% Petit Sirah, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot, all sourced from GRV.  This is a big, California-style Cabernet, sitting at 14.9% alcohol with a decent amount of aging in new oak. The wine is a very deep, dark purple color, thanks to the use of Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot. I believe this vintage was made a the Aridus facility, but I am unsure of who was the winemaker at that time.

The Nose: When first opened, the 2013 Black Diamond has a tight, dense nose with notes of cassis, blackberry, black currant, and mulberry, with notes of black pepper and vanilla.  As the wine opens during and after decanting, additional notes of cedar, cavendish tobacco, granite dust, and iris emerge.

The Palate: This is a full-bodied red wine.  When first opened, this wine is pretty tightly-wound, with a short 20-second finish.  At that time, expect few notes other than cherry, blackberry, and cassis, along with intense vanilla and big, leathery tannins.  After decanting for about three hours, however, the wine tells a different story.  The wine finally opens, with notes of currants, violets, molasses, black pepper, granite, and tobacco emerging on the palate. There are still plenty of leathery tannins, of course. The finish after a three-hour decant lasts for 1 minute and 9 seconds, and is filled with notes of sage, rosemary, cassis, and granite.

The Pairing: It’s hard to argue with the traditional Cabernet Sauvignon pairing of ribeye with this wine, but it will also pair well with cigars.  In fact, a proper cigar will cut through the tannin notes if you’re imbibing this wine straight out of the bottle instead of decanting.  For a vegetarian or vegan pairing, serve this wine with a vegan mushroom lasagna.

Impressions:  This is a very tannic, young red that will need longer to cellar than many other Cabernet Sauvignon vintages in the state.  The main reason for this is the use of the screwtop enclosure, which limits introduction of oxygen to the wine.  Cellar for longer than you otherwise would, or decant the 2013 Black Diamond for several hours.

If you’re a lover of big, bold Napa or Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon wines, I would definitely recommend the 2013 Black Diamond over other Cabernet Sauvignon vintages in Arizona.  If you are more a fan of more subtle vintages coming from Bordeaux, or Washington, however, this wine may not be your thing.

I feel like this wine, if personified, is a professional blackjack player, always dressed up for some black tie gala.


Sand-Reckoner: 2013 Malvasia Bianca


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Sand-Reckoner finally opened their long-awaited tasting room in the Tuscon Warehouse district this last weekend, and while I sadly was unable to descend from my mountaintop to join them, I did decide to drink yet another one of his lovingly-created Malvasia Bianca vintages. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make that sound like a chore; the 2013 Malvasia Bianca was a delight to drink.  I really hope to check out the space soon; from all accounts, it is an absolutely delightful space, located at the Tuscon Warehouse Arts district: 510 N 7th Ave, #170.

2013 Malvasia Bianca

The 2013 Malvasia Bianca from Sand-Reckoner is a good wine to sip by a rushing stream.

The Wine: The grapes for the 2013 Malvasia Bianca were sourced from the Sand-Reckoner Vineyard.  The grapes were destemmed and then spent 24 hours soaking on the skin.  The wine was fermented in neutral oak, with 8 months on the lees.  The 2013 Malvasia did not undergo malolactic fermentation. The winemaker, as with all Sand-Reckoner wines, was Rob Hammelman.

The Label: There’s some neat stuff going on here with the label of this wine; I want to talk about it because I think it’s pretty cool. As you may well have guessed, the name Sand-Reckoner is an homage to one of the greatest mathematicians of the ancient world, Archimedes. This particular label features an artistic interpretation by Thomas Ale Johnson of a particular calculus function: a visual homage to this mathematical theme. This function also appears on the label of the Rosé, but in a different color.

The Nose:  As with most Arizona Malvasia Bianca, this wine opens with bright, cheerful elderflower and jasmine notes, intermingling with slight lavender, honeydew melon, and pineapple, but also with a strong grassy note that is not present in earlier vintages.  This actually took me a bit off guard, as I was not expecting it.  (It is not a bad thing!  It adds to a strong “springtime” impression.)

The Palate:  On the palate, the 2013 Malvasia Bianca is similar to many others; a little bit more full-bodied, thanks to the lees aging.  Hints of lilac, honeydew melon, vanilla, jasmine, and elderflower are predominant, as are the aforementioned notes of lemongrass.  The classic limestone dust that’s present on most Willcox whites is also to be found on the finish (along with lemongrass, honeydew, and elderflower), which lasts for 49 seconds.

The Pairing: It’s hard for me not to recommend Malvasia with Pad Thai, like I always do, but the grassy notes in this vintage make me wonder about some new and innovative pairing ideas for this wine.  A Lemon-Basil pesto chicken dish strikes me as a dish with a lot of potential for pairing with this wine.

Impressions: Once again, a Malvasia I like a great deal, but the unique, grassy character of the nose and palate of this particular vintage remind me of some classic Sauvignon Blanc wines I’ve had from Sancerre–something out of the ordinary for Arizona Malvasia, at least for me.  This means new food pairings, new ideas, and new questions:

Is this something that’s actually a normal flavor during the aging process? Is it a result of barrel fermentation?  Is it a result of aging on the lees for shorter, rather than longer?  Or was it a result of weather conditions in the vineyard that were different in 2013 versus other years? The only answer, of course, is to drink a lot more and compare a lot of notes. I do enjoy wines that force me to think about new questions.

This particular Malvasia is a naturalist–perhaps working with the BLM or the Nature Conservancy in an attempt to restore the desert grasslands that once covered much of the state.  She wears a silver necklace with a pronghorn antelope, etched in silver, and earrings in the shape of Kestrels.  On her shoulder is a tattoo of a Loggerhead Shrike with an impaled butterfly.

The Very Special Arizona Statehood Day Podcast with Bess Karner


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For the Arizona Wine Monk’s Very Special Arizona Statehood Day Podcast (Or, I guess, Valentine’s day Podcast also, or the St. Tryphon’s Day podcast… all three? Sure, why not?), you all finally get to meet my girlfriend, Elizabeth (Bess) Karner.  Who wants to be called The Cider Wench.

More importantly, in this podcast, Bess meets Malvasia Bianca, my longest-lasting relationship and girlfriend wine, in the form of the 2011 Private Reserve from Freitas Vineyards, or as she calls it, “Captain Tightpants Bianca.” We also have fun talking about her experiences at the AWGA Gala dinner and awards ceremony, and her impressions of Arizona and our wines, as well as general nerdy things–fans of C.S. Lewis’ more obscure works should also take a listen.

This wine has been reviewed before on the Arizona Wine Monk blog here, so take a look at this original review as well; this was one of my favorite Arizona vintages of Malvasia and it’s sadly no longer available.  In fact, this was the very Malvasia that made me fall in love with this grape.

Happy Arizona Statehood Day, guys!  And Blessed feast of St. Tryphon the Pruner as well.  And, um, St. Valentine’s day if you’re Catholic. (We Orthodox technically don’t celebrate until July.)

arizona statehood day podcast

This is a fancy malvasia.