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There are many styles of wines and grapes which Arizona is known for, but dessert wines are not normally among them; the climate here makes it extraordinarily difficult to accomplish such feats. But, after tasting the Sweet Lies from Pillsbury Wine Company, I’m beginning to think perhaps we should try our hands at more of them. It was a fantastic experiment that went beyond all hopes and expectations, and decidedly deserves the gold medals it won at the Festival at the Farm earlier this month. It’s a wine that’s all the more entertaining because the winemaker, Sam Pillsbury, normally hates this particular style of wine, having often railed against sweet wines in the past–hence the name, “Sweet Lies.” This Sauternes-style dessert white is absolutely fantastic, being my favorite dessert wine I’ve tasted from the state thus far. (Although, admittedly, I have not tried very many yet.) Even more interesting to me is the fact that it was fermented with wild yeast strains native to the Willcox Bench! (More on that in a moment.)
The Wine: The Sweet Lies is a wine made from 100% Symphony; this grape is a hybrid between Grenache Blanc and Muscat of Alexandria. So far, there are only two growers of this grape in Arizona that I’m aware of, but seeing how well it does, I feel it has real potential here. Aged in neutral oak, this wine was made at the Aridus Wine Facility; future vintages will be made on site at Pillsbury’s new winery facility, located on the Willcox Bench. The grapes were harvested at 27/28 Brix, and after fermentation has 3% residual sugar. As mentioned above; this wine was fermented with natural yeast strains native to the Willcox Bench; Sam feels that using native yeasts allows the wines to ferment more slowly, which creates richer, deeper, and more intense flavors within the wines, and thereby reflects the local terroir more overtly. After drinking this vintage, I am inclined to agree. This wine is a beautiful rich bumblebee yellow in color that is quite reminiscent of a young Grasă de Cotnari.
Nose: The bouquet of this wine is pretty wild; I’ve gotten notes I’ve never seen in any other wine before. The sweetness of this wine can also be picked up on the nose; it does smell faintly of raw sugar. I pick up Thai spices and ginger, intermingled with intense candied starfruit and orange; it is these first two which are completely new to me for any wine. I also get creamed apricots, peaches, myrrh, floral notes of gardenia and cliff rose, with the faintest notes of vanilla.
Palate: This wine is an intense creamy experience. Flavor notes of figs intermingle with tangerine and nutmeg, with subtle hints of lavender and jasmine. There are also notes of apricot, vanilla, and ginger on the palate. Overall, it reminds me a great deal of a young sauternes; pleasantly sweet, versus something over the top.
Pairing: Sam recommends pairing this wine with pumpkin pie; I agree. But I would also recommend pairing it with fruitcake, some sort of shortcake, or orange chocolate. Outside of desserts, this wine seems like it would be a fascinating pairing with Sushi or Pad Thai, or a nice aromatic pipe tobacco with an amaretto or vanilla theme.
Impressions: I really feel like this wine, like a Sauternes or a Grasă de Cotnari, will age quite beautifully. I’m intending to pick up a bottle and do just that. Drinking this, it’s pretty obvious why it won the gold medal at the Festival at the Farm. That being said, drinking this wine is a little bit like making out with a super-exuberant blonde bombshell in a flower garden attached to a Thai restaurant.
138 cases were made of the Sweet Lies. You can pick up a bottle at one of Pillsbury Wine Company’s two tasting rooms: one located in Old Town Cottonwood, next to Fire Mountain and across from Stronghold; the other is located on the Bench, just down the road from Bodega Pierce. If you’re looking for a great dessert wine for the holiday season and you’re wanting to stick to local wine, I’d be hard-pressed to make a better recommendation. Furthermore, as I said above, I feel like this wine will age quite beautifully, so if you want a dessert wine for a special occasion years into the future, this is one I would highly recommend.