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The oldest vineyard in Arizona is not located in Willcox or Sonoita, but in Chino Valley, north of Prescott. Having begun originally as America’s premiere producer of organic concord grapes in 1974, Granite Creek Vineyards thankfully has now planted some real grapes (don’t get me started on the evils of concord… just don’t). On site they produce wines from syrah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay, among others. Owned by the Hoult family, it is also Arizona’s only certified organic, low-sufite vineyard. As I mentioned in a previous column, I think that Del Rio Springs, Chino Valley is going to be Arizona’s best place to grow grapes from Burgundy. Continuing that thought, we’re going to focus on chardonnay this month. Chardonnay, while made famous in Napa through an often over-oaked, cedary, buttery, burned popcorn style, is originally from Burgundy. Currently there are two chardonnays in the tasting room at Granite Mountain Vineyards. We’re going to explore my favorite, the 2011 Reserve Chardonnay, which combines the classic styles of California and Burgundy in a quite lovely manner.
This particular chardonnay was made from 100% Estate fruit, and barrel aged for several years in older, second-year French oak barrels (rather than new, as in California), and underwent malolactic fermentation. This is a process in winemaking in which tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grapes, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid. This process, when done with chardonnay, imparts what is often described as a “buttery” flavor which results from diacetyl, a product of the reaction. (This molecule also exists in butter, hence the correlation.) The reaction which occurs during this fermentation process is caused by a bacteria known as Oenococcus oeni. This style of chardonnay, while common in neighboring California, is rare here in Arizona—we seem to prefer our whites crisp and acidic, perhaps because they feel more refreshing to us when the temperature climbs over 100 degrees in the summer. (The Beer Captain, however, absolutely loves this style, and we drank this one together.) Anyway, enough of chemistry; it’s time to drink, which is what we’re all here for anyway, right?
On the nose, the 2011 Reserve Chardonnay is immediately different from most other Arizona expressions of this varietal. There is an intense, buttery, creamy aspect to the nose that is blatant from the get-go, like fresh butterscotch or movie theater popcorn. The older oak adds a great bit of subtlety to the wine with hints of vanilla, intermingling with notes of sharp lemony citrus, and green apples. The palate has just a bit more oak to it than the nose, with more prominent vanilla notes. Furthermore, there is a distinct butterscotch note to the palate. Said finish is long and fantastic, lasting for over a minute, with lingering notes of lemon and apple.
This wine is a beautiful golden, sunshine, or straw-color in the glass. At 13% Alcohol, it’s also a decently big chardonnay at that! Due to both the high alcohol content and the intense buttery notes in this wine, I’d honestly pair this wine with the most decadent thing I can think of: lobster. For a vegetarian or vegan pairing for this wine, serve with a creamy pasta heavy on the truffles and other mushrooms. I admit, I’m normally not overly fond of chardonnay, but this one is one of the best I’ve tasted in the state. As a person, she’s your favorite aunt, being both comfortable and familiar, who gets you the coolest gifts around the holidays.
You can get your bottle of the 2011 Reserve Chardonnay from the Granite Creek tasting room in Chino Valley on Thursday-Sunday, for $31. Drink now, or age in proper conditions for another five years. Be aware, though, that it can be difficult to age a low-sulfate wine, so do store this wine properly, or you will be disappointed. I do recommend sitting outside in the tasting room’s lovely space to drink your bottle with a couple of good friends and a picnic lunch; Granite Creek Vineyards has a beautiful outdoor sitting space, and you can occasionally see peacocks strolling about as if they own the place.