When I first started drinking Arizona wines again after a long exile in Boston, I heard rumors of a vintage called “The Dragon” at Burning Tree. I never got to taste those previous vintages, though I hunted for them; they were as elusive as the legendary creatures the wine was named for. So when Corey Turnbull took me aside one day and said “The Dragon is coming back,” I was freaking ecstatic. He gave me a bottle shortly after it went in, told me to hold onto it for a while, and… I decided now is the time, since, as C.S. Lewis would say, I’m old enough for fairy tales again. I’ve also barrel-tasted the next vintage of the Dragon, which also promises to be killer…
2014 “The Dragon,” Burning Tree Cellars.
The Wine: The 2014 Dragon is, like previous iterations, a GSM blend. This vintage was made from 100% Arizona grapes. Specifically, the blend is 54% Mourvedre, 34% Syrah, and 12% Grenache. The Mourvedre and Grenache came from the fabled Colibri vineyard, the jewel of the Chiricahuas, while the Syrah came from the Willcox Bench, specifically from Carlson Creek Vineyard. The wine was aged in 30% new French oak for 22 months; some of the barrels Corey was super excited about were made by Meryiuex, which he felt would add some extra complexity and smoky character to this vintage of the Dragon. It’s a lovely sort of candy-crimson color in the glass, almost akin to the color of resin from the Dragon’s Blood tree, in fact.
The Nose: The wine opens with intense fruit: bright cherry and strawberry, with hints of watermelon, cinnamon, and plum, intermingling with the classic Colibri white pepper notes. After decanting, additional herbaceous and floral notes of violets, sage, cloves, and rosemary emerge from the wine, as well as a scent that reminds me of a ponderosa pine forest in summer.
The Palate: Bright plum, and watermelon characters, along with cherry jolly rancher, latakia, vanilla, sage, and that classic Colibri white pepper. After the wine is decanted, notes of cloves and cinnamon also emerge on the palate, along with rosemary. There’s quite a bit of tannins here, and The Dragon has a juicy acidity. The finish is long, lasting for 2 minutes and 6 seconds, and contains notes of white pepper, vanilla, and sage.
The Pairing: If you don’t want to pair it with a night of playing Skyrim, I’d pair this wine with smoked elk ribs, or venison. Carne Asada tacos with green chilies would also work quite well. A vegetarian pairing would look towards using a combination of lentils, wild rice, and shitake mushrooms to create a dish to pair with The Dragon; perhaps some sort of soup or stew.
A Digression: Every wine made with Colibri fruit which I have encountered has distinct notes of white pepper on the nose and palate. This is something distinct from wines coming from the other side of the Chiricahua foothills. To me, this means something specific about the local geology and soils of Colibri versus other vineyards in Arizona, and honestly, I wish I knew what the hell it was.
Somewhere in this mess is Colibri and I need to know!
The only geologic maps I’ve been able to find are distractingly vague in showing the region and don’t give me enough resolution to be able to figure out the location of the vineyard in relation to the local geology. It also doesn’t help that I just haven’t been to that corner of the state since I was about 16–and I was more interested in birding at that time. Clearly I need to make the trip myself, hopefully with The Geologist in tow, so that way I can better discern what in the local landscape and rocks is providing those classic Colibri white pepper notes. (Maybe I can convince her to write a paper about it… I digress.) Anyway, back to the wine.
Impressions: The 2014 Dragon is a pretty kickass GSM. And, it’s a wine that is pretty representative of the unique terroir of Colibri vineyards, even though it’s not coming entirely from that vineyard. This is a wine well worth hunting for, if you’re a fan of Arizona GSM blends, and should cellar well for another 10 years at least.
I feel that if this wine was a person, The Dragon would be sort of like the last character I created in Skyrim: an impish rogue with a penchant for crossbows and up-close sword-work, clad in leather armor. She’s also got some magic skills and likes laying down fire runes as a trap.
(I also just realized that will make no sense to anyone who has never played Skyrim, so let me rephrase that: She’s a badass.)