Del Rio Springs: 2015 Dolce Bianco Vignoles


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In the Midwestern United States, there is one grape that seems to reign supreme for semi-sweet and sweeter white wines: Vignoles. In Arizona, however, there is (so far) only one vineyard growing this varietal: Del Rio Springs, in Paulden.  The 2015 Dolce Bianco is the first wine in Arizona to be made with this varietal. I’m a little late on the uptake for this review, as I wanted to see how this wine would cellar for a while… which means there are only five bottles left at the winery if dessert wines are your jam.  Oops.

2015 Dolce Bianco

Vignoles is a grape with a secret history… kind of like Carmen Sandiego, actually.

The Grape: Vignoles, as I mentioned before, is a pretty common grape grown throughout the Midwest and Eastern US, often made into dessert wines. (It is especially common in Missouri and the Finger Lakes.) It is a complex hybrid cross that has a bit of a mysterious character, as nobody is quite certain what grapes were used to create this varietal (Genetic testing has seemingly disproven the theory that Pinot Noir and Seibal. It is cold-hardy, and of course, a white varietal.  This cold-hardiness is what allows this grape to grow rather well in the Paulden area.

The Wine: The 2015 Dolce Bianco is technically a blend of mostly Vignoles and a tiny bit of Riesling, sourced from the Del Rio Springs Estate Vineyard in Paulden, Arizona.  This Medium-bodied dessert wine was fermented in stainless steel.  The wine itself is a bright lotus yellow in shade.  I am not sure off hand how much residual sugar is present in this vintage, but I know this vintage was a late harvest.  Based on the palate, I would guess this vintage has about 5% residual sugar.

The Nose: While Vignoles is not a grape I am extensively familiar with, I have had a few from Missouri and Kansas, and overall, the nose of the 2015 Dolce Bianco is quite reminiscent of those few vintages I’ve experienced. Striking aromas of pineapple, key lime, mango, acacia blossom, and mango.  As the wine opens up, additional aromas of honeysuckle, vanilla, and apricot emerge.

The Palate: Again, this wine is pretty much standard compared to the few Vignoles vintages I’ve tasted over the years. Bright flavors of Pineapple, Mango, Apricot, and Starfruit create an opening salvo in this medium-bodied dessert wine, intermingling with notes of acacia blossom, honeysuckle, and a creamy meringue character on the finish, with just a hint of petrol.  What does make this wine noticeably different from the 2015 Dolce Bianco’s bretheren is a distinct, ashy/clay note on the finish, very reminiscent of the geological makeup of the vineyard–a hint of local terroir.  The finish of this wine lasts for 40 seconds, with notes of pineapple, honeysuckle, apricot, and that aforementioned clay character, along with the sweetness as you’d expect from a dessert wine.

The Pairing: Pair this wine with Creme brulee, or better yet, Indian food.  Anything with a fair amount of coconut, such as Thai dishes, will also work well with this wine.

Impressions: Vignoles is a grape that seems well-suited to the cooler climates in Arizona, such as Paulden.  I suspect it may also do well along parts of the Mogollon Rim, so I’m glad that Rick Sklazdien is pioneering the ground with trying out this grape at his vineyard site.  If you like unusual dessert wines or are a Midwestern transplant that misses the wines of their homeland, I recommend trying to track down a bottle of the 2015 Dolce Bianco.  The combination of high acidity and residual sugar should also allow this wine to age reasonably well over the next 5 years or so if you wish to cellar this wine.

Personified, this grape is a woman who spent some time as a spy.  She is blonde, and fond of big hats and tan coats. She is *slightly* less mysterious than her sister who got her very own PBS Show, but is also far more friendly.  She now works as a high school history teacher.


Cabal Winery: 2015 Conspiracy


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The opening of Cabal Cellars in Jerome has probably taken many people by surprise. Located in the old Passion Cellars Tasting room (the new one is above the Police Station), Cabal is another brainchild of winemaker Jason Domanico, but with a twist–this is a label created with his employees in mind. Jason noticed that most of his employees wanted to become more involved with other aspects of wine and winemaking than just working the tasting room, so he created this custom-crush type label with that aspect in mind. The long-term plan for Cabal Cellars is to eventually be mostly, if not entirely, employee-owned. The 2015 Conspiracy is an excellent opening example of the weird and fun wines that should be coming out of this label over the next few years. The label themes for the wines from Cabal are going to be great conspiracies, movers and shakers in history, and people who were forgotten by history as a result of circumstance.

2015 Conspiracy

The 2015 Conspiracy by Cabal Cellars can best be categorized as an “inverse Bordeaux-Style’ blend.

The Wine: The grapes for the 2015 Conspiracy were sourced from Dragoon Mountain Vineyard, in the Willcox AVA. The blend is composed of 70% Petit Verdot, 24% Malbec, and 6% Tinta Cao. This vintage was aged in French oak for 23 months. The idea behind the 2015 Conspiracy was to make an inverse Bordeaux-style blend made from the least-commonly used Bordeaux grapes: Petit Verdot and Malbec. These grapes are only typically 10% (at most) of any given blend coming from Bordeaux. The label design was suggested by Jim, the former cellar assistant to Jason, and features one of the greatest Baseball conspiracies: the infamous 1919 Chicago Black Sox. The wine is, as you would expect from a blend containing mostly Petit Verdot, a deep ruby or garnet red.

The Nose: The nose of the 2015 Conspiracy is deeply influenced by the Petit Verdot in the blend, opening with aromas of pencil shavings, intense blueberry, blackberry, plum, and black cherry, which intermingle with rich floral notes of lavender, lilac, and violets, along with that classic Willcox dust. After the wine has been decanted, the 2015 Conspiracy attains aromas of blueberry jam, crushed violets, paprika, cacao, and rosemary.

The Palate: The 2015 Conspiracy is a big, full-bodied red wine with bright acidity and big tannins. Again, intense Blueberry, blackberry, plum, and marionberry flavors create a strong jammy character, intermingling with those big tannins, and a hint of cedar. Before decanting, the finish lasts for a full minute, with lingering notes of earth, basalt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and rosemary. After decanting, the tannins fade and additional notes of violets and coffee emerge.

The Pairing: This is a big wine that demands big foods. Pair the 2015 Conspiracy with New York Strip steaks or Portobello mushrooms if you desire a vegan pairing.

Impressions: The 2015 Conspiracy is a fun, big, bold red blend which is a unique take on a classic and venerable tradition. Indeed, one could rightly call this an “Inverse Bordeaux” blend. That being said, this wine right now is very big and tannic, and I feel will greatly benefit from extended aging in the cellar, anywhere between 3-5 years or more. I think it is a good sign of things to come from Cabal Cellars, and am looking forward to future offerings.

Personified, I feel that the 2015 Conspiracy is a war veteran sitting in an overstuffed leather armchair in a study, watching his grandchildren play outside while he smokes a cigar. Maps and memorabilia are out on his desk.

Saeculum Cellars: 2016 Muscat of Alexandria


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Today we are going to explore a wine made from a grape which has an often maligned reputation: Muscat of Alexandria. This grape is better known, perhaps, as one of the main grapes used to make that dreaded sweet wine often identified as a favorite of beginning wine drinkers and late middle-aged women: Moscato. Yet, I feel in many ways this is an unfair categorization of this grape, and the 2016 Muscat of Alexandria from Saeculum Cellars is a good example of why this is an unfair reputation for this ancient grape. This is a bone-dry, aromatic white wine that bucks the expectations of what this grape has the potential to do.

2016 Muscat of Alexandria

The 2016 Muscat of Alexandria from Saeculum Cellars is not your grandmother’s moscato.

The Grape: Since I really haven’t explored an Arizona version of this grape, it’s only fair to give Muscat of Alexandria a proper introduction. As it turns out, this is a very old, possibly ancient varietal. This grape is a natural cross between Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (aka Muscat Canelli) and Axina de Tres Bias. It is also known as Zibibbo in some places with an Arabic influence, which comes from the Arabic word for raisin. Some of the most famous sweet wines of Classical Antiquity, from Limos, Khios, and Kos were made from this grape. Despite the name, it probably did not originate in Alexandria, Egypt; more likely it came from the Aegean or Magna Graecia. According to Jancis Robinson, the viticultural characteristics of Muscat of Alexandria are that it is mid-budding, late ripening, and likes heat, being adapted to drought conditions. This grape is known for big bunches of big berries and is susceptible to bunch rot, which can make it difficult to grow in Arizona due to our Monsoon season. Rolling View Vineyards, as it turns out, is one of only two vineyards growing this grape that I have been able to uncover; the other is Dragoon Mountain Vineyard. Dry Muscat of Alexandria wines are also made in Spain and Italy, though aren’t as commonly imported as their sweeter, sometimes bubbly, brethren from Italy.  The 2016 Muscat of Alexandria acts as an homage to this dry Iberian style.

The Wine: The Saeculum Cellars 2016 Muscat of Alexandria is made from 100% varietal grapes, sourced from Rolling View Vineyards in the Willcox AVA, located at the heart of the Willcox Bench. The wine was made in the Four-Eight Co-Op facility in Camp Verde. There was no skin contact, and this wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel before bottling. It is a cheerful straw hue.  The label, designed by winemaker Michael Pierce, shows the mountains surrounding the Willcox AVA as viewed from the Bench.

The Nose: The nose of this wine opens with bright aromas of blood orange, orange blossom, apricot, and flint, intermingling with other floral and herbaceous notes of jasmine, gardenia, honeysuckle, roses, and bay leaves.

The Palate: The 2016 Muscat of Alexandria is a light bodied, high acidity white wine. Blood Orange again returns to the palate, intermingling with notes of apricot, pomelo, starfruit, and persimmon, with undertones of lemongrass and caliche.  The finish of this wine has notes of limestone, persimmon, vanilla, orange blossom, and gardinia, lasting for 38 seconds.

The Pairing: I want to pair this wine with Chinese food, like orange chicken.  Yes, I know it sounds odd pairing wine with takeout food, but that’s how I roll sometimes.  This wine would also pair well with Ceviche or Sushi.  Vegetarian Chinese or Vietnamese dishes will work well with this wine also.

Impressions: This is not your grandmother’s bubbly and sweet Moscato d’Asti.  This is a desert in comparison; dry, stretching across the horizon. It is lemons at dawn.  This is a style I think which is well-suited for our dry landscape; and an excellent homage to drier Muscat wines coming from Spain and Portugal, as I’ve stated above.

While this wine is bright, blonde, cheerful and friendly,  she also has a sharp, sardonic edge. She plays with knives in the shower… and possibly is a lawyer with an extensive knowledge of Krav Maga.  Either way, while she is fun to be around, you should be careful careful.

Caduceus Cellars: 2014 Menti Rosso (VSC)


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The early years of planting in Arizona were not nearly as regimented as they are now. When Al Buhl planted the vineyard that now bears his name almost 30 years ago, one of the grapes he thought he was planting on the Willcox Bench was Cabernet Pfeffer. But something didn’t seem quite right. It didn’t follow most of the growing and taste traits of this obscure grape. When Maynard Keenan acquired Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard a few years ago, he had genetic testing done on these particular vines and found to his surprise that these grapes were an even MORE obscure varietal: Gros Verdot. And thus the 2014 Menti Rosso was born. With the 2015 vintage being offered in the Caduceus tasting room currently, I thought I should crack open my 2014 and see how it was doing. Normally, you have to be a member of the wine club to get this bottle, but I was lucky enough to grab a bottle after a really fantastic dinner at Merkin Osteria last year.

2014 Menti Rosso

The 2014 Menti Rosso is a good thinking wine, made from 100% Gros Verdot. The name comes from the Spanish for liar. Pictured: my pairing for this wine.

The Grape: Before we get into the wine, I thought I’d look up this grape in Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes and learn a bit more. This grape has actually been banned in France since 1946, even though it was once an important varietal in the Queyries vineyards of 19th-century Bordeaux. It is therefore probably extinct in France. This means that, other than the planting here in Arizona, Gros Verdot survives only in a couple vineyards in California and 7 acres in Chile.  (It is, as it turns out, one of the grapes allowed for Meritage blends, however.)

The Wine: The 2014 Menti Rosso is made from 100% Gros Verdot, sourced from Maynard’s Al Buhl Memorial Vineyard on the Willcox Bench, the heart of the Willcox AVA.  The wine was hand-picked and hand-sorted. These grapes underwent an open-top and submerged-cap fermentation at the crush facility in the Verde Valley.  This wine was then aged for 18 months in new and neutral French oak puncheons, then underwent additional bottle aging.  The wine was made by MJ Keenan, and named “Menti Rosso” after the Spanish word for “liar”, due to the history of these vines as I mentioned above.  It is a deep red in color, but not nearly as dark as Petit Verdot vintages in Arizona; instead, the 2014 Menti Rosso is a rich garnet red, with some tawny edges showing its extended age (for an Arizona wine, anyway).

The Nose: When first uncorked, the nose of the 2014 Menti Rosso opens with aromas of cherry, plum, and cedar, intermingling with notes of pepper, petrichor, vanilla, raspberry, sandalwood, lingonberry, and strawberry, along with the classic Willcox AVA dust.  The fruit aromas are lighter than what you might expect for such an ostensibly bold grape; I was expecting lots of dark fruits instead! After decanting this vintage for an hour, the nose gains an additional bright minty aroma that intermingles with the other aromas.

The Palate: The 2014 Menti Rosso has high acidity and high tannins, but is still much lighter than a Petit Verdot of the same age. Fruity notes that make me think of stewed a compote containing cherry, plums, lingonberries, and marionberries, with hints of strawberry are decidedly noticeable, intermingling with vanilla, slate, and creosote.  Yet this wine also has a jammy character as well.  The finish of this wine lasts for 57 seconds when straight out of the bottle, with strong tannins intermingling with notes of blackberry, cherry, creosote, vanilla, allspice, and lingonberry.  After decanting this wine for an hour, the tannins mellow dramatically and additional notes of lavender and mint emerge.  After decanting, the wine has a long, lingering finish that lasts for 1 minute and 30 seconds.

The Pairing: I want to drink this wine with rustic peasant fare; potroasts, porkroasts, and ratatouille.  I honestly feel like I want Rhone style cuisine with this vintage, even though this is decidedly not a Rhone varietal! At the Caduceus/Merkin Velvet Slippers Club dinner last year, Chef Christopher Smith paired this wine with some fun meat-filled ravioli that worked quite well.  Pork chops with rosemary also strike me as a potentially excellent pairing. I also would strongly consider pairing this wine with a maduro cigar (This was what I did, and it worked really well).

Impressions: Despite Maynard naming this wine for the Spanish word for “liar,” I would say that this is not a wine that lies.  It is what it is, and doesn’t try to lie about it.  Instead, I would use the Italian translation for this wine as “Thinking Red.” The 2014 Menti Rosso is a wine that has made me sit down and think about the quirky history of grapes, grape growing, and planting here in Arizona, let alone in France.  By the stroke of a pen in post World War II France, a grape became extinct only to reappear in the high deserts of Arizona more or less entirely by accident, and that’s a pretty awesome thing.  It tastes great now, but you could probably cellar this wine for another five years easily.

Since this is a Thinking Red, this wine is a linguist who’s hobby is trying to translate songs in other languages he’s never heard based on the languages he already knows. He will listen to a medieval Welsh Lullaby and work out the words based on his extensive knowledge of other Indo-European languages, for example.  He likes sitting in an overstuffed chair in his office, pouring over books, and names his MMO Character after linguistic puns.

2014 Menti Rosso

This was Chef Christopher Smith’s pairing with the 2014 Menti Rosso at the Velvet Slippers Club dinner last year.

Rune Winery: 2014 Viognier


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I’ve apparently been drinking a lot of Viognier lately, but it is one of the best white grapes in Arizona after all.  And James Callahan, as I’ve stated before, is one of the top winemakers in the state.  As I’ve mentioned before, each specific Rune wine style has a label story.  Considering the specific label theme for this series being set among the pueblos built by the ancient peoples of Arizona… I had no choice but to take my last bottle of the 2014 Rune Viognier to Perry Mesa for some in-situ photography at one of my favorite archaeological sites in Arizona.

(I should note: one of the reasons why my updates have been so erratic lately is due to bad winter lighting for wine photography.  I don’t like taking photos of wines in the dark… usually.  I digress.)

2014 Rune Viognier

The 2014 Rune Viognier with petroglyphs and that vibrant blue Arizona sky.

The Wine: The grapes for the 2014 Rune Viognier were sourced from Pillsbury Vineyard, in the Willcox Bench, of the Willcox AVA.  As before, I believe this vintage was fermented in stainless steel, with some aging on neutral French oak, though I could be mistaken; the main difference is that I am pretty sure this vintage may have entirely been a wild ferment. It is a bit darker in color than the previous vintage; sort of a blonde or jasmine yellow shade.

The Nose: This wine opens with an intense salvo of apple and pear notes, intermingling with limestone, white flowers, gardenia, datura, lily, butterscotch, and vanilla.  As the wine opens, additional notes of honey, peach, and papaya emerge. Overall, the longer the 2014 Rune Viognier is open, the less floral this wine is on both nose and palate–this was true of the 2013 vintage as well.

The Palate: This is a medium-bodied Viognier with medium acidity.  The palate opens with notes of apricot, peach, and papaya, along with floral notes of gardenia, lily, and yucca flower.  As the wine opens, additional notes of apple and pear emerge. The finish of the 2014 Rune Viognier lasts for 29 seconds, filled with notes of tropical fruit, white flowers, and the classic limestone/caliche minerality I associate with white wines coming from the Willcox AVA.

Pairing:  Serve this wine with lemon-grilled chicken and a side of rosemary russet potatoes.  However, I do oddly feel that this wine will work with a KFC bucket and a good sports game too–and that is a versatility that shouldn’t be laughed at. A lightly spiced Pad Thai will work for a vegetarian pairing.

Impressions: The 2014 Rune Viognier is drinking well; if you have this in your cellar, I’d open it and enjoy it within the next year or so. It is another stellar example of what this grape can do in Arizona.  I’d argue that this vintage has the classic “Kublai Khan pleasure palace vibe” of Condrieu, also, so if you’re into that particular style of Viognier, this vintage, as well as the 2015 Vintage, should not be missed.

Personified, I feel this particular Viognier is a quiet historian, prone to deep contemplative thoughts over a white chocolate mocha while working on a thesis on Senaca and other aspects of Stoicism in the early Roman Empire.  She had a rough year last year, but philosophy kept her going.  She has a pot of white flowers on her desk: orchids, from her mother.

2014 Rune Viognier

Viognier and Petroglyphs: silence.

Nebbiolo Podcast (Piedmont vs. Arizona and California)


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These are the Nebbiolo vintages we imbibed over the course of recording this podcast.

Nebbiolo is a grape that tends to evoke certain images in the mind’s eye.  It evokes images of fog-shrouded mountains in Northern Italy, mysterious and ethereal.

In this podcast, I drink with Emil Molin, Joe Bechard, Kris Pothier, Dean Pfanis, and Steven Elston. The focus of this podcast is Nebbiolo.

Some grapes in Arizona do amazing things that compete directly (or surpass) the wines made from them in their motherland, like Malvasia, or Graciano.  Other grapes do equally good things, like Teroldigo. Other grapes still, like Nebbiolo, just don’t seem to compare at all to the wines in their Urheimat. Why does Nebbiolo fall into this category? Take a listen and find out.

Southwest Wine Center: 2017 Amphoria Rosé


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The Southwest Wine Center, as I’ve stated before, is focused around educating the future members of the Arizona wine industry. The students make their wines, and they’re all good. In fact, the Mourvèdre I reviewed earlier this summer picked up grand accolades at the Jefferson Cup in Missouri recently. Last year, they experimented with a Beaujolais style wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon that was a big hit. This year, they experimented again, and the result is the 2017 Amphoria, which I personally like more than last year’s experiment. (They also made a lot more of this year’s experiment, which is a Very Good Thing, as far as I am concerned.)

2017 Amphoria

The 2017 Amphoria: a memory of summer in a cold winter world.

The Wine: The 2017 Amphoria Rosé is made from 100% Sangiovese, sourced from the Yavapai College Vineyard in Clarkdale, Arizona. I actually helped pick the grapes that went into this wine, so it’s really neat to drink this. The wine was made utilizing carbonic maceration, the same method used to make Beaujolais Nouveau, as well as the New Wine from Garage-East. (I explained the process in that entry, so go and take a look there.) What also makes this wine so unique and experimental is that after fermentation and press, this wine was aged in replica Roman amphorae created by SWC student Tom Schumacher. The wine was, like all wines from the Southwest Wine Center, made by the students of the Viticultural and Enology program at Yavapai College. The 2017 Amphoria is medium-bodied rosé which is a lovely light salmon pink hue.

The Nose: The 2017 Amphoria opens with aroma notes of grapefruit, pomelo, fennel,  and sage, rounding out with hints of strawberry, peach blossom, and acacia blossom. Subtle hints of minerality and the faintest hint of black pepper lurk beneath the fruit, herbs, and flowers.  As the wine opens in the glass, notes of apple, apricot, and rose petals emerge.

The Palate: This wine is a well-integrated, medium-bodied rosé with mouthwatering acidity and slight tannins. There is a hefty load of citrus on the palate, with notes of pomelo and grapefruit intermingling with strawberry, rosehips, sage, papaya, and acacia. The finish of the 2017 Amphoria lasts for 52 seconds, filled with notes of papaya, guava, pomelo, thyme, with subtle hints of black pepper, coriander, and pottery/schist.  

The Pairing: I really want to pair the 2017 Amphoria with roasted goose. Or quail, cooked in a coq au vin style.  Birds, in general, strike me as a good pairing for this wine.  Rich Chinese food dishes would also potentially work well, offering a vegetarian or vegan pairing option, if that is your thing.

Impressions:  This is a great local rose made in an interesting way, and I suspect that the minerality notes are actually imparted by the use of Amphorae to age this wine, as they seem to have the same “placement” in the palate structure that oak tends to (at least, for me), and it is a different sort of minerality than I typically associate with whites and rosé coming from Willcox.  (I will put on my geologist hat for a moment here: the minerality in this vintage is more like licking a piece of schist, or even ancient Hohokam pottery, rather than a piece of limestone.)

Now, the question from a neuroenological perspective is: Is my brain tricking me into thinking this, or is it an actual flavor difference? (Is neuroenological a word? It needs to be a word.) I honestly don’t know, but what I do know is that I get this same schist-earthenware flavor note in the few Qveri-aged Georgian wines I’ve tried over the years, which are aged in a similar style. That’s the neat thing about this wine; it’s a good conversation starter between wine geeks.

Personified, this wine makes me think of sitting inside on a cold winter’s day, staring at snow out the window, and wishing for wildflowers and roses in springtime.  This bottle is drinking great now (which makes sense, considering the style), but I suspect could age for another year easily.  I do not recommend aging this wine for more than a year.

2017 Amphoria

These are some of the grapes that went into this vintage.

Deep Sky Vineyard: 2013 Aurora Viognier


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As I’ve mentioned before, Deep Sky Vineyard is focused upon astronomical themes for their label, and the 2013 Aurora Viognier is no exception to the rule. (I always felt that the names of the Aurora and Nebula should have been switched, but that’s just me.) I picked this bottle up in the tasting room on my birthday in their gorgeous new tasting room and winery in Sonoita, Arizona. Naturally, I decided that as befitting the theme for these wines, I had to drink and photograph this vintage during a spectacular astronomical phenomenon: the Gemenid meteor shower. (After all, the last time I saw an Aurora in Arizona was in March 2001, which was ironically on the same night I got interested in wine in the first place…)

2013 Aurora

The 2013 Aurora Viognier and a wayward Geminid meteor.

The Wine: I was not able to acquire a tech sheet for this vintage, so some of the following is guesswork. What I do know: the grapes of this vintage were sourced from the Deep Sky Vineyard in the Willcox AVA, and the wine was made in the Aridus facility, likely by Rob Hammelman. (James Callahan is the new winemaker for Deep Sky, for the record.) I am guessing that this wine was fermented in neutral oak, and aged in stainless steel. (I could be wrong, if I find out one way or the other I shall amend this post.) I also suspect this wine may have gone through a partial Malolactic fermentation. Like most Arizona Viognier, the 2013 Aurora is a medium-bodied white; blonde in color.

The Nose: The nose of the 2013 Aurora opens with notes of honey, apricot, pear, white peach, acacia, gardenia, intermingling with aromas of vanilla and brown sugar. Honey is to be expected in an aged Arizona Viognier, I have noticed.

The Palate: Notes of Peach, apricot, honeydew, honey, apple, pear, and orange peel intermingle with notes of white tea on the palate of the 2013 Aurora. This wine is medium-bodied, with medium acidity. The finish is filled with the typical minerality I associate with the Willcox AVA, intermingling with what honestly reminds me of Danish butter cookies, apricot, and white tea, lasting for 46 seconds.

Pairing: Viognier is a very friendly wine for the holidays; it will pair well with duck, turkey, and honey-baked ham. The 2013 Aurora is no exception to this. For a vegetarian or vegan pairing, a low-spice Pad Thai dish with lots of coconut and curry would also work quite well.

Impressions: The 2013 Aurora is a good example of what I could almost call (after tasting many of them) the Standard Arizona Viognier. Viognier tends to age relatively well here in Arizona (you can hold onto bottles for a while), but I feel that 2013 Vintages will be nearing their peak in the next year or so. Drink or hold this vintage, but hold it no more than another 2 years or so.

Personified, this vintage is like a blonde scientist, her eyes glued to the telescope, stirring her spiced chai in the cold of a mountain night.

2013 Aurora

Distant clouds glow like an aurora here…

Thirty-Three Degrees: 2014 Sangiovese


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The last time we met a wine from the Thirty-Three degrees label was in a podcast, recorded with the winemaker, where we also briefly talked about the inaugural vintages of Malvasia, Petit Sirah, and Tempranillo. I meant to review the Thirty-Three Degrees 2014 Sangiovese late last summer, but life got away from me at the time. Better late than never, and considering the age-worthy nature of Sangiovese from Arizona in general, this isn’t a bad thing.

2014 Sangiovese

Here, the Thirty-Three Degrees Sangiovese stands against an old stone wall with memories of the past…

The Wine: The Thirty-Three Degrees Sangiovese was sourced from Todd Bostock’s Cimmaron Vineyard, in the heart of the Willcox AVA.  The wine was made using the standard bin fermentation method and pressed after 7 days macerating on the skins.    The 2014 Sangiovese was aged for 20 months in neutral French oak.  Tim White was the winemaker for this vintage.  This sangiovese is pretty dark; a rich garnet red.

The Nose: The nose of the 2014 Sangiovese opens with notes of cherry, red plum, oregano, rose petals, vanilla, and hints of roasted pecans and nutmeg. After decanting, additional notes of violets, pomegranate, fennel, and a slight hint of mint emerge.

The Palate: The Thirty-three Degrees 2014 Sangiovese is a fruit-forward, medium-bodied Sangiovese with high acidity and medium levels of tannins.  The palate of this wine opens with notes of cherry, plum, cinnamon, and violets, intermingling with rosehips, dust, tomato, and toasted pecans. Before decanting, the finish of this wine lasts for 47 seconds, filled with nutty, leathery tannins, cherry, anise, and dusty earth.  After decanting, additional notes of mint, plum, fennel, and myrrh emerge on the palate, and the finish lasts for 52 seconds.

The Pairing: Like any Sangiovese, the 2014 Sangiovese would pair very well with pizza: especially one with a hand-made crust, with red sauce, taleggio cheese, basil, and mushrooms. If you are of a carnivorous bent, throw some finocchiona salami onto this pizza for a fun treat.

Impressions: The 2014 Sangiovese from Hidden Hand is a bit of a more riper, New World style, in comparison to the many more Italian style versions of this grape coming from Arizona; it’s far more fruit forward, rather than earthy.  This is an excellent demonstration of the versatility of Sangiovese in Arizona. After drinking this vintage, I tried a 2007 Sangiovese from California that I suspect resembles what this vintage will become with a similar amount of aging: entirely juicy fruit and acidity, with the tannins having faded away.  Therefore, I do strongly recommend cellaring this vintage for a good 5-10 years.

Label Notes: The label was designed by Daniel Martin Diaz, and features a weeping eye with rays of light. I asked Daniel to explain the label he designed, thinking that it was partially a nod to Masonic imagery, (which makes sense, as the successor to this label, Hidden Veil, will eventually be sold in the old mason lodge in Cottonwood.) I was wrong.

Daniel writes: “Personally, the weeping eye signifies the pain and suffering one goes through for what they believe in. It could be working hard at something for years. Honing in a skill that eventually leads to success. Not a monetary success but, a spiritual success. A positive moral quest. Not religious with all the bullshit dogmas. But, a Zen success. The drip or drop could represent the Blood, Sweat, and Tears one goes through to achieve a goal. The eye is the ability in envision or manifest an idea into fruition.”


Garage-East: 2017 New Wine


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In France, the first wine of the harvest year, Beaujolais Nouveau, is a cause for celebration and feasts. People wait with baited breath for the release, as it is often the first indication of how good the harvest was in any given year. The release is the same day every year: the third Thursday of November. The style is often described by wine critics as a wine which intended to be enjoyed but not analyzed, and quaffed rather than sipped. (Oops.) As an homage to that tradition, Garage-East has released their second Arizona “New Wine,” although this one is not made from Gamay at all…

2017 New Wine

The 2017 New Wine from Garage East is the perfect holiday wine.

The Wine: The 2017 New Wine is, like Beaujolais, made using a process of carbonic maceration. This is a whole berry anaerobic fermentation which tends to emphasize fruit flavors, without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins. In this process, grapes usually loaded into a sealed container that is filled with carbon dioxide; though for this vintage it was an open-top fermenter. Grapes that are gently crushed at the bottom of the container by the weight of their compatriots start to ferment normally, emitting more CO2. All this carbon dioxide causes an enzymatic fermentation to take place inside the uncrushed grapes. This tends to produce a light-bodied, light-colored, fruit forward wine, and this vintage is no exception. But this is where the resemblance to Beaujolais Nouveau ends. The 2017 New Wine Vintage from Garage East is made from a co-fermented blend of 50% Tannat and 50% Counoise, sourced from Cimmaron Vineyard in the Willcox AVA, and was then released in 1-liter cans. (last year, it was made from Aleatico.) The cool thing about this particular blend is that Tannat is one of the last grapes I would expect to use a carbonic fermentation process on, so I was really excited to try this.

The Nose: The nose opens with aromas of stewed boysenberries, prickly pear, lime-candied cranberries, and herbs like rosemary and creosote.  Additional notes of strawberries and watermelon jolly rancher. It is bright and fruity!

The Palate: This wine is a light-bodied, fruit forward red with high acidity, and just a tiny bit of tannins. The palate opens with flavors of red vines, prickly pear, strawberry, watermelon, and a bit of smokey creosote, along with just a bit of effervescence. The finish lasts for 45 seconds, with notes of anise, nutmeg, watermelon jolly rancher, flint, while that effervescence dances across the tongue.

The Pairing: Gary and I ended up pairing the 2017 New Wine wine with Thanksgiving; though our Thanksgiving was a bit unorthodox with Turkey Gyros and a Mediterranean theme. That being said, this style is a perfect wine for Thanksgiving turkey, or really, any other holiday meal (like honey-baked ham and the like).  

Impressions: Gary chided me for taking notes on this wine and quantifying it, accusing me of quantifying the unquantifiable, and in a sense, he is absolutely right.  As mentioned above, wine critics who have a much bigger readership than myself tend to see this as a wine to be enjoyed, rather than analyzed, and this is a correct assessment of this style.  It is light, rich, fun, and savory. It is a great wine to be enjoyed with friends, or alone.

The 2017 New Wine from Garage-East is kind of like your genuinely happy, and bubbly close friend.  No matter what happens in life, she is always optimistic and can find the silver lining in everything. She wants to see you cheered up from your dour mood.  And that’s more or less how this wine operates! Tannat can be so big, broody, and tannic, but here it’s bright, young, and exuberant.

I could also describe this wine (and did, at the Thanksgiving table) as being kind of like a hot date… except I’m actually enjoying it.  Thankfully, the folks at Garage-East made a lot more of this vintage than last year’s, so there are still some cans to be had in their tasting room in Gilbert.