Sierra Bonita Vineyards: 2011 Squared


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I don’t give Sierra Bonita nearly enough love here, and I probably should. They’ve been producing some of the best single varietal reds–including the (in my opinion) best Cabernet Sauvignon in Arizona–but it’s hard to get bottles from them up in my mountaintop lair.  The last time I visited the tasting room, I was offered along with my bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon (which I’m still holding onto), a bottle of Squared.  “I can’t guarantee it aged well, it wasn’t stored properly.  There’s a 50% chance it’s gone bad.”

“I can live with those odds,” I replied.  “I promise if it’s bad, I won’t blog about it.”

So, a few nights ago, not wanting to dip into their Cabernet, which is slowly sleeping in my cellar, and since I wasn’t in the mood for a white wine–as much as I want to try their new white I got at the Willcox Wine Festival– I decided to see how good my odds were.

Turns out, the odds were damn good, and I’ve enjoyed this bottle over the last couple days, finishing it off last night at the town Dungeons and Dragons game.

(What?  You already knew I was a nerd.)


2011 Squared in the Jerome Cemetery; Cleopatra Hill in the background.

The Wine: The Squared is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% of each, and aged on newer French oak; I am uncertain for how long.  Like all their other wines, this vintage was made at their on site winery, located within the boundaries of the Willcox AVA.  It’s a darker garnet purple in the glass–though not as dark as a similar blend would be in California–which is what you’d expect from a Bordeaux-style blend in Arizona

Nose: The Squared opens with rich notes of cedar, cherry, and earth, with delicate notes of violets and iris.  As the wine opens up in the glass, additional notes of anise, vanilla, and rosemary, along with the monsoon dusty petrichor I tend to associate with Willcox red wines.

The Palate: On the palate, the wine opens with notes of raspberry, cherry, and plum, with herbal notes of rosemary and tarragon.  As the wine opens up, these notes intermingle with rich earth, green chili, prickly pear, and Willcox earth.  There’s quite a bit of tannins here; I probably could have aged this wine for a bit longer, and a mild acidity.  The finish is long, lasting for a minute and fifty seconds, filled with earth, tannins, plum, dust, and tarragon.

Pairing: I really want to pair this wine with a bowl of chili on a cool fall evening; either vegetarian or venison chili would work.  Steak would also be a good pairing for the Squared, as would a roasted red pepper and mushroom soup.

Impression:  I really feel like Cabernet Franc doesn’t get nearly enough love compared to it’s more boisterous child, Cabernet Sauvignon in general, let alone within Arizona itself. (especially since Arizona Cab Franc reminds me a lot of Chinon Cab Francs….my favorite location for this grape.  It’s been a while since I’ve had one, I should hunt one down.  I digress)

This is a particularly harmonious blend.  Neither of the two grapes overpower one another; both coexist together.  It kind of makes me think of that perfect couple that we all know–they never seem to fight, they always work together, and we’re all envious of their relationship. It’s quite possible that the two of them share a love of heavy metal.

Podcast: Orange Wine with Friends


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Gary, of course, is flipping me off because it’s a tradition.

So, this is a bit unusual, perhaps, since there isn’t an Arizona wine in this podcast at all! However, with the arrival of the Orange/Amber Judith wine from Caduceus later this year, Gary, his wife, and a few friends of mine decided to join me for a mini research night where we drank an Amber wine from Italy, and one from Colorado, wrapping it up with the Dirty and Rowdy Skin-Fermented white when we decided we needed to research a bit more.  This was perhaps too much fun…

Silver Strike Winery: NV Deep Core Cab


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Tucked away in the rough and tumble streets of Tombstone not far from the OK Corral of story and song  can be found one of the most unique wineries in the state.  Silver Strike Winery is a small production facility sourcing fruit at this point from Willcox, but from the future will be experimenting with some fruit sourced from a vineyard much closer to town.  Most of their wines are fermented in and aged on Stainless Steel, which is one reason why I chose the wine I did to bring home with me, since it is almost unheard of for a Cabernet Sauvignon to be aged entirely on steel.  They also don’t add sulfites to their wines.


NV Deep Core Cab, from Silver Strike Winery.

The Wine:  The Deep Core Cab is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Dragoon Mountain Vineyard, near Willcox. There is no vintage listed on the bottle, but I seem to recall Jann and Hank saying that this bottle was from the 2015 vintage.  (I lost my notes from the tasting room so I can’t be certain of my memory, sadly).  The wine was fermented in stainless steel, then aged in stainless steel before bottling.  This is the first Cabernet Sauvignon I’ve encountered that wasn’t a rose which was fermented and aged in steel, which I found to be interesting.  The color of this wine, as one would expect from most expressions of this varietal in Arizona, is light; a shade of ruby rather than dark crimson. Jann and Hank Bengel are the owners of Silver Strike Winery; Hank is the winemaker.

The Nose: The nose of this wine opens with notes of cherry, anise, black pepper, and cassis.  As the wine opens, notes of cocoa nibs and coffee also emerge from the glass, along with green pepper and plum, and that Willcox dust.

The Palate: On the palate, this wine has prominent cherry and plum notes, with hints of chokecherry, cocoa, and coffee, intermingling with black pepper and cinnamon.  As the wine opens, notes of green pepper and anise emerge onto the palate, along with the dusty flavor I associate with wines made from fruit from the Willcox AVA.  There’s a fair bit of tannins here, despite the wine not encountering any oak.  The finish of this wine lasts for 1 minute and 16 seconds, and is filled with notes of anise, pepper (both green and black), sour cherry, and dust.

The Pairing: I really wish the Persian restaurant in Cottonwood was BYOB, because I feel this would pair really well with the fare served there.  Middle-eastern cuisine with this wine would be a match made in heaven, whether with meat or without.  Focus on pairing with Lebanese or Persian cuisine, especially.

Impressions:  It’s really interesting to see the land shine through in this wine, unimpeded by oak.  The low sulfite content does make me worry about long-term age-ability (as does the clear bottle), so if you intend on aging this wine, temperature control and darkness are absolute essentials to keep in mind.

The wine itself is a grizzled old miner who is an expert co0k.


Sunrise shows off the color of this wine best.






Caduceus Cellars: 2015 Nagual del Judith (White)


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High above the Verde Valley is Maynard’s vineyard near Jerome, known as the Judith Block, named for his mother.  On this site is planted Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Aglianico (if I remember rightly), and, of course, Malvasia Bianca, my truest and dearest love.  This vineyard has a completely different terroir than the other vineyards in the Verde, and I’m always excited to taste the town I call home.  Last weekend, Caduceus released the latest vintage of the White Judith. Naturally, I had to pop in and take a look.


2015 Nagual del Judith White.

The Wine: The 2015 White Judith is 100% varietal Malvasia Bianca.  As mentioned above, the grapes came from the Judith Block, in Jerome.  At 4,800 feet, this is one of the highest vineyards in the Verde Valley.   The vines are, if I remember rightly, planted on the Devonian Martin Formation.  The grapes were whole-cluster pressed.  Part of the wine underwent fermentation in stainless steel at 52° F; the other part was fermented in neutral French oak puncheons at 65° F.  The Judith has a slight greenish tinge, compared to, say, the Freitas Malvasia from the bottom of the valley (although this is also partly a result of aging).  This wine was certified by the Arizona Vigneron’s Alliance, and made by MJ Keenan.

The Nose: The 2015 Judith opens on the nose with floral notes of elderflower, gardinia, and hyssop, intermingling with honeydew melon, seasalt, and lemongrass.  As the wine opens, the nose becomes more complex, with notes of honey, lychee, and mint.  Overall, the nose feels lighter than those Malvasia Bianca wines coming from the Willcox AVA.

The Palate: This wine opens on the palate with notes of mint, lychee, honeydew, and the rich elderflower you expect from Arizona Malvasia.  These notes intermingle with tart lemon merengue and gardenia.  As the wine opens, fruit notes intensify.  The finish of this wine lasts for 1 minute, 13 seconds, and is filled with notes of white peach, seasalt, and lemongrass.

The Pairing: Serve the 2015 Judith White with Swordfish or Tuna steaks with a side of Spanish rice; or do some sort dish with a focus of smoked, roasted Green Chilis.  Or Thai food.  You really can’t go wrong with Thai food and Malvasia….

Impressions: The Judith Malvasia should cellar for 2-10 years, no problem, thanks to the acidity prevalent in Arizona expressions of this varietal. And it’s worth collecting because a) it’s Arizona Malvasia, and b) it’s from Jerome, and right now this is the only expression of this varietal from my mountaintop abode.

Lighter than its Willcox brethren, this Malvasia is a light ballet dancer, prone to wearing bright colors and dancing either in moonlight, or in light summer showers.

Rancho Rossa: 2013 Cracklin’ Rosie Rosé 


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As we whirl quickly from Summer and the Monsoon deep into fall, I find myself staring in horror that I have less time than I thought to drink rosé before the icy cold hands of winter reach their grip across northern Arizona.

The answer to this realization of cold dread, of course, was “go out into the desert and drink some rosé on the top of a really cool hill.”  Naturally, I followed this higher calling, just for you guys.  (Well that, and it was a rough week, so “rosé in the desert” seemed like an all-around good idea to relax and unwind a bit.  Say, now I wonder if “rosé and unwind” should be a hash tag…)

2013 Cracklin’ Rosie Rosé, from Rancho Rossa Vineyards.

The Wine:  The 2013 Cracklin’ Rosie Rosé is named after the Neil Diamond song of the same name, and is a blend of 87% Grenache, and 13% Syrah.  The fruit for this wine came from the Rancho Rossa estate vineyard, so this wine is 100% Sonoita AVA fruit. The grapes for this wine were harvested on 9/21/13 at 20 Brix.  The pH was 3.43, and it was left on the skins one day before being pressed. The winemaker was Chris Hamilton.  It is a pale salmon in color.

The Nose: This wine opens with notes of apple, peach, strawberry, mesquite honey, and the classic Sonoita tangerine. As the wine opens, notes of limestone, grapefruit, and lychee emerge from the glass

The Palate: Notes of white peach and strawberry intermingle with persimmon and apple on the palate.  The wine is ever so slightly effervescent, granting a unique dimension to the palate of this wine.  The finish of this wine lasts for 1 minute and 17 seconds, with notes of tangerine, grapefruit, and persimmon.

The Pairing: Pair this wine with bacon wrapped shrimp or crab.  Barring that, herbed hot wings or a hummus and vegetable plate would work also.  I just like pairing rosé with party foods, I guess.

Impressions:  This was a pretty fun rosé to close out the summer with.  If you don’t get to this wine before winter comes, you could save it in your cellar until next summer… but why?

Grenache rosé is a pretty classic Arizona style; this example is a guerrilla knitter and wildlife biologist who prefers to spend his time in the desert, versus the city.

Rosé in the desert is a good thing.

Podcast: oDDity Wine Collective


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I sat down with the fine folks at oDDity Wine Collective for an exclusive sneak peak of their wines a few weeks ago down at the Vineyards Bed and Breakfast at Page Springs with some additional friends and the owners of the space. These guys are awesome; all great friends of mine and I’m so happy that they’ve made some really amazing and unique vintages, and I look forward to future vintages from them.

This podcast is connected to two upcoming articles which will be published later this year in Arizona Wine Lifestyle as well as The Noise, so stay tuned for those articles as well! These wines will be available at Four-Eight Wineworks soon, so stay tuned!

Websites for those who are interested:

We recorded the podcast at the Vineyards Bed and Breakfast in Page Springs, and it’s a pretty lovely space.  And breakfast there is delicious!

oDDity Wine Collective:


the oDDity Wine Collective Team!

Coronado Vineyards: 2014 Malbec


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Malbec is, despite its popularity in the general market, is not a grape you see being made or grown very commonly in Arizona yet, but it is becoming more commonplace. It also is, admittedly, a grape that, with all the love and excitement I give to Malvasia and Sangiovese and Graciano, I tend to forget about. (No, really.)  So when Sam Pillsbury in a recent article from the Phoenix New Times mentioned that the most underrated Arizona wine he’d tasted was a Malbec from Coronado Vineyards, I said, “Wait… I have that bottle.  I forgot I had it. I don’t know why I’ve been saving it. I mean to drink it months ago.  Oops.  Silly me. I should drink it and take some notes.”

So, readers, I did. Out in the desert (and then with a friend a few days later).


Coronado Vineyards 2014 Malbec with ruins in the desert.

The Wine:  This vintage is 100% estate Malbec, grown on site.  Coronado Vineyards grows off of the bench, on a deposit of Precambrian granite, so the terroir here is slightly different than the Willcox Bench, but we’ll get into that in a bit when we talk about the taste.  I am unsure how long the wine was aged in barrel, or how it was fermented, but if I had to guess, I would venture to say this wine was aged in at least 20% new French oak. This wine is a very dark, rich, plum-purple in color.

The Nose: The nose of this wine is filled with aromas of plum, cherry, mulberry, and coffee, intermingling with notes of Virginia Burley tobacco, leather, and black pepper. As the wine opens, notes of granite gravel and anise emerge from the glass.  I suspect this wine was aged in French oak, due to the rich aromas of vanilla and butterscotch I get on the nose of this vintage.

The Palate:   The overall impression of the palate is that this wine tastes purple.  No, really!  Black cherry, Pomegranate, Plum, Raspberry, Blackberry, and Blueberry notes all are present, intermingling with nutmeg, cinnamon, leather, earth and coffee notes. As the wine opens, notes imparted by the oak: vanilla, wood, and earth, dramatically intensify. The finish of this wine lasts for 2 minutes and 3 seconds, and is filled with notes of tobbaco, cherry, anise, and granitic gravel.  There’s still a decent amount of tannins here. It also feels a little hot on the palate, but at 14% alcohol, this is perhaps not terribly surprising.

The Pairing:  I ended up pairing this wine with brisket and potato salad, and it worked pretty well.  I’d also pair this wine with buffalo or elk, whether in steak or burger form. For a vegetarian pairing, a rich lentil and mushroom stew with potatoes would compliment this wine rather well.

Impressions:  Arizona malbecs tend to lie dead center on the gradient between Cahors (French) expressions of this varietal and Argentinian malbecs, and the Coronado Malbec is no exception to this rule.  Furthermore, the dusty flavor and aroma which I associate with wines coming from the Willcox bench are absent, but the geology of this vineyard is much different than the Bench anyway since these vines are planted upon Precambrian deposits, rather than the lake sediments of the bench.  Different terroir imparts different tastes, after all, and the granitic soils of this part of the AVA definitely seem to impart a granite note to the wines at Coronado.  Cellar this wine for another five years, or decant for an hour prior to drinking.

Overall, my impression of this malbec is that if purple was something you could drink, this wine would be it. Which again, makes me think of lent and purple vestments.  But, this wine is more joyous than the Cellar 433 malbec I drank last winter.  Still masculine, still muscular, but not priestly, this wine is an archaeologist, specializing in the collapse and rebirth of civilizations.


another shot of the same malbec


October Noise Review: Dios Mio Man (Passion Cellars)


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This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous…

Long ago in France, there was a grape, a grape I wanna tell you about, by the name of Alicante Bouchet. At least, that was the handle the mad mysterious French botanist gave it when he created it in the 1860s. Somehow along the way, this grape came west to California, and quenched the thirst of rough and wicked men during the dark years of Prohibition, thanks to its thick skin and red, red juice. Y’know, they call Jerome the wickedest city in the West. I didn’t find that to be, exactly. But I’ll allow as there are some wicked wine rooms there. But I tell you what, after drinking the Dios Mio Man from Passion Cellars, why, I can die with a smile on my face without feeling like the good Lord gypped me after drinking that Alicante made from fruit of that rough and tumble place in the new Willcox AVA.

Now this here vintage I’m about to unfold took place back in the mid teens, just about the time of our conflict with Assad and the iSyrians. I only mention it because sometimes there’s a wine — and I won’t say a syrah, because what’s a syrah? … Sometimes there’s a wine who — and I’m talking about the Dios Mio Man here, well, he’s the wine for his time and place, he fits right in there … And even if he’s a pretty simple and satisfying wine, and the Dios Mio Man is certainly that, perhaps the most simply satisfying in Yavapai County … Which would place him high in the runnin’ for most satisfying statewide — but sometimes there’s a wine, sometimes there’s a wine … Wow, I lost my train of thought here. But — aw hell, I done introduced this wine enough.

The Dios Mio Man is technically a blend, consisting of 76% alicante, 12% syrah, and 12% cabernet sauvignon. The grapes for this wine came from Dragoon Vineyard, and Fort Bowie Vineyard of blessed memory, both in what is now called the Willcox American Viticultural Area. (That’s right, Willcox has street cred on a world stage now). The wine was made by Jason Domanico, and named both for the first words out of his mouth when he tasted the blend he had created, as well as a deeply quotable line from The Big Lebowski. The Dios Mio Man was aged in 40% new French oak barrels for 16 months, and then spent an additional 8 months aging in bottle before being released in the tasting room. As one would expect for a wine made mostly of Alicante, this vintage is a deep, friendly, ruby-red color.

The nose of this wine is simple, but satisfying. Rich earthy notes (a standard feature of wines from the Willcox AVA) intermingle with aromas of coffee, cherry, raspberry, and blackberry. As the wine opens, the wine does become more complex, with notes of allspice, violets, vanilla, and black pepper emerging from the glass. On the palate, the Dios Mios Man is also simple and thorough, with rich plum, cherry, and earthy notes play delicately with cacao, vanilla, lavender, and velvety tannins that caress the tongue. The finish lasts for one minute and thirty-five seconds.

It is perhaps not the most complex of wines, but sometimes you don’t want complex. You want something satisfying. You want a wine where any sort of aggression will not stand. And, with its rich color, earthy palate, and soft tannins, the Dios Mio Man really ties a big meal together. Pair this vintage with some savory grilled ribeye steaks, with a side of nopales, green peppers, and a baked potato. For a vegetarian pairing, I would serve this wine with a satisfying and savory vegan chili, focused around jackfruit and beans.

I feel that the Dios Mio Man is one of the best wines made largely from Alicante Bouchet that one could find on the market here in Arizona, but that’s just like, my opinion, man. This wine is like a classic, no-nonsense gunslinger, with a handlebar mustache and a well-oiled revolver, with dust on his coat. Grab your bottle from the Passion Cellars tasting room in Jerome for $49.


2014 Dios Mio Man, with Jerome in the background


Podcast: Prickly Pear wine from Trident Winery in the desert


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This is perhaps the most personal podcast I’ve ever done.  It’s also the shortest.

My grandfather died a couple weeks ago (on the 16th to be precise).  While he was in the final stages of his battle with cancer, and moved into a hospice, I decided to take some wine out into the desert and raise a toast to the influence he’s had on my life.

He was a winemaker too, in his basement… but we’ll get to that.

I miss you, Pop.


Wine and petroglyphs.

Chateau Tumbleweed: 2015 Picpoul Blanc


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Yes, I know, I know, I review a lot of Chateau Tumbleweed wines, but the fact is that they’re pretty close by, and they’re doing a lot of interesting things. (Just wait until I start in on their Graciano… eventually.)

Case in point, this is only the third full expression of this varietal I’ve encountered in Arizona, and it’s yet more proof of concept that we need to be planting more Picpoul Blanc in Arizona, forthwith.  It’s not only great for providing acidity in great blends like the Trio from Flying Leap, but also great on its own, as this example shows.


Chatreau Tumbleweed Picpoul Blanc.

The Wine: This wine is technically a blend; consisting of 97% Picpoul Blanc, coming from Cimmaron Vineyard, and 3% Albariño from Dragoon Mountain Vineyard. The grapes were cold-soaked for 24 hours, then whole-cluster pressed.  The juice was chilled and settled 48 hours prior to racking and then the wine was inoculated with “specially prepared yeasts” (eventually I’ll learn all the yeasts).  The wine was fermented in stainless steel at 55 degrees Fahrenheit for 19 days.  The fermentation was halted at about 1-2% residual sugar, and the resulting wine was aged in stainless steel.  There was minimal cold-stabilization, and it did not undergo heat-stabilization either.  The wine was filtered, but unfined, and the resulting residual sugar was .45%  The pH of the Cimmaron Vineyard picpoul blanc is 3.28.  The winemaker was Joe Bechard.

The Nose:  Like the Sand-reckoner Picpoul, the nose of this wine is pleasing, but simple, with notes of lemon-lime, kumquat, quince, and subtle floral notes of gardenia and cliff rose.  As the wine opens, green apple and vanilla notes emerge from the glass.

The Palate:  While not as acidic as french versions of this grape, there’s still enough acidity here in this wine to belie that oft-cited traditional translation of the name for the grape as “lip-stinger.”  The residual sugar also adds a nice touch; the wine doesn’t taste sweet, but it certainly feels refreshing.  The palate opens with lemon-lime, some refreshing acidity, and coconut notes. As the wine opens, these notes intermingle with notes of  gardenia and green apple.  The finish of this wine is short, lasting for 30 seconds, with a citrus medley commingling with that classic Picpoul acidity.

The Pairing:  Crab Ceviche with a side of hummus, or… any seafood dish, really. This will be difficult to source for a locally-sourced meal, as you can imagine, but if you’re bringing back some fish you caught on a summer trip from Puerto Penasco, it’d be hard to find a better pairing than swordfish or tuna steaks.  For a vegan pairing, you could attempt some vegan sushi with veggies, avocado, and seaweed, or aim for hummus and celery.  Green Thai Curry might work in a pinch, but that is edging into Malvasia territory.   Or drink it outside on the last hot days of early autumn, before we go plunging headfirst directly into winter, on its own.

Impressions:  Don’t age this bottle.  You’ll be sad if you do.  Drink this wine young, and while in the sun.  Or with seafood.  This wine is another stellar example of the real potential of this varietal in Arizona, which to me after this vintage found itself on my list of top five white grapes in Arizona.

As for personality–this picpoul is a little sassy and just a bit sweet.  She’s a cutie; confident in what she does so that she snarks against anyone who stands against her, but when you get to know her, you can’t help but want to constantly be in her company.