Carlson Creek Vineyards: 2012 Merlot

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With the grand opening this last weekend of their fantastic new tasting room in Old Town Scottsdale, (and it was a fantastic opening shindig on Thursday night), it seems like the perfect time to crack open a bottle of one of their wines I’ve been meaning to review for a while!  Sadly, my first bottle of this wine was corked (and with the large amount of wines I review it was something BOUND to happen sooner rather than later), but Robert gave me another bottle back at the Willcox Wine Festival, and now all is well.

It may just be that all is well because of wine?  Eh, enough philosophy.  Let’s drink!

Carlson Creek Vineyards 2012 Merlot on my deck at dusk

The Wine: Bowie still casts a long shadow in the Arizona industry.  This vintage, which I seem to remember Robert telling me was the only Merlot they’ve made at Carlson Creek, came from fruit harvested from the now lost vineyard.  It’s a darker merlot; I’ve seen both light and dark expressions of this grape here in Arizona, usually dependant on the strength of the summer monsoons. The dark color and intense tannins indicate to me that 2012 was likely a dry monsoon season at Fort Bowie vineyards that year.  I’m not too sure about the aging of this vintage, but I’m guessing that this wine definitely saw some French oak.

The Nose: Rich blackberry, mulberry, and plum notes form the opening salvo of this vintage, intermingling with vanilla, dust, and cinnamon.  As the wine opens, subtle notes of espresso and cocoa  also emerge from the glass.

The Palate: The palate opens with notes of plum, black cherry, blackberry, and leathery tannins.  Notes of Turkish coffee, Virginia cavendish, and thyme round out the palate. The finish of this wine is filled with rich tannins, alluvial gravel, black cherry, and plums, lasting for about two minutes.

The Pairing: Elk steak, for sure, is the first thing that comes to mind, or Beef Bourguignon would also work for this wine if elk is not available.  For a vegetarian pairing, I’d actually treat this merlot as one would a Cab Sav–a heavy lasagna with shitake mushrooms or even grilled portobello mushrooms over mesquite coals would do quite nicely.

Impressions: Wines made from Bowie fruit can be hit or miss, since it is widely known that the fruit coming from this site was often difficult to work with, and of intermittent quality throughout the history of the vineyard.  But this is a very solid, friendly, and ageable merlot, and could easily be cellared for another 5-10 years with no problems.

This merlot is like an old friend you haven’t seen for many years.  You only meet up maybe once or twice every couple years… and it’s like you weren’t ever apart. 

 

 

 

Chateau Tumbleweed: 2015 Albariño

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Albariño is a grape I’ve had my eye on for a long time in terms of Arizona wines, for an intensely personal reason (which I’ll get to later, I promise).  It’s a grape that in Spain is often grown within sight of the sea, and is known for producing some phenomenal whites there.  When I heard that two different wineries were producing a full varietal expression of this grape with their 2015 vintages, I was ecstatic.  It just so happens that Chateau Tumbleweed released theirs to the public first (while the one Passion Cellars is producing will be a cellar club exclusive and will be hard to obtain unless you’re a member).

2015 Albariño, doing a handstand.

The Nose: The nose is largely reminiscent of varietal wines made from this grape in the Rias Baixas DO in Galicia, Spain.  Notes of peach,  kumquat, and boxwood form the opening salvo of this wine, intermingling with just a slight hint of cliff rose, mint, baking spices, and white pepper.  There’s also a slight hint of Willcox dust, replacing the usual sea salt that I normally get in Spanish expressions of this grape.

The Palate: On the palate, this Albariño is a little fuller in body than Spanish versions. The palate opens with notes of pear, apple, and boxwood, peach, and what almost reminds me of a burned marshmallow.  As you’d expect with a wine with a pH of 3.51, it’s nicely crisp. The finish of this wine lasts for 1 minute and 21 seconds, and is filled with notes of the classic Willcox limestone (exactly where I would have experienced sea salt in a Spanish version), peach, and vanilla.

The Pairing:  The traditional pairing for this wine in Spain is Octopus.  This is obviously going to be hard to come by in Arizona, but since I’m Eastern Orthodox, I’ll be the last one to tell you to avoid tradition.  I also feel like crab cakes or cod with cockles and white wine would pair well with this wine.  For a vegetarian pairing, serve with Kim chi, or a Vietnamese style salad.

Impressions:  If you like Spanish Albariño, you’re going to really dig the Chateau Tumbleweed one, for sure.  It has a lot in common, with wines from the Motherland, except for very subtle differences which I suspect are largely influenced by terroir; the shores of an ancient lakebed in the desert are a very different landscape than within sight of the sea (even though the ancient oceans that once covered Arizona play a large part in the alluvial fill of the valley, and can be seen in the surrounding mountains of the region).

So, as I mentioned before, I have personal reasons for being invested in Arizona Albariño.  Spanish versions of this grape have, in my mind, traditionally been the grape personification for one of my favorite exes, nicknamed (among other sea-themed names) the Sea Walker. Since this is a grape often grown within sight of the sea in Spain, it is a fitting personification for an aspiring marine biologist.  That relationship ended years ago when we both entered our dream careers, mine being Arizona wine, of course.  In a fashion, Arizona expressions of Albariño are a way to satisfy my curiosity about possible alternate universes where she moved out here.  She’d be different out here, but still pretty cool, and well worth getting to know.

Corrine the wine-slinger poses with said albariño

Page Springs Cellars: 2014 Dos Padres Vermentino

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I’ve been on a bit of a Vermentino kick lately here, and so I decided to explore Page Springs Cellars’ expression of this varietal.  I reviewed the Caduceus Vermentino release earlier, but that’s going to be published in conjunction with next month’s Noise review.

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2014 Dos Padres Vermentino from Page Springs Cellars

The Wine:  Fun story: I helped pick the grapes that went into this wine!  It was towards the mid-afternoon on a very, very hot day, after we were harvesting Malvasia.  The wine is made from 100% Vermentino, harvested from the Dos Padres block, on the other side of Oak Creek from the Tasting Room at Page Springs.  The vines are about 6 years old or so, if I recall correctly. I am unsure of what all went into the aging process, but if I had to guess, this wine was likely fermented and aged in stainless steel, or neutral oak.

Note on Geology: Dos Padres is planted on the limestone, evaporite rocks, and conglomerate of the Verde Formation, which plays a massive role in the terroir of that particular vineyard.

The Nose: Apple, pear and lime are the biggest notes on the nose, along with limestone dust.  As the wine opens, notes of pomelo, the sea, and green tea emerge from the glass.

The Palate: The 2014 Dos Padres Vermentino is an acid bomb, hands down. Intense citrus, forms the opening of this wine, along with sharp apple, sea salt, limestone dust, and white tea.  The finish lasts for 1 minute, 42 seconds, and is filled with notes of limestone, pear, and sea salt.  As the wine opens, notes of apircot, aloe and thyme emerge.

The Pairing: This is a good dry summer white–especially if you like acid bombs. Pair this wine with ceviche, shrimp tacos, or hummus and carrots.  Tabbouleh would be another fun pairing…

Impressions:  This is an intensely terroir-driven Vermentino. The limestone notes definitely are not normal in this grape, which is otherwise very similar to Italian versions of this varietal. It’s a deeply interesting wine which is very expressive of the vineyard where it was grown.

This wine is masculine–a sculptor of marble, prone to monolithic figures echoing the deepest recesses of the psyche.  However, I don’t know anyone who does this now–but his work would be reminiscent of Neolithic statuary from the Cycladic Islands of Greece for some reason.

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Vermentino at Montezuma Well

 

 

 

Flying Leap Vineyards: 2013 Mourvèdre

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I have two favorite seasons down in Willcox.  The first season is now, as the monsoon clouds sweep across the high desert backdrop, with spectacular viewing as the rain falls, sweeping the plains and vineyards while lightning flashes in the night and the cool scent of monsoon rain fills the nose.  Somehow, that same scent finds its way into most red wines made from grapes grown in Willcox.

My second favorite season is the middle of winter when the Sandhill Cranes come down from the deep north.  Flocks of thousands call as they fly to and fro above the vineyards. To me, they sound positively prehistoric.  One almost expects that the cranes remember the ancient lake that once covered the valley.  They have watched landscapes shift from one millennium to the next, and these cranes dance in the fields of winter as they begin their long courtship with one another, bringing flocks of birders to the high desert of Willcox in their season. It is for that reason that Flying Leap Vineyards chose to depict a dancing Sandhill Crane on the label for this wine, with a postmark– a message from Willcox to the world.

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2013 Mourvèdre from Flying Leap Vineyards

The Wine: Mourvèdre tends to be the last pick of the crush season here in Arizona, and this vintage was no exception, being picked in late October. This vintage is 100% Mourvèdre, picked from Block 1 at the FLV vineyard in Willcox, Arizona.  The grapes were fermented outdoors in small, open top bins; a major tradition for Arizona reds.  It was further aged for  14 months in older French and Hungarian oak barriques; I sadly do not know the ratio of one oak to another.  While this wine is super high in alcohol, it’s a little paler, and less opaque in color than some other varietal expressions I’ve seen in this grape here in Arizona, but it’s still got that rustic Mourvèdre shade.

The Nose: The oak aging of this vintage imparts aromas of vanilla, cedar smoke, and a bit of worn leather.  These notes intermingle with sage, cherry, and plum, with what reminds me of floral incense used during certain feast days within my religious tradition.  The monsoon petrichor aroma that I associate with Willcox terroir is also present.

The Palate: I feel like this wine is slightly more acidic than some other Mourvèdre wines I’ve imbibed from Arizona; and overall, I feel that is true across the board for 2013 red vintages in general. Rich cedar and nutmeg notes intermingle with cherry and plum. Cassis and sage round out the palate along with ripe blackberries.  The acidity lends this wine a juicy character.  The finish is long, with impressive tannins, lasting for a minute and four seconds.

The Pairing:  As I’ve mentioned before, I am a sucker for venison ribs with Mourvèdre, and this would also be great. But for some other BBQ foods– ribs, pulled pork, and steak, this wine would also go pretty well. I suppose it’s no accident I’m reviewing this wine today, the biggest BBQ day of the year…  Vegetarian pairings for this wine are less Fourth of July friendly, however, unless you happen to marinate some jackfruit in bbq sauce and roast that as well–otherwise your best bet is going to be lentils.

Impressions:  Overall, I have been consistently impressed with the work Flying Leap has done with their wines;  they have always been top quality and are continuously getting better. This Mourvèdre is no exception.  It’s also a good introduction to the way this grape expresses itself in Arizona, and will cellar beautifully for the next five years if you want to take some time before drinking your bottle.  However, I’m pretty sure there’s none left in the tasting room so… if you have a friend who has a bottle, you may need to ask them politely.

Being a little more rustic, this vintage of Mourvèdre is a folk-singer, as opposed to someone operatic.  She sings in a geology-and-wine themed folk band called The Great Unconformity, but is not the songwriter.

 

 

 

Podcast: Everyone asks the Wine Monk Questions

This is part two of the podcast with Tim White and the gang; where everyone decided to ask ME questions.  This was way too much fun, and I’d love to do it again, someday.  So… next time we get multiple people in a room… this just might be what we do.

 

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Yours truly; Cody.

 

Arizona Stronghold: 2015 Vidal Blanc Site Archive Series

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As Vidal Blanc Month comes to a close (and I had no idea there was such a thing until last week), I thought I’d explore the first vintage of this grape produced in Arizona.  Most people don’t really think of Arizona growing hybrid varietals, unlike most of the midwest, but we do have a few varietals which grow here.  Seyval Blanc is one we’ve seen before, but now it’s time for something new!  It’s also hotter than hell here right now, and a nice, refreshing white wine is the perfect thing for the record-breaking heat we’ve been having here lately.

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Vidal Blanc on the Deck

Introducing The Grape: Vidal Blanc, as I mentioned before, is a hybrid varietal.  It’s a white grape, that was bred from Ugni Blanc and another hybrid varietal, Rayon d’Or. Originally developed in the 1930’s for the production of Cognac, the grape is no longer authorized in France.  Vidal blanc is a very winter-hardy varietal, able to survive prolong exposure to cold temperatures during the dormant winter season and produce viable secondary buds that will still yield a crop even after a late spring frost–something essential here in Arizona. It is a mid-ripening grape able to accumulate sufficient sugar levels to make dry wines but can also hang on the vine long into the season to produce late harvest and ice wines.  This winter-hardiness has lead it to be the most northernly-grown grape in the world, producing wines just 500 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden!

The Wine: The grapes for this vintage were harvested from Bruzzi Vineyard, near Young, Arizona.  This high-elevation vineyard just north of the Mogollon Rim is the only site growing this grape in Arizona, that I’m aware of. This wine was aged in stainless steel.  Made by the AZ stronghold crowd, this Vidal Blanc was charged with just a little bit of extra juice prior to bottling, which produced a slight bit of carbonation in the bottle.  In the glass, the wine sits gleaming in pale gold, with just a little bit of effervescence, looking very similar to a Vinho Verde.

The Nose: The Vidal Blanc opens with the aroma of bright green apples, intermingling with pears and a citrus cremé brulee note. There’s also a slight cheese note at the edge of the nose, a relic of this grape’s hybrid heritage.

The Palate: Overall, the palate of this wine is the same as the nose, with Granny Smith apples, pear, and lime. The slight foxy cream character adds an additional dimension and weight to the palate, and there’s an almost woody, herbal note which suprised me since I don’t recall hearing that this wine was aged on any oak whatsoever. This wine is also slightly effervescent. This wine has a vibrant acidity, almost like biting into an apple. The finish of this wine has notes of apple, thyme, and cinnamon, lasting for 50 seconds.

The Pairing: This wine is a great one for a day where the thermometer climbs above 100° Fahrenheit, while sitting poolside, or an evening on the deck overlooking the valley. In terms of food, I would pair this wine as I would a Vinho Verde: with sushi, or with hummus and vegetables. Spicy foods in general will work well with this wine.

Impressions: I think for those who know this grape with more familiarity than the average Arizonan may well be thrown off guard by this wine; I’ll be honest, the only other wines I’ve had from this grape were made as icewines. I can’t imagine many people are used to this grape being made in a drier form, at least here where the only other vintages to be found of Vidal (other than the sweet version in the AZ Stronghold tasting room) are to be found at Total Wine.

I am told that in regions where this grape is more common, there are lots of dry versions, but not having tasted them, I can’t honestly compare. That being said, I liked it, and it’s well worth checking out this wine.

This wine is a bubbly strawberry blonde who dabbles in watercolors and brewing beer.

Podcast: Hidden Hand with Tim White

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In this Podcast, I sit with Tim White, Jason Negron, and some other awesome people associated with Caduceus and Four-Eight Wineworks, focusing on Tim White’s newest Project, Hidden Hand. Malvasia makes herself an appearance, as does a Petit Sirah blend. There’s a follow-up podcast to this where everyone involved asks me questions which will be next up, so stay tuned next week!

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Hidden Hand Malvasia

 

 

 

Burning Tree Cellars: 2014 Dragon

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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…

 

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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.

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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.)

 

Podcast: Verde Valley Wine Symposium, Wine and Social media

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So I’ve had a lot on my plate lately and posted the right podcast with the wrong photo, and the wrong associated information, because I’m a complete dunce.  Those who are responsible have been sacked.  (Clearly, even though I was asked to present on Wine and social media, I suck at it.  Horray!)

Here’s the right podcast with the right information:

Anyway, in this podcast I talk about how I approach my use of social media as the Wine Monk, and what lessons can be applied to the Arizona industry as a whole.

 

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Viognier at crush

 

 

 

Prescott Winery: Big-Nosed Kate (future Noise review)

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Located just a couple blocks from Whiskey Row on Alarcon Street, Prescott Winery provides a different sort of experience compared to the rough-and-tumble historical bars on Cortez . Here, a specially curated collection of wines made from grapes grown in Willcox is sure to please. Among their most recent releases is a wine named Big-Nosed Kate. This wine was named after a particularly colorful local character of the same moniker, the girlfriend of legendary gunfighter Doc Holiday. This fits in with the naming theme for the vintages which Prescott Winery produces; they seek to connect their wines to the rich historical heritage of their hometown. Also worthy of note, they’re also going to be planting vines in Prescott Valley this year; I’m very interested in seeing how the terroir of this region compares to other parts of the state. I digress. Onto the wine!

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Big-Nosed Kate from Prescott Winery

The 2014 Big-Nose Kate is a very common style of blend in Arizona that I like to refer to as a GSMP, consisting of 70% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 10% grenache, and 5% petit sirah. These sort of blends are designed to emulate wines coming both from the Southern Rhône region of France, and Languedoc. Here in Arizona, however, petit sirah is used to provide the tannic component to these blends, instead of carignan. (In case you were wondering, the reason for this is quite simple: nobody currently grows carignan in this state, which continuously astounds me.) The fruit for this vintage was harvested from Al Buhl memorial vineyard, on the Willcox Bench in Southeastern Arizona. Made by Tim White and Maynard Keenan, and aged in neutral French oak for 18 months, this wine is a deep, dark garnet purple in the glass (again, thanks to the petit sirah influence).

Despite the name, this wine has a surprisingly muted nose, compared to what I would normally expect for an Arizona GSMP blend. Subtle hints of black cherry, perique, and plum form the opening salvo for this vintage, intermingling with the telltale black tea and bergamot notes from the petit sirah in this blend. Syrah-induced notes of clove and black pepper also can be found lurking here. As the wine decants, the terroir notes of monsoon petrichor, as well as the particular scent of the local dust of the region emerge; these are all notes I associate with vintages made from grapes grown on the Bench.

On the palate, the 2014 Big-Nose Kate opens with the fairly typical notes of tart cherries, black tea, blackberries, and boysenberry which you would expect a blend like this to have, and for the first moment, it may not seem terribly unique. It is the mid-palate of this vintage, though, where this wine truly shines. There is an absolute riot of different flavors clamoring for attention here. Cinnamon and paprika vie for attention with pepper, granite, and the omnipresent Willcox dust. After a two hour decant, velvety plum and vanilla notes also come out to play. The finish of this wine is long, lingering, and fruity, lasting for 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

This wine has medium acidity and tannins, making this wine very flexible in terms of food pairings. I personally paired this wine with smoked St. Louis style ribs from a local restaurant, but you could also play around with some lamb dishes, or even something more local and gamy, like elk. For a vegetarian or vegan pairing, play around once again with some ratatouille (which is almost a standard for Rhône-style vintages for me) or a heavy veggie casserole with lots of brined, smoked eggplant and a bit of rosemary.

When serving this wine, I highly recommend decanting for two hours prior to serving. This particular vintage should age well; I expect it to peak in about 3 years, but will age well for another 5. After reading a fair bit about the history of Big-Nose Kate, I have to say that this wine does fit her as a personification: it seems like it’s going to be subtle and unexciting but when you actually hang out with this wine, it’s quite the firecracker, with quite a long story to tell.

My recommendation is to visit Prescott Winery as stop number three on a four-stop wine day trip in the Prescott area. Begin your journey at Del Rio Springs up in Paulden, head to Granite Creek Winery, and finish off your day of tasting at Superstition Meadery. Prescott Winery is open from Thursday through Sunday.

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