Arizona, in general, is not well known for our Cabernet Sauvignon. Sure, it grows here–but Cabernet Sauvignon is like a weed in that it can grow just about anywhere the climate allows. You will hear me talk a lot about other Bordeaux varietals in Arizona, especially Petit Verdot and Malbec, but Cabernet Sauvignon rarely excites me out here. But once in a while, spectacular vintages of Arizona Cabernet can be found, and I think the 2014 Dala Cabernet is decidedly up there. I remember in the cellar one day hanging with Corey Turnbull and he poured me a barrel sample of this vintage and said that he felt it was the best Arizona Cabernet he had ever tasted–especially considering the average price point for the Dala at $18.00.
The 2014 Dala Cabernet from Arizona Stronghold is the most easily accessible Cabernet Sauvignon in Arizona.
The Wine: The 2014 Dala is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from Bonita Springs Vineyard, on the eastern side of the Willcox AVA in Graham County. The wine was made by Corey Turnbull and the rest of the Arizona Stronghold Vineyards team at their facility in Camp Verde, Arizona. This vintage was partially aged in new and one-year-old French oak barrels. (I’m guessing, but I am not getting any of the stereotypical aromas I would if there was American oak on this vintage). Rare for a Cabernet in Arizona, this wine is a dark ruby-purple in color.
The Nose: The 2014 Dala opens with aromas of intense violets, black currants, black plum, cherry, sandalwood, vanilla, anise, and graphite, intermingling with hints of mint, toffee, and freshly ground coffee. After decanting, additional notes of baking spices, blackberry, petrichor, and lavender emerge from the glass.
The Palate: The 2014 Dala Cabernet is a full-bodied red wine with medium acidity and heavy tannins. Rich, dark cherry, plum, black currant, bilberry, and blackberry jam form the opening salvo of this wine, intermingling with hints of coffee, sandalwood, anise, pipe tobacco, leather, vanilla, lavender, and graphite. After the wine has been decanted, the sandalwood and vanilla notes and fade along with the tannins, and additional notes of violet, berry jam, molasses, and dates emerge on the palate. The finish of this wine lasts for 57 seconds, with the acidity and tannins lingering longest.
The Pairing: Pair this wine as you would a traditional Cabernet Sauvignon from anywhere in the world: with a good steak with light seasoning, and a side of potatoes and green vegetables. Why mess with tradition? Similarly, the vegan tradition with Cabernet is, of course, Portobello mushrooms; again, be Orthodox and follow the tradition passed down from your ancestors. For a cigar pairing with the 2014 Dala Cabernet, there are two cigars that come to mind: the Durango Cigar Co. Three Cherry Cavendish, if you prefer aromatics… or go all out fancy with the Le Bijou 1922 for a classic full-bodied cigar for a classic-style Cabernet.
Impressions: In terms of value, the 2014 Dala really can’t be beaten. There may well be better Cabernet vintages in Arizona, but none are going to be nearly as easily accessible, or quite as gentle on your wallet… or quite as classic and familiar to the palate as a traditional California offering.
And holy moly is this vintage satisfying. I remember last year when Vino de Sedona did a blind Cabernet Sauvignon tasting with this bottle alongside a multitude of other Cabernet vintages from all over the world, and the 2014 Dala beat out a $50 Napa Cabernet almost unanimously among voters at the event. And everyone associates Cabernet Sauvignon with Napa! Sure, Cabernet Sauvignon may not be our top red varietal in the state (and I’ve come to conclude that we don’t really HAVE one yet), but in a good year, we can stand with the best. While this wine is drinking now, the fact that it still holds up after being decanted for several hours suggests to me that this wine is nowhere near the peak point yet, and could easily be cellared for another ten years, at least. I am honestly kind of regretting opening this bottle right now, but so it goes.
Personified, the 2014 Dala Cabernet is an old school gentleman scholar and adventurer–something sort of like Indiana Jones, but with more regard towards ancient objects and cultures. Perhaps someone more like Sir Henry Rawlinson, who was responsible for translating the Behistun Inscription of Darius I. You know, less the sort who carries a whip, and more the sort who carries a sturdy billiard-style pipe and a notebook, and a gun. This Cabernet knows about five different languages and is fluent in all of them.
I’ve had Viognier on my mind a lot lately, for no particular reason. Therefore, I figured it is high time that I crack open a bottle. Viognier has often been lauded in Arizona as perhaps our second best varietal after Malvasia Bianca, and there is a lot to be had on offer. A while back, Greg Gonnerman was kind enough to share a bottle of his 2017 Viognier with me, and I decided I should crack it open and take a look at his take on this grape. Of course, the bottle is no longer available for sale. Clearly, I need to drink my wines faster. Anyway, onto the 2017 Viognier from Laramita Cellars.
The 2017 Viognier from Laramita Cellars is one of the best Viognier vintages I’ve tasted from Arizona recently.
The Wine: The 2017 Viognier from Laramita Cellars is made from 100% Viognier, sourced from Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards in the Willcox AVA. This vintage was made by Rob Hammelman at the Sand-reckoner facility, under the supervision and inspiration of Greg Gonnerman. This vintage was aged sur lie in neutral French oak. This wine is a vibrant golden yellow in the glass; evidence of interaction with oxygen in barrel.
The Nose: On the nose, the 2017 Viognier exudes intense honeysuckle aromas, intermingling with white flowers, orange blossom, peach, and nectarine, with slight hints of vanilla and Meyer lemon. Additional slight hints of banana, anise, and yeast emerge as secondary and tertiary notes in this vintage.
The Palate: The 2017 Viognier is a medium-bodied white wine with medium-high acidity. Notes of peach, honeysuckle, lemon, and white flowers emerge on the palate, intermingling with banana, toasty yeast, pineapple, and anise. The finish lasts for 39 seconds, with notes of limestone, peach, and banana, with lingering acidity, starfruit, and a luxurious mouthfeel.
The Pairing: The 2017 Viognier from Laramita cellars could easily be part of your balanced breakfast (or at least, balanced brunch), as I feel this vintage would pair well with a Denver omelet, served with a side of hashbrowns and pancakes. If you don’t want to do breakfast for some reason, you could pair this with a lemon-roasted chicken with a side of saffron or Spanish rice. For a cigar pairing, I recommend pairing this with a Nino Vasquez Strawberry Cake; the strawberry flavor of the cigar will mesh well with this wine.
Impressions: This 2017 Viognier is a good solid Arizona Viognier that is well crafted and well-integrated, and I am particularly finicky about my Arizona Viognier. This offering from Laramita cellars is voluptuous, feminine, fruity, and just a bit floral. I honestly would drink this vintage now, as I am not sure how this wine could get much better than it is! Though that being said, I don’t have much experience with aging Arizona Viognier, but that will be a good stepping stone into the next Viognier I review…
Personified, the 2017 Larimita Cellars Viognier is a chef who owns a breakfast joint, who does burlesque shows on the side. She is blonde and voluptuous, with a marvelous singing voice and a penchant for creative omelets.
I couldn’t decide which of my two best photos of this wine I liked more, so you get both this time around.
Counoise is a grape that isn’t on the radar of a lot of people, but I think it has the potential to take on a unique role in Arizona wine: the replacement for Pinot Noir. Now, granted, most wineries and winemakers tout Grenache as the Arizona replacement for people who have seen Sideways one too many times, but I disagree. To me, most Arizona Grenache is the same; a light bodied, uninspiring red that really should be part of a blend, with the exception of certain vineyard sites and certain winemakers. Counoise, on the other hand, works well as a light-bodied red on its own, is unique (therefore fitting with the current “Wild West Winemakers” thing that Arizona has going on), has a more Pinot-like taste profile, and lastly, it is simply a fun grape to pronounce. On a particularly snowy day, I decided to crack open my bottle of 2016 Counoise from Burning Tree Cellars, simply because the label matched the landscape.
The 2016 Counoise from Burning Tree Cellars on a cold winter’s day.
The Wine: The 2016 Counoise was sourced from Colibri Vineyard, which as we’ve mentioned before, is a vineyard that is often ascribed “grand cru” status by many Arizona winemakers–despite not being located in any AVAs yet. This wine was made by Corey Turnbull and Mitch Levy at the Arizona Stronghold facility, located in Camp Verde. This wine was aged in neutral French oak. At 13.7% Alcohol, this is pretty hefty, similar to some California Pinot Noir in weight, and also in color: somewhere between pale ruby and dark salmon in hue.
The Nose: The 2016 Counoise opens with aromas of strawberry, raspberry, peach, geranium, roses, intermingling with hints of orange peel, bubblegum, vanilla, earth, and the classic white pepper notes often associated with wines coming from Colibri. I have come to believe that these aromatic and taste characters are probably due to the unique mineral-rich soil at the vineyard site, associated with copper, gold, and tungsten mining.
The Palate: The 2016 Counoise is a light-bodied red wine with high acidity and low tannins. The palate opens with bright acidity, raspberry, rose, white cherry, and marionberry characters, intermingling with juicy strawberry, peach, white pepper, black tea, rosemary, and vanilla. The finish of this wine lasts for 52 seconds, filled with the aforementioned fruit notes, with lingering acidity, white pepper, and Connecticut sun-grown tobacco leaf rounding out the finish. The tannins which are present are elegant and light, forming a scaffold around the midpalate of juicy fruit character–reminiscent of classic Oregon and Burgundian pinot to me.
The Pairing: I would pair this wine with a sort of southwestern Porkchop skillet, with pepperoncini, green chili, tomato, prickly pear, and potatoes. For a vegetarian pairing, serve the 2016 Counoise with all of the above (minus the porkchop) stuffed into bell peppers. In general, I recommend strongly that for pairing purposes, treat this wine as you would a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. For a cigar pairing, I want to smoke the Leaf by Oscar Connecticut while sipping on this wine.
Impressions: I like this vintage more than the somewhat disjointed vintage I reviewed from Page Springs Cellars way back, even if the color of this 2016 Counoise is less striking overall. The fact is, to me at least, this wine is far more subtle and nuanced, and also has a much-finer integrated flavor and aroma profile. It reminds me a great deal of good Pinot Noir coming from Oregon, Burgundy, or even Sonoma: it has that same light bodied, elegant character that one often associates with that grape from those regions. This is why I am firmly in the camp of associating Counoise with a Pinot Noir replacement for the Willcox AVA; it has an herbal, spicy twist imparted by the landscape that most Pinot lacks, but even the most die-hard Pinot Snob would enjoy the Counoise we have to offer.
I would strongly recommend drinking the 2016 Counoise now, but it should age for between three to five more years without any issues.
Personified, I feel like this Counoise is an elegant aristocratic woman who spends most of her time working in her ancient rose garden. Occasionally, she even wears her dresses while gardening. She often holds court with her friends while pruning. There is more than meets the eye to her, however, and she runs multiple charities and smokes pencil cigars from a silver cigar holder emblazoned with her family’s coat of arms. She’s classy but is down to enjoy a rather off-color joke now and again.
Those of you who know me well know of my fondness for James Callahan’s label, Rune, and know that I feel it is among the best wine labels Arizona has to offer. Some of you who have been following me for a while know I’ve reviewed vintages of his Grenachetwice, which features a shipwrecked sailor as the bottle character. Recently (I say recently, even though the bottle is now sold out, which shows how much more I need to drink from my stash), James featured a new character who is seeking to rescue this lone shipwrecked sailor: the Navigator upon the label of this 2016 Rune Graciano:
The Sextant sways on foreign seas, but the hand that wields it holds steady. His crew looks on. They are hungry, sun-struck, and shaken by the wreckage on the beach- the smoldering rigging, their flag impaled on a broken mast. The grizzled navigator gives his orders: “Bring us around, we are going to shore!”
Graciano is quickly gaining a following in Arizona, and it is a varietal I enjoy so much in Arizona that I tend to hoard all my bottles made from this grape, rather than drinking them. So far, I’ve only reviewed one other Graciano on the Wine Monk Blog, sourced from the Juan Alba Vineyard. How does this vintage compare?
The 2016 Graciano from Rune is a striking, vibrant wine.
The Wine: The 2016 Rune Graciano was mostly sourced from Rhumb Line Vineyard, located in the Willcox AVA. The name of this vineyard comes from the navigational and mapping tool; an arc which crosses all meridians of longitude at the same angle. (In other words a path with the constant bearing as measured relative to true or magnetic north.) This explains the nautical theme of this new vintage and character for Rune. I say mostly because 3% of this vintage is Grenache, sourced from Pillsbury Vineyard. This 3% Grenache was harvested as under-ripe, to be used as the pied de cuve for this vintage–making this wine wild-fermented. The 2016 Graciano spent two weeks on the skins during fermentation. The wine was then aged in a one-year-old French oak barrel and a neutral French oak puncheon. It was also aged on the lees for 20 months. James noted to me that the 2016 vintage was darker and heavier in color across the board for him, and this Graciano is no exception with it’s deep, rich, garnet-red hue.
Nose: The nose of the 2016 Rune Graciano opens with notes of bilberry, blackberry, black cherry, Iris, black tea, and black currants. Secondary aromas of vanilla, violets, cigar box, and sandalwood emerge from the glass. Overall, this seems to be a darker Graciano than some other vintages in terms of the fruit character. As the wine opens, some red fruits such as red currants and plum emerge on the nose.
Palate: The 2016 Rune Graciano is a full-bodied red with high acidity and medium tannins. The palate opens with blackberry, mulberry, black currant, and anise characters, intermingling with iris, rosemary, plums, and vanilla. The finish of this wine lasts for 32 seconds, filled with earth, sage, plum, and anise character, with a slight hint of tobacco. Again, there is more dark fruit character than in the vintage from Bodega Pierce.
Pairing: My friend and I accidentally paired this wine with Pepperoni Pizza, and it worked really well; if you’re looking for a pairing that is perhaps a bit more classy, I would pair the 2016 Rune Graciano with some lamb-stuffed Bell peppers. For a vegetarian pairing, a hearty Spanish-style lentil stew will work well with this wine. If you seek a cigar to smoke while imbibing this vintage, pair this wine with the Cro magnon from RomaCraft.
Impressions: The 2016 Rune Graciano is overall more subtle, yet robust in nature than most other Graciano vintages I’ve encountered in Arizona. I wish I had decanted this vintage for a few hours to see how it progressed, but my friend and I were thirsty and hungry. The lingering acidity and tannins should allow this wine to cellar well for the next five or ten years without issue, if you are the sort who prefers to cellar their Graciano.
In terms of vineyard growth, by all accounts, Graciano retains acid well, which is a necessary character for a red wine grape growing in the Arizona heat. This acidity allows Graciano to produce robust, ageable vintages with a lot of complexity. The crop yields aren’t always the greatest, and the grape is prone to powdery mildew–but again, this is an advantage for the mostly dry climate of Arizona–except during the monsoons. However, the looser clusters mean that Graciano has an advantage over other downy-mildew prone varietals, such as Zinfandel or Pinot Noir, and I am told that as long as you keep on top of spraying for mold and mildew, this rarely becomes a problem.
Personified, this wine is a brooding explorer and astronomer, sitting on a mountaintop.
The Wine Monk: Pinot Noir Blind Tasting - SoundCloud (3694 secs long, 3 plays)Play in SoundCloud
Pinot Noir is a grape that is steeped in mystery and elegance. The unbilled co-star and arguable protagonist of the film ‘Sideways,’ Pinot Noir has long had a cloak of mystery surrounding it. Pinot has always been a cult favorite, but as an Arizonan, it’s not one I have a great deal of experience with. It’s not a grape I encounter very often in the wild since it grows so poorly here in most of the state of Arizona.
A while back, I did a tasting of Villa Maria wines with Snooth Media, and I wondered just exactly how New Zealand Pinot stacked up to the rest of the world. Could it stand on par with Burgundy, or Oregon? What about our own Pinot from Chino Valley? I decided there was really only one subjective way to find out: inflict a blind tasting upon myself and some of my friends and coworkers. Included in this blind tasting are bottles from Oregon, Sonoma, Burgundy, Arizona, and New Mexico, alongside the aforementioned bottle from Taylor’s Pass Vineyard.
It’s the Pinot Patrol, this time on the Arizona Wine Monk.
One of the world’s most famous Pinot Noirs, against the Arizona night sky.
Saeculum Cellars is the premium reserve line by Michael Pierce, known for its unique evocations of Willcox terroir and the fancy labels that are designed by Michael himself. While one of my favorite labels in the Arizona industry, these bottles tend to be a rarity for me to imbibe. For the holidays, I decided to finally crack open my bottle of the 2014 El Coraje; not only because it would pair well with the filet mignon roast my parents were planning for Christmas, but because I felt this wine would be a great exploration of Arizona Tempranillo.
The 2014 El Coraje is a savory vintage providing an excellent window into the potential of Tempranillo in Arizona.
The Wine: The 2014 El Coraje is a blend of 93% Tempranillo and 7% Grenache, all sourced from Rolling View Vineyard in the Willcox AVA. The ’14 vintage of the El Coraje was in barrel for 18 months. (If I had to guess, this wine was aged in partially new American Oak, along with a great deal of French Oak, based on the nose.) Michael Pierce tells me that it was this vintage where some Grenache was blended in the Tempranillo; happy with the results, each subsequent vintage has had some Grenache and occasionally a small amount of Graciano. This wine was made at the Four-Eight Wineworks facility in Camp Verde, Arizona. The wine is dark ruby in hue.
The Nose: The nose of the 2014 El Coraje opens with rich aromas of cedar, cigar tobacco, cherry, tarragon, bay leaf, and strawberry, intermingled with notes of stewed plums, frankincense, anise, and dust. After the wine has opened up, additional floral characters of iris and violet emerge from the glass.
The Palate: The 2014 El Coraje is a full-bodied red wine with high tannins and high acidity. This vintage is Juicy, rather than jammy, with notes of cherry, plums, sage, bay leaves. These notes intermingle with additional characters of cedar, vanilla, Cavendish tobacco, leather, citrus peel, anise, and dust. The finish of this wine lingers for 1:14 with juicy cherry-plum, intermingling fruit, earth, cigar tobacco, earth, petrichor, and leather. After the wine has been open for a time, these fruit characters gain a more jammy tone than juicy.
The Pairing: I paired this wine with my parent’s filet mignon roast for Christmas, but I feel this wine would also pair well with pork roasts with earthy vegetables, or a roasted root vegetable and mushroom medley in general. For a cigar pairing with the 2014 El Coraje, drink this wine while smoking The T, from Caldwell.
Impressions: The 2014 El Coraje is a wine right now nearing the first peak of enjoyment. Savory and complex, this vintage probably is the best Tempranillo from Arizona I’ve had since the 2016 Short Temper from Four Tails earlier this year…though this vintage is mellowed, and more savory, demanding you stop and contemplate the glass. It does not need to be decanted to require complete enjoyment; it shows maturity and wisdom, perhaps even grace. I am unsure whether this maturity is coming from the 18 months spent in barrel, or the additional time this wine simply spent in my wine stash. I would like to see more winemakers experiment with the extended style of aging one sees in Tempranillo coming from Rioja. I suspect that this wine may have an additional peak again in another 5 years or so: Tempranillo is funny like that to me. (But why wait?)
Personified… The 2014 El Coraje is an older, more mature woman. She is confident in her abilities, knows what she wants, and knows how to get what she wants. I also get an oddly academic feel from this wine; suggesting to me a literary penchant. She dresses elegantly and does not care what other people think of her.
Tempranillo in the vineyard and cellar:
Michael Pierce (Saeculum Cellars): “Our Tempranillo vines in Willcox are more mature and currently more predictable than the vines at the SWC. We are addressing some nutrient deficiencies at the college. This last year saw some significant improvement in our canopy growth. Our yields were up significantly and next should prove the same.
“I look forward to our Willcox tempranillo every year. The birds love it so it is absolutely imperative to net the block. Our sugars have been higher from Willcox. But again, I think there were some nutrient deficiencies at the college played a role. The pH of thTempranillolo is typically high from both regions. This is really common with this variety. The goal is to not over crop and take steps to have appropriate potassium uptake from the vines. It’s not a problem free variety. But the resulting wine is enjoyable and many of of customers like the wine.”
Gary Kurtz (Four Tails Vineyard): “Tempranillo is stupid easy to farm. The pH can run away during [malolactic fermentation] but otherwise, it’s wonderful in the cellar… Though it only reaches it’s true potential with exposure to new oak. Everyone trying neutral on it is fucking off.”
Montepulciano is a grape that, generally speaking, doesn’t get enough love. This is a shame because I rather enjoy Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as along my favorite Italian Reds. Yet in Arizona, only four vineyards I am aware of are growing this varietal at this time: Cimmaron Vineyard, Chiricahua Ranch Vineyard, Lightning Ridge Vineyard, and Dragoon Vineyard. It is from Dragoon Vineyard where our current wine for our spooky Halloween wine review comes: the Death, from Cellar 433’s Bitter Creek Winery label.
The Death is arguably one of the most controversial and hyped wines in Arizona, due to a scandal involving this wine a few years ago at the AWGA awards ceremony; this is a re-release of Montepulciano with the same label. Is it worth the hype? Let’s find out.
The Cellar 433 “Death” Montepulciano, as seen in the Jerome Graveyard.
The Wine: The Death is reportedly 100% Montepulciano, sourced from Dragoon Mountain Vineyard in the Willcox AVA. There is no vintage listed on the bottle, but I recall being told in the tasting room that it was from the 2016 harvest. I suspect this wine was aged both on French and American oak, as I get characters on the palate and nose that, to me at least, I associate with both oak types, but I may be wrong. This wine is slightly pale for a Montepulciano; a lighter shade of pale ruby, according to the Wine Folly chart.
The Nose: When first opened, an intense VA character can be discerned on the nose of the Death, but after giving the wine a moment in the glass, aromas of black plum, prunes black cherry, mesquite, cedar, caramel, thyme, and red plum characters emerge, intermingling with notes of coconut, dill, vanilla, coffee, anise, balsamic and cranberry.
The Palate: Again, when first out of the bottle, there is an intense VA character that overwhelms the palate, but when decanted and given some time, the Death proves itself to be a medium-bodied wine with medium tannins and high acidity. With notes of sour cherry, tart cranberry, prune, jammy blackberry, and boysenberry, this wine is pretty tart. Additional notes of clove, tar, balsamic and coffee round out the palate. The finish of this wine lasts for 30 seconds, with notes of clove, vanilla, cinnamon, sour cherry, cranberry, and mesquite. This wine has the distinctive Montepulciano characters but is decidedly light-bodied compared to other vintages I’ve imbibed made from this grape.
The Pairing: I would pair this wine with any sort of hearty Italian-style meal, featuring pasta–Lasagna strikes me as a good go-to. If you seek to smoke a cigar with Death, pair this wine with the Davidoff Chef’s Edition.
Impressions: I remember being far more impressed with this bottle in the tasting room, than upon this examination. It is possible that I had a sub-par bottle, or didn’t decant it long enough, but I did not find this bottle worth the hype this time around, in full honesty.
I readily admit that this is not the best vintage of Arizona Montepulciano I’ve encountered: that honor so far goes to the vintages from Lightning Ridge in Sonoita, but Greater Than Wines is doing a Montepulciano this year as well that I look forward to. Drink this bottle now. I do strongly recommend decanting this wine to let the VA aromas blow off. If you are patient enough to do so, this wine will be a good vintage to serve with Italian-based meals.
Personified, this vintage of Death is more like the character of Death from Good Omens, rather than the friendly version trying to understand humanity as seen in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.
Notes from the field, courtesy of Greg Gonnerman: “It’s on its own roots and quite happy. Most vines are quite vigorous. Clusters are loose and not prone to rot or mildew. Chemistry at harvest was quite good. This seems to be a good variety for Arizona.”
Salvatore Vineyards 2014 Sangiovese vs. Brunello di Montalcino - SoundCloud (3297 secs long, 5 plays)Play in SoundCloud
In this episode of the Arizona Wine Monk podcast, Elizabeth Krecker and I sit outside on a starry night and drink the 2014 Salvatore Vineyards Sangiovese alongside the 2012 Licini Brunello di Montalcino. Both of these bottles were of equal value and from small, pocket-sized vineyards. Hope you enjoy!
Interestingly, Licini is one of the few pre-phylloxera vineyards remaining in Italy. As Elizabeth excitedly messaged me later, after we recorded:
Cody, I totally stumbled onto this jaw-dropping information about Lisini today while studying for a test. Believe me, I’d hunted for information about Lisini before our podcast, but never saw this. Don’t know if there is any way to record an appendix to our podcast (Arizona Sangiovese vs. Brunello di Montalcino), but this might be well worth adding in some way before it is published…No wonder this wine was impossible to find on the internet! With just 1/2 hectare of vines planted, this is a tiny, Arizona-sized vineyard. An even more perfect comparison to Arizona wine than we realized.
Another vineyard untouched by the blight is the Lisini estate in Montalcino. Widely noted for its Brunello, Lisini boasts a half-hectare vineyard of Sangiovese, with vines dating back to the mid-1800s, which inexplicably never succumbed to phylloxera.
According to cellar master Filippo Paoletti, ‘No one knows why this vineyard was never attacked, as it is no different from those that were destroyed. It is, however, about a kilometre away from the nearest vineyard and is surrounded by olive groves.’ When consultant oenologist Franco Bernabei first set eyes on the ancient vines there was no doubt in his mind what to do.
Lorenzo Lisini of the family estate recalls: ‘We used to use the pre-phylloxera grapes along with those from our other vineyards for Brunello. But Bernabei suggested that we make one wine from this vineyard to honour the rare vines, using traditional techniques.’ Since 1985 the winery has produced Prefillossero. The wine is aged for one to two years, depending on the vintage, in Slavonian oak. Further ageing takes place in large glass demijohns for another two years before it is bottle aged. The wine has devout followers, including Italian wine critic Luigi Veronelli, who inscribed on a bottle of the 1987, on show at the winery, that drinking Prefillossero was like listening to ‘the earth singing to the sky’
Heart Wood Cellars is the brainchild of winemakers and Yavapai Viticulture and Enology graduates Valerie and Daniel Wood, and is the newest label to emerge from the Four-Eight Wineworks Collective. The 2016 Tannat was their first Wine Club exclusive release, but the duo was kind enough to sell me a bottle for my exploration of Tannat for my “best of?” series of blog posts. I do feel that Tannat hasalotofpotentialinArizona, and I was excited at the prospect of examining a vintage made by emergent winemakers. I felt that a bottle of Tannat from new winemakers might refresh my take on what has already become one of my favorite varietals in general. Not only that, Valerie and Daniel are the only two people I know with experience in the cellar of Tannat from multiple regions of Arizona, as their unreleased 2017 and 2018 vintages are sourced from D.A. Ranch in the Verde Valley.
The Heart Wood Cellars 2016 Tannat is a good benchmark Arizona Tannat released by one of Arizona’s newest winery labels.
The Wine: The 2016 Tannat from Heart Wood Cellars is made from 100% Tannat grapes; 90% sourced from a vineyard (who wishes not to be named) in the heart of the Willcox AVA, and 10% from D.A. ranch in the Verde Valley. This blend was decided upon after multiple blind tastings. The wine was fermented in open-top bins, underwent regular punch-downs and pump-overs, and was then aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. The wine was made at the Four-Eight production facility in Camp Verde by Valerie and Daniel Wood. The wine itself is a dark, rich garnet shade, just as you would expect from Tannat.
The Nose: Aromas of dark fruits such as black cherry, black currant, bilberry, mulberry, black plum, and jabuticaba, form the major part of the nose for the 2016 Tannat, which intermingle with additional floral and herbal notes of violet, lilac, anise, nutmeg, and rosemary, along with the typical caliche dust note I often associate with wines coming from the heart of the Willcox AVA. After decanting, these floral notes intensify, intermingling with prominent anise and black fruit characters.
The Palate: The 2016 Tannat from Heartwood Cellars is a full-bodied red wine with high tannins and high acidity. Dark fruits such as cherry, plum, jabuticaba, bilberry, prickly pear, and pomegranate intermingle with spices and herbal characters such as white pepper, rosemary, sage, anise, sandalwood, and vanilla notes to form the opening salvo of this hearty wine, underlain by bold, leathery tannins. The finish of this wine lasts for 43 seconds prior to decanting, with notes of cherry, blackberry, pomegranate, baking spices, nutmeg, chili peppers, iris, violets, anise, sage, and rosemary with lingering leathery tannins during this time. After decanting, these flavors become well integrated, with the tannins falling away.
The Pairing: Considering the history of Tannat in France, where wines made from this grape were often paid to the King as taxes, the Royalty from Black Label Trading Company is a fantastic cigar pairing for the 2016 Tannat from Heart Wood Cellars, thanks to its harmonious combination of Corojo wrapper, Honduran binder, and Nicaraguan filler. For food pairings, lamb would be a fantastic pairing for this, perhaps approached in an Eastern Mediterranean style, and for a vegan pairing, pair this wine with the hearty Persian eggplant and tomato stew known as Khoresh Bademjan.
Impressions: I strongly recommend cellaring this vintage for another 5-10 years at a minimum. While the wine is good now, I feel it will be even better given time and patience. Prior to this, I would decant this wine for a minimum of two hours prior to serving. It is a great winter wine to serve with savory warm stews and dishes that warm the body and soul. Keep in mind that this bottle is exclusive to their wine club: even I had to beg to get it. (They do have other phenomenal releases too, including a really splendid Syrah, Tannat, and Petit Sirah blend that you can taste at Four-Eight)
That being said, the 2016 Tannat prior to decanting is very tight, and needs to unwind and relax for a bit, overall reminding me quite a bit of myself on super stressful days, or of myself before I started going to therapy regularly.
Tannat in the Cellar and the Vineyard:
Gary Kurtz, Greater Than Wines: “I don’t think I have the experience to add anything of value to the conversation. The only time I’ve worked with it in the cellar was carbonic and I don’t remember anything good or bad either way about farming it at D.A.”
Rose Sasse, Flying Leap Vineyard: “The hardest thing about Tannat is punchdowns; they’re the hardest of what we grow because of the thick cap. In the cellar, Tannat is pretty easy. As a highly tannic grape, it’s pretty stable and the clean/spicy nose rarely causes worry; it’s not fragile like Grenache or earthy, like Mourvèdre. It’s not even that difficult to clean up afterward, Petit Verdot is much more likely to cause staining. I think blending it can be a tad more difficult since it can dominate other, more delicate grapes.”
Kent Callaghan, Callaghan Vineyards: “Tannat is pretty easy in the vineyard. Despite tight clusters, relatively resistant to bunch rot. Consistent and relatively high production. Has good natural acidity. Obviously great color and considerable tannin. If it has an Achilles heel, it is a lack of nuance. A bit blunt.”
Daniel Wood, Heart Wood Cellars: (paraphrased from a 20-minute conversation) “Arizona right now is in somewhat of a bind; do you make long-lasting, ageable reds that need time, or do you make reds to sell right away. With our label, we wanted to make reds that would age long-term, but also taste great right off the bat. That was part of the chain of decisions that faced us when these grapes came to us. One thing we noticed is that there was more nitrogen than we expected both times when we worked with Tannat, whether it was from Willcox or in the Verde Valley; although the nitrogen content of the fruit from D.A. Ranch was higher. This lead to a hotter fermentation. We also pumped out the seeds after fermentation, so as to reduce tannin sources.”
Verdict: Tannat is a good contender for long-term aging and long-cellaring wines as far as Arizona is concerned… But what about something you want to drink sooner, rather than later? In that sense, Tannat would be a difficult match, save for certain winemaking techniques that might enhance the dark fruit character over the tremendous tannic musculature of this grape; things like less skin contact, less seed contact, or carbonic maceration.
Malbec is a grape that has found its niche as a medium to full-bodied red worldwide, thanks to Argentina’s vast, high desert plains. A similar landscape to those surrounding the Argentinan vineyards owned by the Asmundson family inspired them to plant similar vineyards in the Willcox AVA. Along with the vintages made sourced from nearby Carlson Creek Vineyard, Coronado Vineyards, and Dragoon Mountain Vineyards, the vintages from Deep Sky may indicate that Malbec may be a similarly expressive varietal here in the high deserts of Arizona. To test this hypothesis, let’s look at the 2013 Big Bang Malbec, from Deep Sky.
The 2013 Big Bang Malbec seen here at night against remnants of the Big Bang.
The Wine: The 2013 Big Bang Malbec is made from 100% Malbec, sourced from the Deep Sky vineyard in the heart of the Willcox Bench, in the Willcox AVA. The wine was made at the Aridus production facility, begun by Rob Hammelman and finished by Marc Phillips. The wine was aged in 50% new French barrels. Deep Sky Vineyards used the same cooperage, Boutes, that they use for their wines in Argentina. It was aged in barrel about 20 months.
The Nose: On the nose, the 2013 Big Bang Malbec opens with aromas of earth, cedar, plum, black cherry, red currant, dried violets, and petrichor, intermingling with hints of mint, black raisin, cacao, and sweet tobacco. There is just the faintest hint of the typical dust I associate with reds of the Willcox AVA, more prominent after this wine has been open for a while.
The Palate: The 2013 Big Bang Malbec is a full-bodied red wine with high acidity and medium tannins at this juncture. The wine opens with notes of red plum, black cherry, and bilberry, intermingling with earth, vanilla, cacao powder, iris, black violet, and grape jam. The finish lasts for 43 seconds, with notes of black raisin, sugar plum, blackberry, mulberry, sage, and tobacco with a sharp bite of acidity and some lingering leathery tannins.
The Pairing: I would consider pairing the 2013 Big Bang Malbec with a hearty elk (or vegetarian) chili, or an elk roast with winter vegetables. I feel a good cigar pairing for this wine would be The Last Tsar, from Caldwell.
Impressions: The 2013 Big Bang Malbec is not typical of an Argentinian Malbec. Nor is it quite spot on for comparing to a Malbec from Cahors, the probable Urheimat of this grape varietal. It is both something in between, and yet different entirely; something new. I’m pretty sure in a blind tasting, I could pick this out as an Arizona vintage. Drink now, or cellar this wine for another five years.
Personified, this Malbec is an operatic singer wearing a velvet purple cape, playing Brunhilde in Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Malbec in the vineyard and the cellar:
Matthew Raica, AZ Stronghold: “I can’t speak too much to working with it in the vineyards here, beyond just that I think it grows well and doesn’t seem to give too many issues when it comes time to pick. I’ve worked with Deep Sky for two vintages and Carlson Creek for one: I find the fermentation profiles are pretty predictable and consistent, with the resulting wine showing very classic varietal character. I think farming practices probably influence the outcome greatly, as I can see a huge difference between these two vineyards despite being so closely located to each other. I’m extremely happy with the resulting wines; we’re exploring the possibility of planting our own Malbec block at our vineyard.”
Aaron Weiss, oDDity Wine Collective: “I only worked with it for one season, but I found it to be easy to work with, pretty good chemistry right off the vine. The wine is exciting to us and has classic character.”