School's in session, on your terms: The best way to learn about wine? Drink it, of course! Imbibe installations of Wine School will feature local wine events where you can test drive your taste and grow your palate.
Arizona wines will be jumping off the racks at My Wine Cellar in Ahwatukee tonight as My Wine Helper founder Jim Wiskerchen hosts a $10 tasting of four homegrown wines today from 6 to 7:30 p.m. for $10 - $5 of which can be applied to the purchase of a bottle to take home with you.
"Arizona wines tend to be ripe and full-bodied with a certain earthiness from some of the wine-growing regions like Sonoita," says Wiskerchen, "which is what makes Arizona wines unique and distinctive."
Arizona grows mostly Mediterranean grape varietals including French varietals from the Rhone Valley, Italian Malvasia and Sangiovese and Spanish Tempranillo and Gratziano, according to Wiskerchen who compares the Arizona wines to the wines of those countries.
Tonight's tasting will feature four wines (and light appetizers):
- Pillsbury's WildChild White (Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia, Muscat and Roussanne)
- Dribble Creek's Purr Maid (Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc)
- Dribble Creek's Ode to Spring (Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah)
- Oak Creek's Reserve Zinfandel
"Expect to be amazed," says Wiskerchen. "We've made such rapid advancements in quality that I think people will be really stunned at how good these wines have become."
Wiskerchen identifies Malvasia as the grape to watch in Arizona, noting its fragrance, balance and uniqueness as a white wine, and says it comes through distinctly in the WildChild White.
Blends are popular in Arizona due to the creative drive and experimental push of the winemakers, says Wiskerchen.
Discussing the Dribble Creek blends, Wiskerchen says, "John [McLoughlin] is such a skilled winemaker who is able to use his talent to come up with unique and exciting blends. They're fairly complex wines, excellent quality and great price points."
We're looking forward to see what a "great price point" means in regards to Arizona wines, as Wiskerchen admits the prices are "somewhat inflated" due to the limited production. Nevertheless, we're firm supporters of Wiskerchen's aim to support local wineries and in turn the local economy.
"Not only are [Arizona] vineyards becoming more mature, the winemakers' experience is increasing every year that they work with the vineyards and the wine-making process, which is leading to much better quality that will only increase in the years to come," Wiskerchen says of the growing Arizona wine industry.
You can mingle with the vineyard managers and winemakers this weekend during the Arizona Wine Festival at the Tempe Festival of the Arts daily from 10 a.m. until dusk March 25 to 27. A dozen Arizona wineries will be on hand, and just as many dollars ($12) will score you six tasting tickets and a commemorative glass.
If you're lucky, you might run into McLoughlin at both tonight's tasting and this weekend's festival. Wiskerchen also recommends swinging by to meet Sam Pillsbury.
"I always say we haven't seen our best wines yet," Wiskerchen says. "Although we are producing great wines now, I think within the next 10 to 20 years, we'll be producing world-class wines statewide."
Arizona wines, winemakers, and a chance to get in on the ground floor with some of the state's best? Count us in. Just remember to RSVP to Wiskerchen if you're heading to My Wine Cellar tonight, so he can make sure there's enough to go around.
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When & Where:
Arizona Wine Festival at the Tempe Festival for the Arts
10 a.m. to Dusk March 25 to 27
7th Street (West of Mill Avenue)
Come back for class next Wednesday and leave your questions for our wine gurus in the comments below, no hand-raising necessary.