AZ Wines Impress at FnB's Arizona Judgment

Even though you'd never know it to look at his jovial expression, FnB owner Pavle Milic was a ball of nerves leading up to yesterday's Arizona Judgment, a by-invite-only blind tasting of wines that welcomed a panel of local and national culinary and wine experts.

Partly inspired by the legendary "Judgment of Paris" that pitted California wines against top French wines in a 1976 blind tasting, Milic's decision to see whether Arizona's own grapes could hold their own among top international selections was, by his own admission, a risky move. 

Along with that pressure, Milic was anticipating the morning arrival of Wine Library TV host Gary Vaynerchuk, who'd confirmed his attendance but was inexplicably M.I.A. for hours. When the celeb finally strolled into FnB, less than an hour before the mid-afternoon tasting, the tiny restaurant -- packed with panelists like Chris Bianco and Mark Tarbell, journalists, bloggers, PR peeps, and restaurant staff -- practically bubbled over like a bottle of champagne. 

Without a doubt, the mood leading up to the tasting was effervescent.

At FnB, Milic has created a stir with his Arizona-centric wine list, even catching the attention of the New York Times.

For yesterday's big event, there were 10 whites and 10 reds, half from Arizona grapes, and half from around the world.

1. Page Springs 2008 La Serrana (AZ)
2. Callaghan 2008 'Lisa's (AZ)
3. Santa Margherita 2008 Pinot Grigio (Italy)
4. Conundrum 2008 Meritage (CA)
5. Caduceus 2008 'Dos Ladrones' (AZ)
6. Freitas 2009 Malvasia Bianca Private Reserve (AZ)
7. Carlson Creek 2008 Chardonnay (AZ)
8. Doyenne 2006 Metier (WA)
9. Turley 2007 'The White Coat' (CA)
10. Cakebread Cellars 2008 Chardonnay (CA)

1. Cotes du Rhone 2006 E. Guigal (France)
2. Carlson Creek 2008 Sangiovese (AZ)
3. Arizona Stronghold 2008 'Nachise' (AZ)
4. Ruffino 2007 'Aziano' Chianti Classico (Italy)
5. Dos Cabezas 2008 'El Campo' (AZ)
6. Mollydooker 2008 'The Boxer' Shiraz (Australia)
7. Caduceus 2008 'Nagual del Judith' (AZ)
8. Keeling Schaefer 2007 'Three Sisters' Syrah (AZ)
9. Chateau Lynch Bages 2005 Paulliac 'Grand Cru' (France)
10. Condado de Haza 2006 Ribiera del Duero (Spain)

​The judges panel featured pizzaiolo Chris Bianco, NYC chef/restaurateur Anne Rosenzweig, winemaker Tadeo Borchardt from California's Neyers Vineyards, Gary Vaynerchuk, Milic himself (whose scores were not included in the tally), Caffe Boa chef Payton Curry, chef/restaurateur Mark Tarbell, and Tucson-based Master Sommelier Laura Williamson.

After two solid hours of tasting, Milic submitted the panelists' scoresheets to Sommelier Journal for scoring. Each wine was rated on a scale of 1 to 20, and the results were the median, not the average, score.

Three Arizona wines were among the top five white wine winners, including the number one entry:

1. Callaghan 2008 'Lisa's (AZ)
2. Santa Margherita 2008 Pinot Grigio (Italy)
3. Cakebread Cellars 2008 Chardonnay (CA)
4. Caduceus 2008 'Dos Ladrones' (AZ)
5. Carlson Creek 2008 Chardonnay (AZ)

Just as impressive was the list of the top five red wine winners, which also included three from our state:

1. Caduceus 2008 'Nagual del Judith' (AZ)
2. Condado de Haza 2006 Ribiera del Duero (Spain)
3. Keeling Schaefer 2007 'Three Sisters' Syrah (AZ)
4. Arizona Stronghold 2008 'Nachise' (AZ)
5. Mollydooker 2008 'The Boxer' Shiraz (Australia)

How did Milic determine which Arizona wines to include in the Arizona Judgment? 

Two and a half weeks ago, he hosted a preliminary blind tasting of all Arizona wines, with even more local wine notables as judges, including Modern Steak sommelier Stephanie Caraway, "Sassy Sommelier" and author Lizbeth Congiusti, elements sommelier Micah Olson, Caffe Boa sommelier Andrew Rustello, sommelier and wine distributor Christine Wisniewski, and local wine expert Jock Wulffson, as well as Milic and Williamson.

Here are the winners from that tasting, all of which competed yesterday:

Top Arizona whites:

1. Freitas 2009 Malvasia Bianca Private Reserve (AZ)
2. Caduceus 2008 'Dos Ladrones' (AZ)
3. Carlson Creek 2008 Chardonnay (AZ)
4. Callaghan 2008 'Lisa's (AZ)
5. Page Springs 2008 La Serrana (AZ)

Top Arizona reds:

1. Dos Cabezas 2008 'El Campo' (AZ)
2. Caduceus 2008 'Nagual del Judith' (AZ)
3. Keeling Schaefer 2007 'Three Sisters' Syrah (AZ)
4. Carlson Creek 2008 Sangiovese (AZ)
5. Arizona Stronghold 2008 'Nachise' (AZ)

At the conclusion of the Arizona Judgment, Milic addressed the crowd with a few words of thanks and a word of encouragement.

"Trust your own palate," he said, "and at least be open-minded enough to try new things."