Pavle Milic knows his way around a bottle of Arizona wine, so when he graciously offered to give us the rundown on the local wine showcased last weekend at Devoured, we jumped at the chance. Full disclosure: As co-owner of FnB in Scottsdale, Milic serves AZ wine and he's in the process of making his own wine for the first time with the help of the folks from Dos Cabezas.
I'm sitting in the backseat of a car, two people in the front, and I'm drinking champagne through the cork of a bottle as we pass Bunt High School in Brooklyn. The two people in the front are lawyers. One turns and says to me, "What are you doing drinking through the cork?" and I say, "I'm bunting."
See also: - Devoured 2013 in Photos - Sunday at Devoured 2013: Decadent 'Til You Drop - Maynard Keenan, Sam Pillsbury, Todd Bostock and other Wine Experts Give Pavle Milic Advice on Designing Wine Labels -- and Pavle Finally Names His Wine
I woke up wondering what the hell that dream was about, and I guess it can only be explained as a side effect from Devoured this past weekend. Not only was there great food, but great wine as well.
In my humble opinion, this is probably the annual food event that best showcases the local restaurant scene. I was pleased to see some local wineries showcased, including Arizona Stronghold, Dos Cabezas, Pillsbury, Page Springs, and Sand Reckoner. What was even cooler is that they were being poured next to a lot of non-Arizona wine from all over the world, and though I was slightly underwhelmed by a couple of the wines, they held their own overall.
My first stop was Arizona Stronghold. Paula, the director of sales, was there pouring the vineyard's 2011 wines, and was as engaging and gregarious as usual. The first wine we tasted was the Dala Chardonnay. For the sake of background, Dala means "one" in Apache (all of Arizona Stronghold's wines are named for something in that language), because it's 100 percent Chardonnay.
I've enjoyed this wine many times in the past, and for Chardonnay, this is definitely lighter-bodied, not overly buttery or oaky as many Chardonnays can be. It's not too complex, just very easy to drink. The nose is citrusy, not too creamy. After that we moved to the Tazi, which is by far my favorite wine in their lineup. I find it aromatic and refreshing, a blend of 28 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 25 percent Riesling, 18 percent Malvasia, and 16 percent Chenin Blanc. If I had to compare this wine to another that is well-known, I'd say it remind me of Conundrum. On the nose, it's very pretty and floral, reminiscent of a German Riesling or even Vouvray (French Chenin Blanc). I also appreciate the lack of overbearing oak on this wine, and that's, of course, due to the fact that it is aged in stainless steel and neutral oak.
In the red wine lineup, Paula was pouring both Mangus and Nachise. Their rendition of a super Tuscan style wine (a term used when when the Chianti varietal Sangiovese is blended with Bordeaux varietals), Mangus is 69 percent Sangiovese, 13 percent Merlot, 12 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 percent Petit Verdot, 2 percent Cabernet Franc. Unlike a true super Tuscan, this wine is fruitier, less dusty, a little bit more lean, and with good structure. It's overall pretty accessible and makes for easy drinking. The Nachise is their version of a Rhone blend using Syrah, Grenache, Petit Syrah, and Mourvedre. This wine has always performed very well for them and in many blind tastings has received a lot of awards. On the nose you get a lot of dark fruits, it's not overly tannic, and I think Arizona soil does very well with these varietals. I have to give a tip of the hat to Tim White, winemaker at Arizona Stronghold. Overall, he makes wines that are well-balanced, well-structured, especially for the affordable price point. Because of my association with Arizona wine, people often ask me about the ownership of the company. To set the record straight, the owners are Maynard James Keenan and Eric Glomski and family, but in terms of winemaking, Tim deserves the credit.
We move on to the folks at Dos Cabezas. Todd Bostock and Kelly Hearn Bostock, owners and winemakers, were lending their world-class pouring skills. First wine in their lineup was the 2011 "Red", basically a kitchen sink blend of Tempranillo, Primitivo, Counoise, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Syrah and Grenache. In plebian terms, I can best describe this wine as a dirty, dusty, funky Pinot or a sexy Italian blend. Easy drinking, food friendly, "Red" could be an everyday house wine.
Next up is the 2011 Toscano, which comprises 70 percent Sangiovese and 30 percent Cabernet Franc. This is one of the prettiest red wines these folks make. Pinot Noir does not bode well in high-desert altitude, so if we have to fulfill a niche for that grape, I think Sangiovese fits the bill. It's light, fruity, and sexy with good tanin structure, and a good lengthy finish. I would drink this wine any time, all the time.
The 2010 El Norte is Todd and Kelly's version of a GSM. It's mainly Grenache with a little Counoise. For a GSM, it's definitely a lighter style, spicy and fruity on the nose, and well-made but in terms of distinction it doesn't stand out as much as the following wine, the 2009 Aguileon, which is one of my favorite wines they make. It is a blend of 95 percent Tempranillo, blended with 3 percent Petit Verdot, 1 percent Souzau, 1 percent Tinta Cao. Tempranillo does very well in Arizona soil. This libation has a great combination of earthiness and restrained fruitiness. It has great tannin structure, and the finish lasts forever.
One of the things I appreciate the most of these folks is their total hands on approach. They farm two vineyards, the Cimarron Vineyard in Willcox, and an estate Vineyard near the winery in Elgin. I was disappointed to not see the Dos Cabezas "Pink," which I think is one of the best roses in the state alongside Maynard's LeiLi, as well as the Meskeoli white blend. They do a fantastic job with distinctive white wine. I later found out they had run out, so I guess that's a good problem to have. Their El Campo blend made the San Francisco Chronicle's top 100 wines from all over the world. I mention this not only to give them props, but to also show that winemaking in Arizona is not just a novelty, but is to be taken seriously.
Next is Pillsbury Wine Company, and who doesn't know Sam? Although Sam is well known for his other life as a director, he is also known locally for championing Arizona wine culture. He was one of the firsts to see the value and potential of planting vines in Arizona, and since has worked and rubbed elbows with Ken Callaghan, Todd Bostock, Eric Glomski and Al Buhl. He owns quite a bit of vineyard land down in Willcox.
For Devoured he brought with him the 2011 Wild Child White, which is 58 percent Chenin Blanc, 29 percent Pinot Grigio, 10 percent Riesling, and 2.5 percent Symphony (a hybrid of Muscat Alexandria and Grenache Gris, a grape that does very well in high-desert climate). On the nose it's quite redolent of the Arizona Stronghold Tazi, but on the palate, it's a bit more dry and slightly flabbier and more lush, with a bit more acid. Next up is the 2011 Wild Child Red, which is 15 percent Merlot, 28.6 percent Sangiovese, 18.3 percent Zinfandel, 11.4 percent Grenache, 12.6 percent Mourvedre, and 2.3 percent Shiraz. None of the grapes stand out too much in the blend. It's intended to be for easy drinking, nothing too complex or complicated. I don't mean this in a negative way, but this wine is a crowd-pleaser, and I think that's what Sam was aiming for.
The 2010 Rhone Red is next. 68 percent Grenache, 16 percent Mourvedre, 16 percent Syrah, this is Sam's GSM blend, and it also fits the bill for people who like to drink lighter-style reds. Intense aromatics, well-integrated tanins, great food wine, perfect Arizona wine. I've always loved what Grenache does in this soil, I don't get too much tobacco from the Mourvedre, and I think the small percentage of the Syrah helps the wine stay really pretty. He also poured the 2011 Diva, which is 72 percent Syrah, 17 percent Mourvedre, and 10 percent Petite Syrah. Stylistically speaking, I was expecting this wine to be a little bit bigger in terms of body. Compared to his former vintages, I felt this was a lighter rendition.
Overall, Sam makes wines that tend to fall on the lighter spectrum of things. I know for a fact he would rather showcase fruit over tanins that obliterate the palate, and I think he continues to do so successfully. Last was the 2010 Pinot Gris. He allowed it to go through malolactic fermentation. It's a wine that acts like a big Chardonnay, but not as cloying, but texturally speaking it's voluptuous and coating. The nose is redolent of stone fruits, and is in my opinion the most distinctive wine he makes in terms of having an opinion. It just stood out.
Up next, Page Springs. First is the 2011 Vino del Barrio Blanca which comprises 60 percent Chenin, 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc, and 15 percent Gewürztraminer (which means "spicy"). This wine falls in the same grouping of the Arizona Stronghold Tazi and Pillsbury Wild Child White, aromatic white blends that are fermented dry. Of the bunch, this is probably the lightest -- dare I say, lacking complexity. But for the price, it's easy-drinking, light and versatile, as far as food pairing goes. I like the floral spicy notes that come from the minimal presence of the Gewürztraminer. Perfect for Arizona summers, enjoy really cold. Next up is the 2011 Mule's Mistake, which is 64 percent Zin, 13 percent Pinot Noir, 12 percent Syrah, 5 percent Barbera, 4 percent Grenache, 2 percent Gewürzt. This is a very interesting blend of grapes, to say the least. Not one varietal really stands out, and I think that just like the Pillsbury Wild Child Red, it's meant to be enjoyed effortlessly. It could also act as a Pinot stand-in for Arizona.
I know that Eric has been playing around with Pinot Noir here in Arizona and is experimenting with sites. Although he has bottled Pinot Noir by itself, he still using the little he has into blends. The 2010 SGMP is next. It is a blend of 47 percent Syrah, 31 percent Grenache, 13 percent Mourvedre, and 9 percent Petite Syrah. Here's another GSM from Glomski's efforts. Although this blend had a lot of spice on the nose, it was kind of light on its feet in terms of complexity and structure. Again, with the presence of Petite Syrah, I don't understand why this blend didn't have a little more backbone. I was slightly underwhelmed.
Next up are Rob and Sarah Hammelman from Sand Reckoner Vineyard. If I had to pick a lineup of wine that takes best of show as a group, it would be a dead heat between Dos Cabezas and these guys. The 2011 Malvasia was the first I tasted. I love what this grape does in our state. I think it's a varietal that shows incredibly well. This wine has tropical, citrus, and honey notes, and on the palate it is concentrated and lush. Good acidity makes this a very bright and enjoyable wine, and I think its impact is arresting.
The 2010 Sand Reckoner "5" is 82 percent Sangiovese Grosso and 18 percent Syrah. This wine was fermented and aged in neutral oak, and is very well balanced. Although its texture is light, it didn't lack any concentration of flavor. I got a good mix of toasted woody notes and plum. Downright enjoyable.
The 2010 "7" is 100 percent Syrah. I love the smoky cedar aromas I get on this wine. There is lot of spice and leather and texturally it has well-integrated tanins, just enough to grab your palate and make the nuances of the Syrah last longer.
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The last in their lineup is the 2010 Sand Reckoner "11." It's 100 percent Zinfandel that is fortified with neutral grape spirits. This was definitely a decadent offering that could have ripped a layer of enamel off of my teeth. It's big and concentrated, offering all of the sexiness Zinfandel is capable of.
Out of 60 federally licensed and bonded wineries in the state, it was disappointing to only see five represented at Devoured. However, if we start talking about Arizona wines in terms of how they stack up against non-Arizona wines, I still remain enthusiastic about what is currently happening and what will continue to be the evolution of our wine regions.
Now excuse me, I have some bunting to do.