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Cochise County Surprise

13 June 2012

I’m currently exploring the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, because, after all, who wouldn’t want to explore the Phoenix/Scottsdale area in the middle of June, just before the summer solstice? As I’ve written before in this blog, there are wineries in all 50 states. But I must admit that I didn’t expect any Arizona wines to stand out. Do vineyards even grow here? Or is there just cactus wine?

Vineyards do grow here, I’ve learned, and quite well in fact. If the wines I’ve tasted so far are any indication, Cochise County in the far southeastern corner of the state (bordering Mexico) has some very fine vineyards indeed, kept cool, I suspect, by their relatively high elevation.

Both the Arizona Biltmore and The Phoenician (two high-end resorts) serve wines crafted by Arizona Stronghold, a newborn of a winery founded in 2007 by Eric Glomski and Maynard Keenan. Together, they revitalized the Dos Cabezas vineyard, tearing up underperforming varieties and planting new vines. The results of their efforts, along with winemaker Tim White and Director of Vineyard Operations Craig Martinsen, are nothing short of remarkable.

At dinner in Frank & Alberts, I drank a 2010 Arizona Stronghold “Tazi” white blend (vintage unknown), and it wowed me. A blend of 38% Malvasia, 21% Sauvignon Blanc, 19% Riesling, 15% Pinot Gris and 7% Chardonnay, the Tazi smells very sweet, like ripe apples and pineapples. But on the palate, it starts quite dry, moving into aromatic/floral flavors before some food-friendly acids kick in. It finishes with a bit of white pepper, which became more pronounced paired with some swordfish. Had I tasted it blind, I would have identified it as a high-quality Viognier.

The 2010 Arizona Stronghold “Mangus” red blend impressed me as well. The Canyon Suites at The Phoenician serves this as well as the Tazi during the daily wine and cheese hour. I love that they went with something local, instead of some anonymous Chardonnay and Merlot. The red blend also combines a wide array of varieties: 71% Sangiovese, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot. This mutt of a wine smells rather tight, like iron, clay and red fruit. The ripe, rich flavors surprised me. The wine seemed on the verge of overheating, but it kept itself under control. The flavors of blackberry jam, earth and black pepper tasted great on their own or paired with a chunk of morbier cheese.

I’m heading to Sedona tomorrow, and I hear a few wineries huddle together in nearby Page Springs. I hope the Arizona Stronghold blends are a just a taste of more fine wines yet to come!

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