Story by Manos Angelakis
Photos courtesy of the producers
I’ve been hearing a great deal about a new American AVA in Arizona, called Verde Valley.
I knew that there are some very competent wineries in that area, though the general climate in most of Arizona is just too hot and too dry to support outstanding wine making. Despite this fact, wine grapes have been planted hundreds of years ago by missionaries in Arizona to make sacramental wines; the first commercial winery in the state wasn’t established until the late 1970s.
In the past, I’ve had a Sangiovese-based wine from a local winery that was surprisingly very drinkable. So when I heard about the area being declared a new AVA, I was eager to try some of the promoted wines.
The new AVA has 19 commercial vineyards, with many more planned in the near future, plus 25 tasting rooms mostly in Clarkdale, Cornville, Cottonwood and Oak Creek. There are also a couple in Jerome and Sedona.
I was passing through Cornville, the last time I was in the area, and stopped for a quick sampling at the Javelina Leap tasting room. Most of the wines I tasted were good, drinkable if not quite exceptional, but their Sangiovese-based bottles were impressive. I’m a Tuscan Sangiovese aficionado and have visited Tuscan vineyards numerous times. I also became friendly with an outstanding Brunello producer, Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, of Col d’Orcia fame. He, and the winemakers of Castello di Nipozzano of the Marchesi Frescobaldi family, plus the Avignonesi vineyards and the Antinori Winery. They all make exceptional Sangiovese wines that I love to drink with such fare as Cinghiale (wild boar) Ragout, Lamb-shank Pappardelle, Bistecca alla Fiorentina (see the Dario Cecchini article), Spinach Gnocchi (Malfatti) from Siena and a few more of the “typical” Tuscan dishes I’ve had during my trips.
It may surprise the average wine lover, but today there are some very good and noteworthy wines being produced in Arizona.
I started my tasting by opening a bottle of Château Tumbleweed Syrah. Actually, it is 98% Syrah that came from vines of the House Mountain Vineyard and 2% Mourvèdre, from a different vineyard. The grapes were cold-soaked for 24 hours, then fermented with specially selected yeasts. While in fermentation, the grapes were hand-punched 3 or 4 times daily, then pressed after 11 days contact with the skins. The must was barreled for 5 months in 2-year-old French oak, then 6 more months in neutral oak. Twice racked and filtered, but not fined. The production specs are impressive.
I have to admit, that even though this wine was very young, 2017 vintage, it was almost as good as a number of the South American bottles I tasted from that very same year. It offers a nose of plums, violets and mixed forest berries with hints of tobacco and cedar. Still, it is a bit too young and will need more bottle age to mellow. Great legs! With a little more aging it would become a top contender. If purchased now, in my opinion, you’ll need to cellar it for at least 3 to 5 more years before it becomes truly enjoyable. But even so, it paired well with grilled Australian grass-fed lamb chops, because it cut right through the rather dry meat.
The second bottle I tasted was a 2018 Caduceus, Nagual del Sensei, a rather surprising blend of 60% Sagrantino (an Italian grape) and 40% Souzao or Sousão, (a Portuguese grape mostly used for good Port wines). According to what is on the bottle, M. J. Keenan is credited as the winemaker but in most wine publications I’ve read, Eric Glomski, his partner, is credited for the winemaking; the wine is from the Caduceus Cellars, a small production winery. The vineyards and winery are located between Prescott and Flagstaff outside of Cornville, near the historic Arizona mining town of Jerome. Harvey S., a friend and exceptional sculptor, moved to Jerome as a transplant from New York City years ago, when the Manhattan’s rat race became too aggressive, so he can work in a less aggravating environment. We visited the area some time ago during a trip from Sedona to Prescott, and that’s when I became initially aware of Verde Valley.
The 2018 Caduceus Sensei is, confusingly, not included in the regular on-line product roundup of the winery and there is a statement in another web site that it was renamed “Anubis” which is a name mentioned on the producer’s site. However, the Anubis grape blend indicated on that site, is completely different from what is in my bottle, they claim 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Durif, 10% Aglianico, and on another site, the same blend is mentioned as being Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a dash of Petite Sirah. By the way, Durif is a cross of Syrah and Peloursin that was created as a new grape. In the USA it is known as Petite Sirah, sometimes spelled Petite Syrah. As I said, very confusing!
My bottle shows Sensei on the front and the 60% Sagrantino and 40% Souzao blend on the back, and that’s exactly what it tasted like, Sagrantino with help from Souzao; it was a bold wine, considerably tannic with elevated acidity. Great with a charcoal grilled filet. Some sellers call it a supertuscan but I don’t think that anyone should be calling it that, because it has no actual connection with Tuscany. Yes, 60% of the original grapes originated from a Tuscan clone, but the rest is from a classic Portuguese grape and the vineyard is in Arizona; definitely NOT a Tuscan product. Having said that, I think it needs as much bottle age to mellow, as any young supertuscan; it has pronounced rich and intense notes of smoky black plumy fruit, dark chocolate, graphite and leather and some cedar on the palate. I liked my bottle’s particular blend very much and would buy it for my cellar, if the blend remains as written on the back.
The final bottle I tasted was a white wine.
From Page Springs Cellars, came a young (2020) white Malvasia from the Dos Padres Vineyard that is floral and aromatic; it is a bit spicy, with hints of orange zest, white lily and tangerines. This is a minerality driven wine. Eric Glomski is the winemaker and owner. He is also a partner in Arizona’s Caduceus Cellars, along with Maynard Keenan, see above.
Page Springs sources grapes from several local estate vineyards as well as vineyards in other Arizona growing regions like Cochise County. They release an astounding number of bottles each year, from single-vineyard monovarietals, to quirky white blends, to varietal reds, and blends of assorted Rhone and Italian grapes. These are all small lot wines with regional signatures.
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