Monday, November 26, 2012

Wine Country: Arizona - Arizona Stronghold Vineyards


Arizona’s wine history dates back to 16th-century Spanish missionaries who planted grapes to make wine for religious purposes.  While not exactly a religious mission, Arizona’s wine industry has grown rapidly in recent years.  Six years ago there were less than a dozen wineries in the Grand Canyon State, a number that has grown to over 60 today.

According to the Arizona Wine Growers Association, Arizona wine “enjoys three established grape growing regions - Sonoita/Elgin in Santa Cruz County, the Greater Willcox region in Cochise County, and the Verde Valley in Yavapai County.  There also are vineyards or wineries in Pima, Graham, Mohave, and Gila counties, plus several urban wineries in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  The majority of the vineyard acreage in Arizona is in Cochise County.”  That's where you'll find Arizona Stronghold.

Arizona Stronghold  Vineyards was founded by industrial musician Maynard Keenan and Eric Glomski (former vegetation and landscape ecologist.)  Keenan and Glomski were both producing wines made from California grapes at the time.  They combined their assets to purchase the vineyard near Wilcox, in southeastern Arizona, which became Arizona Stronghold.  Tim White is the winemaker.

Keenan says, "this project is about reconnecting.  It's about rekindling a relationship with the Earth, to our community, to each other.”  On the label, he describes life at his high-elevation vineyards as "hot days, cool nights, harsh winds and bitter, biting cold winters."  No doubt, creating good wine takes the edge off the bad conditions that nature deals out.

"The wines express, first and foremost, Arizona," says Keenan, "and secondarily the grapes and hands of the vignerons involved ... Great wine doesn’t have to be expensive; it doesn’t have to be pretentious; and it shouldn’t be hard to find.  It just has to be great and it has to be made by people that care.”  Keenan promises “minimally mucked-with wines that retain their natural vitality and character."

Arizona Stronghold was kind enough to supply samples of two of their wines. Both are made from Arizona grapes grown in Cochise County - from the Arizona Stronghold Vineyard and Bonita Springs Vineyard - and both are five-variety blends.

Arizona Stronghold Tazi White Table Wine 2011

Their white blend is made of 28% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Riesling, 18% Malvasia Bianca, 16% Chenin Blanc and 13% Gew├╝rztraminer.  The wine has a 13.4% abv number and comes under under a synthetic closure.  It is aged in stainless steel and neutral oak and retails for $18.

A golden straw color, Tazi is very aromatic with an upfront floral element on the nose, with lemons, minerals and orange peel and a fair amount of oak also appearing.  The palate shows a crisp minerality, medium full mouthfeel and notes of pineapple, lemon, pear juice and minerals.  The wine is extremely fresh-feeling in the mouth despite a hefty oak effect.  The flavors really come through strongly, as does the acidity.  I would love to taste this wine without any barrel aging, but with the oak it’s a force to be reckoned with.  This is not a “salad white” - it would overpower most very light dishes.  Try this with ham or pork chops.  I’m sure you could even wash down a strip steak with it.  White wines aren’t supposed to demand this much attention, are they?

Arizona Stronghold Mangus Red Table Wine 2010

Named for a famous Apache leader, Mangus is a Super Tuscan-style blend of 71% Sangiovese, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot.  It retails on average for about $22, has a 13.8% alcohol content and is bottled under a synthetic closure.

The wine has a medium-deep ruby color, with a bright cherry nose - courtesy of the Sangiovese - which also sports a fair amount of oak spice and alcohol.  Decant for at least a half hour to minimize the heat.  The palate offers a dusty, earthy cherry flavor with clove and nutmeg in the profile.  The oak is quite apparent in those spices, but the Arizona dust keeps the rope in its leather-gloved hand.  There is a gentle bite of tannins, and the wine’s rustic character is tempered by a little pencil point from the Cab and some floral notes from the Malbec.  On the whole, the wine rather reminds me of a Zinfandel.


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