Sarah Hammelman, San Reckoner Vineyards, ready to pour tastes of wine at the Willcox Spring Wine Festival 2012
So many Arizona wines, so little time! At the Willcox Spring Wine Festival last month, I selected a few new releases to try, not expecting much—it’s difficult to tell how wines perform with food and guests after only a few sips. After all, they were ‘new’ and I couldn’t expect much, right?
I chose wines from three Willcox vineyards that are considered ‘new kids on the block’—the ones who are just now beginning to offer their first wines. But in a state where more than 20 wines from eight wineries have already scored at least an 88 rating from Wine Spectator, I wanted to see if these new wines were ready to stand up to that standard. I’m happy to report that the new vintners are approaching the trade with a wealth of knowledge gleaned from predecessors in the state’s vineyards and are successfully serving up their own unique style and palates.
Golden Rule Vineyards Manzora Red 2009
The Golden Rule Vineyards Manzora Red 2009 is as impressive as any of the state’s wine I’ve tasted. Fortifying the fruity spicy estate Zinfandel (85%) with 15% California Petite Sirah from Shell Creek Vineyards has added the deep purple color and a heavier-than-typical-Zin-but-smooth texture. This wine was a wonderful partner to my grilled portabella stuffed with pesto and goat cheese.
Owners Jim and Ruth Graham established the first vines in 2007 at Golden Rule Vineyards, located on the western edge of the historic Sulphur Springs Valley in Cochise County, nestled near the North tip of the Dragoon Mountains. The vineyards enjoy a unique combination of quartz and limestone soils, excellent water resources, and high-elevation climate—intense sunlight, warm days, cool evenings, and near constant air flows. Bravo with the Manzora!
Sand-Reckoner Vineyards “2” 2010
Sand-Reckoner Vineyards is located on the Willcox Bench at 4,300 feet, tended by Rob and Sarah Hammelman. Winemaker Rob began his wine journey in Arizona in 2000, while taking a summer off from teaching Humanities and Sciences to work in the vineyards of Callaghan Vineyards (Sonoita/Elgin Region) alongside Kent Callaghan, one of the Arizona wine pioneers. Rob’s early experience ignited a passion, and his dream began to grow vines and make wine in Arizona.
Enter the couple’s first red—the Sand-Reckoner Vineyards 2010 “2″ (70% Sangiovese, 30% Syrah) is deep ruby in color with pretty aromatics of black cherry, spice, and smoke. On the palate of this firmly structured wine, you’ll be intrigued by notes of blackberry-infused black tea, vanilla bean, and cinnamon. It finishes with dusty tannins and plenty of bright and vivid acidity. Enjoy it now, or store it (4-6 years, according to the winemakers) for special occasions that involve great salads, seafood/salmon fare, and hearty cheeses.
Zarpara Vineyards Rhona MacMillan ready to pour tasting of the latest release: Verdelho 2011.
I actually enjoyed some “2” with a grilled veggie burger loaded with fresh garden tomatoes, avocado, onion, and spinach. Gratification personified!
Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this blog post, Sand-Reckoner Vineyards announced the release of two newer wines—2011 Rosé and 2011 Malvasia Bianca. Can’t wait to get back to Willcox to try these out!
Zarpara Vineyards Verdelho 2011
Mark Jorve and Rhona MacMillan, working with Rob Hammelman of Sand-Reckoner, have brought their third fine wine to the table with the release of a highly palatable white—Zarpara Vineyards Verdelho 2011. The wine is rich and fragrant with pleasant notes of apricot, tropical fruit, and cotton candy. This dry white 100% Verdelho was barrel-fermented for a full 8 months in 100% neutral French oak, then aged on the lees, 80% in barrel and 20% in stainless steel.
This delightful Zarpara white will become a go-to wine for the fish and salads I tend to eat all summer long. I chose to enjoy my first bottle with a sautéed halibut and a spinach-and-spring-mix salad and tomato, dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette and shaved Parmesan—the perfect ending to a perfect ‘pre-summer’ 100-degree day in Tucson. Bellissimo!
Cheers to another round of wine winners from Arizona wineries. Looking forward to many more!