When I close my eyes and think of Arizona, I think of many things. Wine and winemaking do not come to mind. Enter Aridus Wine Company and that all changes.
Arizona Wine Industry, briefly
The first commercially planted vineyards in Arizona began cropping up in the 1970s. There are three wine growing regions in AZ: Verde Valley, Willcox AVA and Sonoita AVA. Of these three regions over 70% of all wine grapes grown in Arizona are sourced from the Willcox AVA. The industry is considered youthful and exuberant with wine quality being “all over the map” from amateurish to award-winning. Serious players are emerging, and that brings me to Aridus Wine Company.
Aridus Wine Company – Background
Scott and Joan Dahmer founded Aridus Wine Company in 2006 becoming part of the small pioneering vintner community in Arizona. Aridus is Latin for “dry, arid” which makes a whole lot of sense given the climate of the area. The winery, in Willcox, AZ is in a repurposed apple warehouse. They have tasting rooms in Willcox about a mile from the winery and a second tasting room in the Old Town area of Scottsdale, AZ.
In 2015 they began planting what is now a 40-acre estate vineyard. There are two sections of the vineyard divided by Turkey Creek. The “North Side” includes the white varietals of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Malvasia Bianca. The first harvest was in 2017, and we are sampling that wine. The “South Side” was planted with 1,500 Cabernet Sauvignon vines in 2017 and has not yet seen a harvest.
The fruit for all of the other Aridus wines is sourced from a number of growers within Cochise County, AZ (14 wines), Mimbres Valley, New Mexico (9 wines), Santa Barbara County, CA (1 wine), Willamette Valley, OR (1 wine) and American Mixed AVAs (3 wines).
Aridus Wine Company – The Tasting
When I was first asked to try a few wines from Aridus Wine Company, I was excited and intrigued. I have read other bloggers reviews of past vintages and was hoping to have the opportunity one day myself. That day is here, and last weekend, I sat down with Gary and a couple of friends to check out the four provided wines.
2017 Aridus Field Blend, Aridus Wine Company, Willcox AVA, Arizona
But first: What is a Field Blend?
Field-blended vineyards are interplanted vines of different grape varieties all in the same block or field. Historically, folks planted different grapes in their plots as an inexpensive way to blend wines. All the grapes are harvested at the same time and fermented together. The “blend” is whatever comes from the vineyard that year. While rare today, some winemakers are making field blends for the historical experience or the cache of something different. But in new growing regions like Arizona growing different varieties in the same block are a great way to discover what might grow well in that particular microclimate. Why is Aridus making a field blend? I am not sure, but whatever the reason, I think you will find that it worked out well for them with this wine.
And now, back to the wine.
The fruit from this wine came from the Aridus Estate Vineyard. It is the vineyard’s first harvest. This blend is a mix of Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, and Viognier.
If I had to, I would guess that the primary varietal is Sauvignon Blanc. At least that is what the nose was telling us. I could not put my finger on the precise aromas, but the overall citrus and tropical notes with a bit of grassiness led me to that conclusion.
It is the perfect summer refresher style of wine. It has bright and lingering acidity. We all found the predominant flavor to be of a tart summer lemonade. It was striking at first but mellowed with each sip. Probably the note that I think tells you all you need to know about this wine is; when the tasting ended this was the bottle we went back to first. (well sort of, see the next wine below)
Gary was hesitant at first, but this wine grew on him and became his favorite of the tasting.
The 2017 Field Blend from Aridus Wine Company belongs in your fridge for those hot summer days when you want a glass of wine and a quencher.
Lastly, this wine is available direct from winery via the website store or through the two tasting rooms for $28.00 per bottle.
2016 Syrah, Aridus Wine Company, Cochise County, Arizona
This wine was my personal favorite as it was for Bryan and Craig as well.
In keeping with Northern Rhône traditions, this wine is a Syrah but digging deeper you will find that it is only 83% Syrah and 17% Viognier. What, you say? Did they blend a white grape into this red wine? Yep, they sure did.
First, done in the Cote Rotie AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) of the Northern Rhône, it is now an accepted practice all over the world. Differing countries and regions have different regulations regarding this blending practice. Generally, it is limited to no more than 20% Viognier. The aromatics of Viognier lift the wine’s aromas. Viognier also brings new life and vibrancy to the dark purple color of Syrah.
The aromas of roasting herbs, smoke, caramelized sugar, and black fruits filled the bowl of my glass. My first sip was smooth and balanced. Blackberry notes predominate with back notes of black olives and charred wood. I love the mouthfeel of this wine. It is silky and luscious. But again, I am brought back to its balance of all of its elements; the fruit, the acid, the tannic structure, the weight, etc. This Syrah is a super sip and will make a great dinner wine paired with a spicy lamb stew or other spice-laden dishes.
This wine was the last wine of the tasting, so we all poured a second “taste.” Oh, and then we finished the bottle.
Finally, this wine is available direct from winery via the website store or through the two tasting rooms for $37.00 per bottle.
2017 Malbec, Aridus Wine Company, Mimbres Valley, Arizona
Argentina is the largest producer of Malbec in the world with the USA a distant second. Malbec does not have a long finish and typically has big bold fruit flavors. Bleu cheese is a perfect pairing as is lean red meats.
This Malbec is a youthful, fruit forward wine with a medium body or mouthfeel. It is full of cherry and generic berry aromas. Its flavor profile is a perfect match to the nose. It is very drinkable, if not gluggable – meaning that it goes down easy. Tannins are light to non-existent making it a perfect wine for new wine drinkers that are unaccustomed to tannic structure or lovers of bold berry fruit flavors in a wine.
Of course, this wine is available direct from winery via the website store or through the two tasting rooms for $36.00 per bottle.
2016 Graciano, Aridus Wine Company, Cochise County, Arizona
Graciano is known as a blending wine in Spanish Rioja wines. Until I received this shipment, I had never seen 100% Graciano wine. This varietal grows well in dry arid environments. However, harvest yields can be low.
I am fascinated to see how these grapes express themselves. Lisa Strid, the winemaker, did a short video clip about this wine. She spoke of the fact that this is the only wine they make that has “stem inclusion.”
What is Stem Inclusion?
Stem inclusion or whole cluster fermentation is when the whole grape cluster is harvested off the vine and then crushed and fermented stems and all. In this situation, the fruit came in on three different dates, and each lot was fermented separately. The first two lots were destemmed. The final lot was half destemmed and half whole cluster.
Why did they include some whole cluster in the third lot? Stems impart their own unique flavors to the wine, as well as more tannins. Ripeness is just as crucial for stems as it is for the fruit. If the stems are not entirely ripe with a green and rubbery appearance and feel, these stems bring more green and vegetal notes. Should the stems ripen to become brown and woody, the flavors they impart will transform to spicy and earthy. Stems also can add a coarse structure, perhaps an astringency to the wine.
Only one barrel from the third lot (stem-contact) was included in the final blend of this wine, yet we found the effects to be significant. The winemaker wanted to bring out the spicy white and black pepper notes in this wine. We all agreed that she succeeded in her efforts. We all found those peppercorn elements in both the nose as well as on the palate although we differed in our choice of white or black pepper. This wine also exhibits the most pronounced tannins of the four wines we sampled.
The profile of this wine is unique and interesting. The nose is predominately that of pepper. The palate follows with more pepper notes and some bitter cherry. Gary and I found this wine to be someone green which comes across as unripe fruit. The tannins are chalky and bold.
In conclusion, this wine may not be one for the masses but there is an audience, and they will love its unique rustic appeal.
Again, this wine is available direct from winery via the website store or through the two tasting rooms for $37.00 per bottle.
The Willcox Tasting Room address and hours are 145 North Railview Ave., Willcox, AZ 85643 Phone: 520.766.9463 * Open Thurs – Sun 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
The Scottsdale Tasting Room address and hours are 7173 East Main St., Scottsdale, AZ 85251 Phone: 520.954.2676 * Open Monday-Saturday 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm and Sunday 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm.
There are wineries with commercial vineyards in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii.
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That is all for now,