Reviews by Cody Burkett, the AZWineMonk

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2016 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir (April 5, 2019)

2016 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir is a grape that many love, but as I’ve noted before, it is a grape  difficult to grow in Arizona. So far, the only winery in the state which  has had consistent success with this grape is Del Rio Springs Vineyard  in Paulden. This time around, we’re going to look at the 2016 Estate  Reserve Pinot Noir; the first reserve wine released from Del Rio  Springs, to my knowledge.  We’ve looked at a number of their wines  before, and I’ve always been pleased by their offerings.


The Wine: The 2016 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir was sourced from estate grapes grown  at Del Rio Springs; this particular vineyard has multiple clones (828,  667, 777, 115, Pommard and Martine) growing on site. This particular  vintage was aged for 14 months in medium toast French Oak barrels. The  wine is a cheerful ruby red hue in the glass. The winemaker was  Rick Skladzien.


The Nose: The nose of the 2016  Estate Reserve Pinot Noir opens with aromas of bright cherry, vanilla,  sandalwood, raspberry, and Darjeeling, which intermingle with floral  characters of rosehips and hibiscus. Hints of allspice round out the  nose. As the wine opens, these floral notes intensify, as does this  allspice character.


The Palate: The 2016 Estate  Reserve Pinot Noir is a medium-bodied red wine with low tannins and high  acidity. The palate of this vintage opens with sour cherries, red  plums, and raspberries, intermingling with tea-leaf tannins, sandalwood,  and vanilla. The finish of this vintage lasts for 35 seconds, filled  with the aforementioned fruits, with light tannins, a hint of black  pepper, rosemary, and vanilla.

The Pairing: I  would pair this vintage with a savory duck dish; perhaps either duck  tacos, or roasted duck with some figs and watercress.  For a vegan  pairing, serve this wine with a morel medley; the richness of wild  mushroom should go well with this wine. In terms of cigars, pair the  2016 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir with The Last Tsar, from Caldwell.


Impressions: The 2016 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir is, to me at least, a little  different than previous vintages of Pinot from Del Rio Springs. Overall,  it is more reminiscent of a Pinot Noir from Sonoma County, than  Burgundy, with that heavier hint of oak all around this vintage. At  least, that’s the impression when I crack open the bottle; that bright  fruit combined with oak is, to me, a more new-world approach to Pinot.   This is not a bad thing–it just is different.  I tend to prefer more  Burgundian-style Pinot Noir overall, but I did find this wine  enjoyable.  If you are more fond of Sonoma-style Pinot Noir, or those  coming from New Zealand, you will definitely enjoy this Pinot Noir more  than previous vintages coming from Del Rio Springs.

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2015 Dolce Bianco (February 10, 2018)

In the Midwestern United States, there  is one grape that seems to reign supreme for semi-sweet and sweeter  white wines: Vignoles. In Arizona, however, there is (so far) only one  vineyard growing this varietal: Del Rio Springs, in Paulden.  The 2015  Dolce Bianco is the first wine in Arizona to be made with this varietal.  I’m a little late on the uptake for this review, as I wanted to see how  this wine would cellar for a while… which means there are only five  bottles left at the winery if dessert wines are your jam.  Oops.


The Grape: Vignoles, as I mentioned before, is a pretty common grape grown  throughout the Midwest and Eastern US, often made into dessert wines.  (It is especially common in Missouri and the Finger Lakes.) It is a  complex hybrid cross that has a bit of a mysterious character, as nobody  is quite certain what grapes were used to create this varietal  (Genetic testing has seemingly disproven the theory that Pinot Noir and  Seibal. It is cold-hardy, and of course, a white varietal.  This  cold-hardiness is what allows this grape to grow rather well in the  Paulden area.


The Wine: The 2015 Dolce Bianco is  technically a blend of mostly Vignoles and a tiny bit of Riesling,  sourced from the Del Rio Springs Estate Vineyard in Paulden, Arizona.   This Medium-bodied dessert wine was fermented in stainless steel.  The  wine itself is a bright lotus yellow in shade.  I am not sure off hand  how much residual sugar is present in this vintage, but I know this  vintage was a late harvest.  Based on the palate, I would guess this  vintage has about 5% residual sugar.


The Nose:  While Vignoles is not a grape I am extensively familiar with, I have had  a few from Missouri and Kansas, and overall, the nose of the 2015 Dolce  Bianco is quite reminiscent of those few vintages I’ve experienced.  Striking aromas of pineapple, key lime, mango, acacia blossom, and  mango.  As the wine opens up, additional aromas of honeysuckle, vanilla,  and apricot emerge.


The Palate: Again, this  wine is pretty much standard compared to the few Vignoles vintages I’ve  tasted over the years. Bright flavors of Pineapple, Mango, Apricot, and  Starfruit create an opening salvo in this medium-bodied dessert wine,  intermingling with notes of acacia blossom, honeysuckle, and a creamy  meringue character on the finish, with just a hint of petrol.  What does  make this wine noticeably different from the 2015 Dolce Bianco’s  bretheren is a distinct, ashy/clay note on the finish, very reminiscent  of the geological makeup of the vineyard–a hint of local terroir.  The  finish of this wine lasts for 40 seconds, with notes of pineapple,  honeysuckle, apricot, and that aforementioned clay character, along with  the sweetness as you’d expect from a dessert wine.


The Pairing: Pair this wine with Creme brulee, or better yet, Indian food.  Anything  with a fair amount of coconut, such as Thai dishes, will also work well  with this wine.


Impressions: Vignoles is a  grape that seems well-suited to the cooler climates in Arizona, such as  Paulden.  I suspect it may also do well along parts of the Mogollon Rim,  so I’m glad that Rick Sklazdien is pioneering the ground with trying  out this grape at his vineyard site.  If you like unusual dessert wines  or are a Midwestern transplant that misses the wines of their homeland, I  recommend trying to track down a bottle of the 2015 Dolce Bianco.  The  combination of high acidity and residual sugar should also allow this  wine to age reasonably well over the next 5 years or so if you wish to  cellar this wine.


Personified, this grape is a woman who spent  some time as a spy.  She is blonde, and fond of big hats and tan coats.  She is *slightly* less mysterious than her sister who got her very own  PBS Show, but is also far more friendly.  She now works as a high school  history teacher.

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2015 Carménère Barrel Select (October 25, 2017)

Carménère is a grape which I honestly  wish that was more widely planted in Arizona. As of right now, I am only  aware of two vineyards in the state growing this fascinating varietal;  Chiricahua Ranch Vineyards, down in Willcox, and of course, Del Rio  Springs Vineyard in Paulden. I’ve been holding onto this bottle of the  2015 Carménère Barrel Select for some time now, and since it is another  varietal that often makes me think of fall, I decided I should finally  open it while taking a jaunt among the quaking aspens in all their fall  glory. It is especially sad to drink this vintage for me, considering  that it will be quite a few years before we see another vintage of this  wine coming from Del Rio, as most of the Carménère block got  accidentally nuked by a neighbor spraying herbicide on a windy day.


The Wine:  The 2015 Carménère Barrel Select is made from 100% Carménère, sourced  from Del Rio Springs vineyard in Paulden, Arizona.  This vintage was  made in the Aridus facility in Willcox, Arizona, by Leah Shanker (I  think, but it could also have been Marc Phillips). The wine was aged in  medium toast French oak barrels for somewhat longer than their  non-barrel select, but I am unaware off hand just how much longer.  It  is a rich crimson red in color, partially translucent.


The Nose: This  wine has a rich nose, with aromas of cherry, Perique tobacco, anise,  blackberry, cassis, red currant fruit, plum, and violets.  As the wine  opens, the wine gains rich earthy notes as well, intermingling with  additional notes of lilac and green peppercorn.


The Palate: Like the nose, the palate is a rich sensory experience, especially  after decanting.  This medium-bodied red opens with notes of cherry,  plum, raspberry, strawberry, and cassis, with firm, leathery tannins.   As the wine opens, additional notes of anise, black pepper, allspice,  cinnamon, lilac, vanilla, and tobacco emerge, along with intense, rich  earth.  The finish of this wine lasts for 55 seconds and is filled with  intense earthy characters, green peppercorns, plum, anise, allspice, and  rich tannins and tobacco.


Pairing: I want to  pair this with venison or elk stew or steaks, or even wild boar. A  roasted vegetable casserole would also work well.  Savory is your key  with this wine, I think, but it would also be great with a cigar on the  patio on a fall evening.


Impressions: This wine  will actually be a very good medium-bodied red wine to pull out for  Thanksgiving dinner, and may well be a delight for Cabernet lovers in  your family–it will work while Cabernet Sauvignon won’t.  The  2015 Carménère Barrel Select is a rich and savory wine that is an  intense flavor experience once it has opened fully–this to me indicates  this wine has not quite peaked yet.  I would consider cellaring this  vintage for at least another 2 years or so, but it also is great now, if  you’re patient.


This wine feels distinctly masculine to me; I  feel its personification to be that of a Biologist who specializes in  discovering rare tardigrades and other microbiotic fauna in rich earth.

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2016 Pinot Noir Blush Frizzante (March 31, 2017)

I thought I’d begin June’s Month of Rosé  with a bang; the first sparkling wine made in Northern Arizona: the  2016 Pinot Noir Frizzante Blush from Del Rio Springs. Well, okay, more  like a pop, that is.  And I should specify; the first I’m aware of.  It  may well be the first sparkling rosé in the state, for that matter.  (Kent Callaghan, as far as I’m aware, has made the first sparkling wine  from Arizona fruit that was made in the state, or at least the first  that is/will be commercially available soon).  Now, since sparkling wine  is a new thing for this fantastic state of mine, I hope you’ll bear  with me in describing what is largely unexplored territory for me.


The Wine: I asked Rick Skladzien, the winemaker, how the 2016 Pinot Noir Frizzante wine was made.  I will quote his reply here directly:


“First  we destemmed the Pinot and lightly pressed at 2 bars and gently pumped  the juice directly into the SS [Stainless Steel] tank.  The juice  settled overnight, racked to a second SS tank and fermented to dry.  The  wine sat on fine yeast for a couple months and racked to SS to mellow  out for another 2 months.  The cuvée went through our modified Charmant  process where we fermented in 15 gallon SS kegs to 20 psi.  The wine was  then chilled to settle the yeast and achieve tartaric stability.  The  wine was then gently pushed through a final filter using CO2 just ahead  of the counter pressure filler system.  Prior to filling, each bottle  received a final dosage resulting in an off dry slightly bubbly wine.”


The wine itself is a salmon-coral pink, with larger bubbles.


The Nose: I’ve always found it different to write about the aromas of sparkling  wines; I’ve yet to find a good glass that works for their aroma, and  swirling the wines as you would a still wine just releases more bubbles,  making it difficult (for me, anyway). The nose opens with notes of  rose, lily, and strawberry.  Additional notes of raspberry and  minerality emerge as well.


The Palate: The  palate opens with notes of strawberry, bing cherry, white flowers, and  sweet raspberry. Additional notes of lavender, peony, lilac, and, and  white tea. There is a nice balance between acidity and sweetness; though  I personally would have preferred a higher acidity, myself. There’s  also a tiny bit of earthiness on the finish, intermingling with notes of  white tea and white cherry, which lasts for about 25 seconds. There is  also a strong raspberry sweetness that plays with the palate.


The Pairing: Strawberries covered with white chocolate was my immediate thought, but  this wine could also pair well with spicy food like sushi, stuffed  jalapenos, or fried pickles.  Honestly, I want to pair this wine with  finger food and appetizers, more than anything else!


Impressions: I  admit, I was a bit dubious when I held the bottle at first, but I found  myself pleasantly surprised when I cracked this bottle open with a  friend after a day at the CSW class.  It’s well-balanced, and really  quite fun to drink.  This would be a good wine for a hot summer day.


I’ve  mentioned before that Pinot Noir is kind of like the goth girl at  school; prone to a difficult to understand nature, and often  misunderstood.  There was a woman in my high school like that, except  for her, everything was pink. I found her intimidating and confusing at  first, but then I got to know her and she was pretty cool. Urban  dictionary tells me that there is an actual category for this sort of  thing: the Sparkle Goth (or Glitter Goth).  I haven’t talked to said  friend in years, sadly, but this wine reminds me a lot of her.

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2014 Carménère (February 29, 2016)

Carménère is a grape that, honestly, I’m kind of surprised not to see more of in  Arizona. With the wide success of other Bordeaux grapes in Arizona, it’s  kind of shocking that this is not popular to plant to me.  But it’s a  fun grape, with a cool history–thought to be the one extinct Bordeaux  grape, then rediscovered in South America…  and now it has made it’s way  into Arizona in Chino Valley, thanks to Del Rio Springs.


The Wine: The  2014 Carménère is made from 100% varietal fruit coming from the Del Rio  Vineyard site in Chino Valley.  The wine was aged on medium toast  French Oak barrels for 10 months.  It was made at the Aridus facility by  Rob Hammelman. It’s a lovely garnet red in color.


The Nose: The 2014 Carménère has a huge, juicy fruit nose. It reminds me of the  way the cranberry-blackberry juice I used to drink at my grandmother’s  house growing up smelled. Subtle notes of cassis, vanilla, and allspice  can also be discerned.  As the wine opens up, notes of leather  and Cavendish pipe tobacco also emerge from the glass, and those fruity  notes intensify .


The Palate: This wine is  equally juicy and fruity on the palate, with notes of cranberry,  blackberry, and cassis forming an opening salvo to the stereotypical  spices I generally associate with this varietal in Chilean versions: a  combination of cinnamon and red chili pepper.  Leathery tannins  intermingle with cranberry and rosemary on a finish that lasts for 55  seconds.  The wine is on the low end of full-bodied.  When the wine  opens, these fruit notes intensify and blueberry also emerges.


The Pairing:  I feel like this wine would pair well with Lamb, especially  a recipe with herbs. You could give it a southwestern spin by using  chili or another spiced rub.  For a vegetarian or vegan pairing, serve  this wine with some Mexican food that has a lot of peppers and beans.


Impressions:  This wine fits, to a T, the traditional taste profile you’d expect  from Carménère; bright juicy fruit and spice, but a little bit fruiter  to the palate, which I suspect t0 be a terroir characteristic, but I  need to drink far more versions of this grape to be certain.  It should  age well in the cellar; I predict future vintages will be more tannic as  the vines age.


This wine in person would be a woman, a historian  and archaeologist, black hair in a braid, focusing on interactions  between the Inca Empire and various subject peoples.  She’s just  returned home from a long expedition abroad.  I look forward to future  vintages of this grape from this site, and, frankly, I’d like to see  this varietal planted more in Arizona.

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2014 Pinot Noir (November 30, 2015)

There is a  question I get asked almost every day when I’m working the tasting room,  and even on days when I’m doing “research” at other wineries: “Where  can I find a Pinot Noir?” It’s a question I dread, because this is not a  grape I’m normally fond of. California pinots are attempted syrahs,  while the ones coming from Oregon are so earthy that I may as well be  eating dirt. The main problems with Pinot Noir in most of Arizona can be  addressed with Miles Raymond’s soliloquy about the grape from Sideways.  Most of Arizona doesn’t fall into those specific little tucked away  corners of the world where this grape grows well. Except for one: Chino  Valley, Arizona, which is producing pinot noir on par with some I’ve  drank from Burgundy.


Yes, I am absolutely serious. The reason is  that the climate and geology of the Chino Valley region closely  approximates that of this grape’s Burgundian homeland, and nobody is  doing a better pinot noir in Arizona than Del Rio Springs, who just  opened their tasting room at the southern edge of Chino Valley. Their  2014 Pinot Noir is a perfect example of why this region is poised at the  edge of becoming the fourth major wine region in Arizona. It is also a  perfect jumping-off point for examining three tools in a winemaker’s  arsenal: clones, yeast, and barrels. (I would also be remiss if I did  not point out that they also have the only vintages of phoenix [a German  white] and carménère [to be reviewed later] to be found in the state)


This  pinot is a blend of several different clones that originate from  Burgundy; the pommard, martini, 113, 777, and 828 clones are all planted  at the Del Rio Springs vineyard, located in Paulden. Each clone of a  grape provides a different flavor aspect that, when blended, creates a  complex varietal wine that expresses the full potential of a vineyard.  This wine was also made using two different yeasts Infusion (1502) and  1503, which are designed to express a Burgundian-style flavor profile.  The 2014 Pinot Noir was made by Rob Hammelman, at the Aridus facility in  Willcox. The wine was aged for 12 months in three-year old medium toast  French oak barrels to provide that final Burgundian style feel to this  wine. Different styles of oak, and different amounts of toast provide  different flavor profiles.


This is a lighter-bodied, and  lighter-colored pinot noir; light garnet color makes this wine appear  very similar to those coming out of Côte-d’Or. On the nose, this wine is  again reminiscent of a Burgundian pinot: bright red cherries and  watermelon intermingle with soft frankincense, Cavendish tobacco,  mushroom, and forest floor, with just a hint of vanilla and cedar. After  the wine opens up for a bit, the earthy notes become more intense, and  notes of thyme and sage emerge from the glass.


On the palate,  once again this wine is reminiscent of a classic Burgundy. Bright cherry  notes are well-intermingled in this vintage, blending with flavors of  marionberry, earth, tobacco, leather, and vanilla. As the wine warms in  the glass, a watermelon jolly rancher flavor emerges,intermingling with a  bit of bergemot, black tea, and mushrooms. There are very slight  tannins here on the finish, which lasts for about 34 seconds.


This  wine, as I mentioned last month, is a good for your turkey, goose, or  ham holiday dinner, as the delicate nuanced flavor profile will work  well with these lighter meats. I would not pair this wine with roast  beef, if you were planning to serve that on your Christmas/Yuletide  table.  For a vegetarian/vegan pairing, serve this wine with a Tofurky  (if you must have one), or make a mushroom stroganoff with a mustard and  chive mash. This wine is the cute, quiet, geeky girl next door possibly  a French exchange student. 

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2013 Pinot Noir (October 29, 2014)

So, here’s a sentence I never thought I  would say regarding Arizona wine; “I have found a fantastic  Burgundian-style Pinot Noir that I enjoy.”  This is thanks to Del Rio  Springs Vineyard, located at about 4,550 feet in elevation in the Chino  Valley basin, in Paulden. The grapes are grown on site; along with  several pinot clones (see below), there are plantings of Phoenix,  Vignoles, Carmenere, and some experimental Gruner Veltliner and Pinot  Blanc vines. Plans are afoot to plant Chardonnay as well, and maybe even  St Vincent. They do not have on-site winery production capacity yet, so  they truck their fruit down to Willcox, to Aridus, for winemaking. I  arranged an appointment with the owners, Rick and Maricor Skladzien last  weekend, and I was treated to a fantastic afternoon of wine discussion,  and a lovely tasting. It turns out that Rick and Maricor had the same  question I posed when I talked about the Painted Lady Gewurtztraminer:  Why was nobody growing in Chino and Prescott Valley? Except, unlike me,  they decided to do something about it. (And I am really happy they are  doing so, believe me.)  Del Rio Springs 2013 Pinot Noir. A sign of  things to come.

The Grape/Terroir:  Everybody  knows Pinot Noir. Everybody seems to love it, especially after the movie  Sideways, which was a Pinot love story. For me, though, I’m extremely  finicky about my Pinot; I’m not fond of California Pinots since they’re  too dark and jammy, I think Oregon Pinots are too light. Pinot Noir  coming from Burgundy, where the grape originally comes from? They’re  tasty. People have been trying to grow this grape in Arizona  from the  beginning of the industry, and with very little success. I know why now;  they’re all trying to grow this grape in the wrong place. The geology  of Chino Valley, with it’s mix of clays, chalky limestone layers left  over from the Pedregosa Sea, and the occasional lava flow provides a  soil complex which is quite similar to Burgundy. This particular Pinot  Noir is a blend of four clones: 115, 777, 828, and Pommard. It was then  aged in medium toast French Oak for 9 months. It is a medium bodied,  dark pinot that is lighter than expected on the palate–just like a Pinot  from Burgundy.

The Nose:     The nose is  completely different from a California or Oregon pinot. Musty petrichor,  sage, vanilla, and distinct forest floor notes intermingle with  cherries, huckleberry, red currants, cooked mushrooms, and cassis. It’s a  suprisingly luxurious, balanced, and complex nose that doesn’t  overwhelm; no one scent is stronger than the others.

The Palate:  There’s some tannins here, but not overbearingly so like many  California Pinots I’ve had; and just enough to hint at the possibility  of long-term aging. Rich, earthy notes intermingled with vanilla and  sage pleasantly combine with some soft red fruits; huckleberry, cassis,  and currents specifically. Overall, the impression is that of a lighter  burgundy; with slightly different terroir notes in the earthy nature of  the wine; it feels a little more volcanic in tone than the chalky flint I  get from most Burgundian Pinots.

Pairing:  Slow-roasted  porkchops with rosemary and olive oil dressing. Hands down. Either  that, or go all out and with traditional Burgundian cuisine and make  some Poulet a la Demi-Deuil.

Impressions:  This pinot is one you could age for some time; at least five years,  although it’s quite good now. The impression I get from most Pinot Noirs  is that of goth girls in high school, clamoring to get attention for  being “edgy” and “cool” This isn’t the case at all with the Del Rio  Springs 2013. Instead, I get the impression of a far more sophisticated  woman; possibly studying Political Science or Business; someone quiet  and demure, and perhaps you wouldn’t notice her in a classroom off the  bat, but when you do notice her, you realize that not only is she  stunning, but that she’s actually classy, with a slight European accent  that is impossible to place. She’s also slightly geeky.