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Celebrate Spring and Creativity with Aridus Wines

April 23, 2022 6 comments

Spring is here in Connecticut. There is still some frost on the cars’ windshields in the morning, but the greens are popping out everywhere, daffodils abound, and cherry trees look pretty in pink. It still feels surreal with the horrible events unfolding in Ukraine, but yes, the Spring has arrived.

Okay, so we acknowledged the Spring, now let’s talk about wines and creativity.

Spring is not only about flowers. Spring is also about new wine releases, such as the one from Aridus Wine Company in Arizona.

Aridus is a family winery in southeastern Arizona, the area where the majority of Arizona’s grape growing is concentrated. Aridus, which means in Latin “dry or arid”, is a young family winery, built on the passion and the desire to make world-class wine. The winery started by purchasing 40 acres of farmland in the Turkey Creek area in 2009. In 2012, a state-of-the-art winery was built, first making wines from the grapes brought in from the vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California. The white grapes were first planted on the estate’s land in 2015, followed by the red grapes in 2017, all using sustainable farming methods.

The white grapes are already used in the estate wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Being curious about the estate red grape program, I asked Lisa Strid, the Aridus winemaker, when does Aridus plan to produce estate red wines, and here is the answer I received: “We are in the process of transitioning over to estate reds – our first vintage of reds from the vineyard was in 2019 when the Cabernet Sauvignon was on its third leaf.  However, I’m not certain as yet whether we’ll be bottling that as 100% estate.  We weren’t sure what yields would look like, so in order to ensure we’d have enough Cab for the vintage, we also purchased a few tons from our favorite grower in New Mexico.  So it may wind up being a blend for the Aridus tier, and we’ll almost certainly do an estate bottling for the Barrel Select Tier.  We just bottled the 2018 Cab Sauv two weeks ago, so it will be at least another year before we actually bottle and release the 2019.

However, we did just release the 2020 Malbec from our estate vineyard to the wine club (which will be available to non-club members I believe sometime next month).  This was the first estate Malbec brought into the winery.  So despite it being a year younger, it beat the Cab to the table.”

I tasted Aridus wines last year, and I was impressed with the quality. This year, I had an opportunity to taste Aridus wines again, and now I’m impressed not only with the quality but with the creativity. How so? I thought you would never ask – but thank you for this question. To answer I will do something which I generally work very hard to avoid – directly citing the tasting notes. But in this case, the description of the 2019 Aridus Viognier from the tasting notes is simply perfect and worth quoting:

This year, we conducted extensive testing both in the vineyard and the winery in order to better understand the optimal conditions for growing and fermenting this fruit from our unique corner of the winegrowing world. In the vineyard, we tested a range of UVblocking netting. We had noticed that since this variety tends to hang below the canopy, it is particularly susceptible to sunburn. We netted two rows each with: 1) a thick bee and wasp netting; 2) Chromatinet Red 30% UV blocking; and 3) Chromatinet Gray 3035% UV
blocking. These lots were picked separately once they hit brix targets and fermented in identical stainless steel barrels. In the winery, we experimented both with yeast and with fermentation vessels. It is our standard practice to ferment whites in stainless steel, but this year we decided to ferment a control in stainless steel, an experimental lot in a sandstone jar, and another in an acacia wood barrel. In 2018 we performed extensive yeast trials and had alit upon Ferm Aroma White as our favorite of all the yeasts tested. This year, one of our technical reps asked if we wouldn’t mind testing Christian Hansen Jazz direct inoculation yeast on a white variety, and we decided Viognier was the best option. When the bulk of the
Viognier arrived at the winery, we pressed it all to one large tank before racking it off to each of the vessels for fermentation to ensure homogenous juice to best assess the differences between the lots. All in all, we wound up with eight separate trial lots. We definitely found ourselves gravitating towards certain treatments over others (we unanimously loved the sandstone jar), but when it came time to blend, we found that we loved the way that all the lots tasted blended in proportion to the volumes of each of the trials.

Protecting grapes from sunburn using different methods? Deciding on the best fermentation vessel and playing with the yeast? Aridus might be a young winery, but I would say that older wineries should definitely take notice, especially considering the climate change which is not going to go anywhere.

Moving on from creativity to the glass, here are my notes for the 4 wines I tasted:

2021 Aridus Sauvignon Blanc Cochise County Arizona (13.3% ABV, $35, 90% stainless steel, 10% 4 months in oak, 100% estate fruit)
Straw pale, almost translucent
Tropical fruit, golden delicious apples, round, intense
Tropical fruit, initial sweetness impression quickly replaced by crisp, vibrant acidity, with acidity on the finish. I would say it is Torrontés in the blind tasting, but still, a nice wine.
Drinkability: 8-, easy to drink. A crowd-pleaser – I opened this bottle during dinner with friends – both of my friends loved this wine, and even my kids, who generally don’t drink wine, said that it was excellent.

2019 Aridus Viognier Cochise County Arizona (14.4% ABV, $35, 19 months in oak, 100% estate fruit)
Straw pale
Nicely floral and perfumy on the nose, round, inviting, medium ++ intensity
Round, restrained, elegant, plump, roll-off-your tongue, good acidity
Drinkability: 8-/8, nice and elegant. Was improving over a few days as the bottle was open.

2018 Aridus Syrah Cochise County Arizona (14.5% ABV, $46, 90% Syrah, 10% Viognier, 32 months in oak, 50% new, 50% neutral)
Dark garnet
The nose of plums, cherries, and meat stew
Medium body, tart, firm structure, some underripe dark fruit. Under-extracted for my palate – I want a bigger body on this wine.
Drinkability: 7+, needs time – these were 1st-day impressions
In 4-5 days, 8/8-, round, good amount of fruit, good balance

2019 Aridus Graciano Cochise County Arizona (16.6% ABV, $46, 99% Graciano, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in oak)
Dark garnet
Beautiful intense nose, plums, earth, smoke, sage, complex
Cherries, plums, well-integrated tannins, firm structure, generous, layered, perfectly balanced
Drinkability: 8/8+, outstanding. This was my personal favorite from the tasting, offering a good Rioja impersonation. Very well done.

Here you are, my friends. Spring, wine, and creativity. I will gladly drink to all.

The Next World Class Wine Frontier: Desert Wine

October 23, 2021 2 comments

Can you think of a desert? Even if you never visited one, and only saw them in the movies or read about them in the books, I’m sure the image readily jumps to the head. Sand. Heat. Hot air. Wind. More sand. More heat. More wind. Maybe a half-dried cactus. I’m sure that the luscious greens of a healthy vineyard are not part of that image.

Meanwhile, every desert has an oasis. If there is water, nothing stops beautiful greens from prospering in the desert. Desert doesn’t mean only heat. It is hot during the day, but cold during the night – and the diurnal shift – the difference between the hottest and coldest temperatures during the day – is beneficial for all the plants. If you are into the wine, I’m sure you heard of the importance of the diurnal shift to help build flavor in the grapes. And if we are talking about grapes, let me mention yet another benefit of the dry, arid air – it helps to avoid many diseases in the vineyard, such as mildew.

Let me ask you another question. Have you tried desert wines? The wines produced in the vineyards surrounded by desert? Before you will be quick to say “no”, I will ask you to think again. If you had wines from Argentina or Chile, there is a very good chance those wines came from the desert vineyards – Leyda Valley and the Atacama in Chile are nothing but desert; Uco Valley, Salta and overall large portions of Mendoza in Argentina are nothing but the desert. So yes, I believe you have. And today I want to bring to your attention yet another example of desert wines, these ones coming from the US – Aridus Wine Company in Arizona.

Source: Aridus Wine Company

Source: Aridus Wine Company

Aridus (Latin for dry or arid) started from purchasing 40 acres of land on Turkey Creek in the southeast corner of the Arizona state in the foothills of Chiricahua Mountain, at an elevation of 5,200 feet.

In 2012, Aridus opened its cellar doors, after refurbishing an old 28,000 sq. ft. apple warehouse (it was done so well that in 2014 Aridus was honored with the Design Excellence award for sustainability). The Aridus wines were made with the grapes brought from the vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California; the cellar also served as a custom crush facility. Interestingly enough, this is not my first encounter with Aridus – back in 2014, while attending my first wine bloggers conference in Santa Barbara, I had 2013 Aridus Viognier presented during the speed tasting session, which was my first time tasting a wine from Arizona – and it was a very impressive wine.

Aridus started planting white grapes at its estate vineyard in 2015, with the first estate harvest taking place in 2017. The red grapes were planted from 2017 through 2020, and Aridus is planning to gradually increase the proportion of the wines made exclusively from the estate fruit every year. The plantings currently include Malvasia Bianca, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Tempranillo, Petite Verdot, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Graciano, Petite Sirah, and Malbec, so nobody needs to worry about the range of Aridus estate wines.

Lisa Strid, who just celebrated her 5th year as the Aridus winemaker, definitely appreciates the unique challenges of working at the desert winery. Finding rattlesnakes, owls, roadrunners, hawks, and javelinas on the crash pad might be the least of her problems. Monsoons, strong rains and winds which run seasonally from mid-June through mid-September, represent a much bigger issue, as they have the potential to inflict a lot of damage on the grapes, especially when rain also comes with the hail.

But – it might be all well worth it as long as you can produce good wines. Based on the two wines I tasted, these desert vineyards deserve the full attention of wine lovers.

First, I was blown away by the Sauvignon Blanc – here are my notes:

2020 Aridus Sauvignon Blanc Arizona (12.6% ABV, $28)
Straw pale
White peach, guava, intense, round, inviting
Beautiful bright tropical fruit on the palate, fresh, crisp, good acidity, generous
8, this is summer in the bottle. New World Sauvignon Blanc “in your face”. “I’m bright, I’m beautiful, and you know that”.

Then the Aridus Malbec was perfectly on point:

2019 Aridus Malbec American (13.6% ABV, $36, 95% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 15 months in French oak barrels, New Mexico fruit)
Dark garnet, almost black
Cassis, a hint of bell pepper, iodine, a touch of minerality
More cassis on the palate, both berries and leaves, soft, velvety, crisp acidity, long finish
8, excellent

Thinking about analogies, both wines are perfectly New World in style, without going overboard and losing their balance. The Sauvignon Blanc was somewhere between Californian and Chilean renditions with all of its bright fruit – yes, if you are craving the restraint of Cloudy Bay, this is not your wine – but if you want to simply brighten up your day, that would be a perfect pick.

And the Aridus Malbec was reminiscent of the best mountain desert Malbecs from Argentina – Amalaya, Casarena, and many others, again, fresh and well balanced.

Will the desert wines be the next rave? I’m bad at predictions, so I really can’t tell you that. But you are welcome to try answering this question on your own simply by finding the bottle of Aridus wine and giving it a try. Once you do, let’s compare notes. Cheers!

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