Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nebbiolo grown in Arizona?

I hadn’t visited the former ghost town of Jerome, Ariz., for 30 years, so I was anxious to return to see what had happened to this arty enclave clinging to the side of a mountain determined to slide into oblivion. When last I visited, the hippie and art crowd were just beginning to squat, turning old, crumbling buildings into new shows, restaurants and even apartments and condos. I in no way expected to find so many wine tasting shops when I returned, and one I visited had some very interesting wines produced from grapes grown in Arizona.

Yes, in Arizona, and among them was a rosé crafted from Nebbiolo grown in the hills north of Wilcox, Ariz., which is in the southeast corner of the state. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Caduceus Cellars & Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room in Jerome offers a wide variety of wines and tasting flights, including some that match cheese and other appetizers with their wines. The $10 flight I tried included four wines: a white, a rosé, and two reds.

The first wine was called Dos Ladrones, a 2010 vintage made with Malvasia Bianca and Chardonnay grown in Arizona. It had a bright, fragrant nose, but was a bit creamy on the first taste. Happily this creaminess disappeared on the finish, which was fresh and had just the right combination of orchard fruit and citrus. There seemed to be a little bit of herb and maybe even some white pepper? It was a very nice start.

Then came the wine that intrigued me the most: a rosé made from Nebbiolo, but not just any Nebbiolo, but Nebbiolo grown in Arizona! What was this? To me, Nebbiolo is a truly noble grape used to craft outstanding Barolo. And like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo can be a delicate and finicky grape. Certainly, I was familiar with the beautifully elegant and even muscular Barolos, but a rosé?

Called Lei Li Rosé, this 2010 vintage had an almost amber pink color. The nose was fresh with lovely but so ephemeral fruit that had just a bit of zing to it. Tasting, this wine was very delicate, the flavors very subtle but really quite good followed by a lingering finish. Seriously, the flavors were so delicate that I could see someone easily missing them. This was a wine that demanded your attention, but was a delight to drink. So delicate, I wondered how to pair it with cheese. They had an answer for me at the shop, but unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the cheese; it was a creamy French cheese with a mild flavor unless you got piece next to the rind.


Number 3 was a 2009 vintage blend of Syrah and Malvasia Bianca, also grown in Arizona, called Primer Paso. It had a very oaky nose, so overpowering that I couldn’t smell any fruit no matter how I swirled and sniffed. The oak was so strong it was almost like sniffing a cedar box. It was juicy, not jammy, on the taste, but there was nothing left for the finish. Not my favorite at all, but surprisingly it was the favorite wine of one of the pourers in the shop.

The final wine was made with grapes from California, a 2008 vintage blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Called Nagual de la Naga, I half expected something robust and even muscular, not just because it was the last wine in the flight, but also because one of the pourers described it as a “super Tuscan” style wine. Powerful it was not, but it was a nice wine. There was a light nose of cherry and cassis with a bit of herb and earth; very rustic. It was juicy and bright, the Cabernet nicely tempered, I thought, by the Sangiovese. It had nice tannin as well, suggesting that it might cellar for a few more years.

So there you have it. Even in a town like Jerome, Ariz., you can find wine tasting rooms with interesting offerings and even some surprises, like that Nebbiolo rosé.

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