Friday, July 9, 2010

Good wine from Arizona??

Don't scoff, guffaw, or snort. Yes, there are good wines being made in Arizona -- wines that you could pour for any wine lover and get at least an approving nod. Or even a Wow!

The trick to making good wine in a state that we all think of as one big desert is that magical concept called Microclimate. Just like in California, where many areas are too hot to grow decent wine grapes, there are small areas where the climate differs from the norm. These regions are usually created by proximity to cool water (like Carneros' San Pablo Bay or the Pacific Ocean), but altitude also has an important moderating effect on temperature. If you remember your 6th grade science, you know that the temperature decreases three degrees for every 1000 feet you ascend. So climb to 5000 feet, like in southern Arizona, and you're way cooler. These high desert areas also have a decently large difference in daytime and nighttime temperatures (experts call this the "diurnal temperature variation"), which is important for creating structure in wine grapes (i.e. well-balanced tannins instead of an overly soft, flabby wine).

But enough of the theory. I've explored only a few Arizona wineries so far, but enjoyed what I tasted. My first excursion was to southern Arizona, where the towns of Sonoita and Elgin are the hub of the state's original wine region. At almost 5,000 feet of elevation, their topography looks more like California than desert Arizona. We visited a winery called Kief-Joshua, which was having a release party for its new Cabernet Franc. They also poured a Tempranillo and a Malbec that were medium-bodied and smooth, but the Reserve Malbec was our favorite. It was a real knock-out, with lots of extraction, rich red berry fruit, and vanilla.

They're very small production and the wines tend to be pricey (everything $20 or more), but there was a good crowd out, enjoying the party and spending money. We hope Kief-Joshua continues to do well.

Stay tuned for the further adventures of Deb and Chuck in AZ wine country. Cheers!

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