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Wednesday Wines and Beers: Arizona Wines? Yes, they Exist!

If you play word association with Arizona, chances are wine, vineyards, or anything in the subject of oenology would come up. It’s a desert, right? Grapes can’t grow in deserts!

Correct. Grapes cannot grow in deserts. Incorrect, however, because not all of Arizona is a desert. The Chiricahua Mountains of Cochise County, in the southeast portion of the state, create a climate conducive to vineyards, much like Mendoza in Argentina does with its intense heat mixed with high altitude, and enough rain to not look like Saguaro National Park. Last year John Mariani sampled several Arizona wines and I had the opportunity to try a few Cochise County glasses during my weekend trip to Phoenix for Spring Training. I had known all about Arizona’s excellent microbreweries (Four Peaks, SanTan…), but I arrived without an inkling of this burgeoning winery filled (not exactly California but maybe soon competing with Colorado or Texas?) state.

Bar Bianco, next to its famed big brother Pizzeria Bianco in Downtown Phoenix features a few glasses of Arizona wines. My sample of  the 2009 Dos Cabezas “Red” fell flat, with a pleasant texture but bland notes similar to an average chianti.

My hope sprang back though for Arizona wines a few nights later at FnB, a sensational, tiny restaurant (more on the meal itself later this week) in Scottsdale amidst shop after shop hawking knick-knacks of cowboy magnets and Grand Canyon postcards. Does anybody ever buy something at these shops? In this land of tourist overload, FnB is an oasis. Not only are the ingredients local and beautifully executed by Charleen Badman in the kitchen, the wine list created by co-owner Pavle Milic is entirely from Arizona.

Yes, an all Arizona wine list. And there are more than 3 bottles on it. There’s a little cheating here and there with one excellent red sourcing grapes from Mendocino, but made in Arizona. However, our bottle of the Pillsbury Wine Co.’s 2010 Viognier, was 100% everything Arizona and 100% an absolute treat. Aged 8 months in neutral French and American oak, this viognier avoids the soft, overly fruity stigma of most. It is very well balanced, almost like a slightly fruitier, full bodied New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Only 84 cases were produced and already 1 bottle I know has been consumed…so hurry!

An excellent wine crafted by Sam Pillsbury and an excellent suggestion by Milic. If the 2010 viognier is a sign of things to come, we may be seeing a lot more Arizona wines coming to a wine list near you.

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