Blood Into Wine Into Badge (Reviewing Arizona Wines)

Vinted on November 12, 2010 binned in crowd pleaser wines, wine review

I know this end-of-week segment has tentatively been reserved for wines of the week, but so far I’ve featured wines not actually reviewed during the week in question, and in this case I’m giving a badge to just one wine and not multiple wines… so let’s just agree that some re-branding might be in order, ok?

The thing is, I keep encountering cool and interesting wine shiz that I want to share, like last week’s T.A.S.T.E. mini-bottle craze and the wines of Paul Dolan, so let’s also just agree that we’ve started an anti-segment and get on with it, ok?  Ok!  Excellent!

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk Arizona.  As in, Yes, Arizona is making wine, just like the rest of the states in the U.S.

Of course, when you tell someone that you just tasted some (samples of) AZ wine, and just watched a (review copy) of the film Blood Into Wine (which chronicles in vastly-entertaining-but-sometimes-too-advertisement-like-fashion the work of rocker Maynard James Keenan and winemaker Eric Glomski to put AZ on the fine wine map), invariably this is the response that you will get:

“Maynard Keenan? Isn’t that the dude from Tool and Puscifer? Arizona makes wine?  WTF?”

At least, that’s been my experience.

Based on the similar befuddled reactions of my friends, I can only imagine what the AZ wine industry has to endure every day when asked about their efforts to bring fine wine recognition to the state. My guess is that Napa makes fun of them, all isn’t-that-cute-little-brother style, like the way that we treat Canada most of the time. As my friend Alder Yarrow said during his cameo in Blood Into Wine (paraphrased): I taste a sh*tload of wines every year “and 99.9% of them are not from Arizona.”

Based on what Glomski and Keenan are doing, however, I am wondering if that situation may change in the not-too-distant future…

If my email Inbox is to be believed, then at least Arizona itself is taking it’s fine wine scene very seriously, because they seem to be holding, entering, and showing well in a ton of wine competitions, which at the very least shows self-confidence in their own finished products.  Speaking of finished products…

Let’s start with one of Glomski’s wines, the 2009 Arizona Stronghold Vineyards “Nachise” – a Southern Rhone style blend.  I wasn’t crazy bout this wine, but that’s a stylistic and preferences point, really – it’s as fierce as its Apache namesake, tannic and gripping, but clearly well-made by someone who knows what the fuck he’s doing and likes to blend. I dug the dusty, coffee notes (remember those, because they’re important for AZ as we’ll get to in a minute or two), but ended up longing for more red fruit.  At $19, it’s not a bargain, but it’s sure-as-hell not pissing-your-money way either. Only real Mourvedre fans need apply, though.

The thing was, the Nachise got me thinking that in a blind tasting I’m willing to bet this wine would stump a lot of people, and ultimately they’d guess that maybe it came from the hotter zones of California, but only because (lacking exposure to wines from AZ) no other option seemed appropriate. In other words, the uniqueness of place might already be coming into play for this wine… which leads us to the…

2008 Caduceus Sancha (Arizona): Dusty, brooding & dark-fruited proof that Tempranillo can, in fact, feel at home somewhere in the U.S. $59 B+ #

Hey… there’s that dusty, mocha coffee action again… are we getting a glimpse into the red wine fingerprint of AZ?  Maybe. While it might be too early (for me, anyway) to tell if the best AZ reds will carry there’s certainly no doubt Maynard Keenan’s “Sancha” is a serious wine, and thankfully it avoids the trap of trying emulate the worst Tempranillo offerings of Rioja, which are aged so long and so stubbornly in oak that they end up tasting like whatever wood they sat in for umpteen years rather than tasting like, well, fruit. In this case, the fruit is very dark and very interesting, and has the potential to get geeks talking and non-geeks guzzling.

If the wine of “Blood” brothers Keenan and Glomski are any indication, then AZ might just be the next U.S. wine region to watch (though production isn’t likely to compete in volume with CA or WA anytime soon). Like other U.S. wine regions trying to gain notoriety and break up the near-monopoly that CA wine has over the minds of U.S. domestic wine consumers, the AZ wines are over-priced (primarily a reflection of production costs).  BUT (and it’s a very big but)… curiosity-seekers and those looking for something out of the ordinary will definitely be rewarded for the extra outlay of cash, and can start to collect bragging rights to be cashed in later when the concept of AZ fine wine is commonplace and has lost the WTF? factor.

“Yeah, well, I was drinking AZ wine back when people were all like, ‘AZ wine?!?  WTF?!??’…”






  • Sherman

    Last I looked, there were 38 bonded wineries in AZ and I have tasted from almost all of them. I lived in Phoenix/Scottsdale from '95 to last May and traveled throughout the state, tasting along the way. Also, being ITB on both a wholesale and retail level has given me access to try pretty much everything that gets fermented and put into a bottle from Arizona. So, yes there are a few very good wines from the Grand Canyon state and many that still have a long ways to go…

    I would spend my *own* money on anything produced by Kent Callghan (pronounced Calla Gan) and his wife; they're in the Elgin-Sonoita-Patagonia area east of Tucson and a bit north of the Mexican border. Many of the state's wineries area in this triangle and it makes a great long weekend trip. Also of note are Keeling-Schaeffer, wine from Sam Pilsbury and Dick Erath (last name sound familiar? Yes, *that* Dick Erath, who sold his Oregon holdings and relocated to AZ, planting a new vineyard).

    I've met with and talked wine on two occasions with Mr. Glomski, and I find him to be passionate about what he does. My opinion is that while they make competent wines, they're a bit overpriced for the market and what they deliver. I think the Stronghold line is a good $12 bottle — unfortunately, it retails for $20 in most locations in AZ. I wonder how far they would have gotten without the "star power" of Maynard — and I'm a fan of his music, having seen 'em live "back in the day" at the Mesa Amp. Ah well —

    Overall, Arizona is a unique wine destination with many interesting wines being offered. Some great scenery (especially this time of the year, through next spring) makes for some awesome wine touring. Give the wines a try and see how you like them.

  • Benito

    I wonder if times if there are lessons to be learned from the beer industry. I live in Tennessee, and I can easily walk into a store and buy a beer from Delaware, but not a wine. Coming from PA you might find this amusing, but there was actually a black market in smuggled Yuengling until they finally started carrying it here a couple of years ago.

    The point being, I can walk into a retail establishment and purchase beer from a dozen different states, whereas with wine my only options are the big three on the west coast. (I'm ignoring some of the cheap jug wine out of NY and other places.) I mention this because I think these emerging wine regions are going to continue to struggle until people in the majority of the country have some way to actually physically purchase the wine. How to implement this?

    I don't know… I've wondered about something like mixed cases that would work like this. Say there's something like the Arizona Export Collection. Participating wineries agree to submit a wine that retails for, say, $25. An individual case will feature 12 different wines, from different producers, all at the same price point to make it easier for the wine shop. Maybe a sticker is applied to all of them with the AEC logo and the Arizona flag. (I'm thinking something similar to the Australian Premium Wine Collection ) Some shared marketing, Southwestern recipes from Bobby Flay, etc…

  • Steve Heimoff

    You liked Maynard's AZ wines more than I did, Dude. I tasted them blind (for the movie which I starred in; my next project is with Johnny Depp and Lady Gaga) and had to stop the camera after one of them because it was so awful, I couldn't think of how to put it down politely.

    • 1WineDude

      Steve – well, I only had one, which may not have been one of the ones that you tasted (I'd be curious to know).

      BTW, the scene with you was pretty cool, that backdrop was stunning. I got the feeling from the flik you were looking for some way to say that the last couple of wines were NOT good without saying "damn, these kind of taste like crap!" :-)

  • Benito

    Well, it's part of it, but beer suffers from the same problems–sometimes worse depending on where you are. Yet I get a broader selection of domestic beer here in flyover country than I get from wine. I also see a lot more experimentation–brands cycle in and out, some stuff sticks, some stuff doesn't. Bars do a great job of promoting new beers that you don't see with wine in restaurants. Retailers/distributors don't seem to be willing to take the same gamble on, say, Virginia wines, or Long Island wines, but will gamble on small quantities from Greece, Israel, Austria, etc., which might even be imported through states like Virginia or New York.

    I figure there's enough expat Texans (or Cowboys fans, or A&M graduates) in other parts of the country to pick up a Texas wine from time to time just out of state allegiance. Again, I don't have all the answers here, and I know that no amount of marketing would ever make Tennessee wine as widespread or popular as our native Jack Daniels. But for the states that are making "real" wine, and enough of it to export, it might be time to sit down with the craft brewers.

  • Steve Heimoff

    Yeah that's exactly what happened. I didn't want to really snark something on camera. Although the older I get the less hesitant I am to fire my guns. The backdrop by the way was from the Oakland Hills looking west across the Bay to S.F. That's where the filmmakers wanted to shoot.

  • El Jefe

    It is getting seriously tiresome that every "wine in AZ" article is about the same guy. Like Sherman noted, Callaghan wines are great, and other producers are doing great things with Tempranillo and other varieties (Dos Cabezas also comes to mind.)

    It also sounds like I need to get you some more domestic Tempranillos to try. I guess I'm falling down on the job….;)

    • 1WineDude

      Indeed, El Jefe – haven't seen hide nor hair of a Twisted sample in these parts in some time!

      Regarding the same AZ folks getting coverage – well, they're the focus of a big media push right now; whether or not that will have "trickle down" ( "trickle across" might be more apt? ) impact is yet to be revealed…

      • El Jefe

        Perhaps I'm just expecting the "new 1winedude" to dig deeper than the superficial mainstream media ;)

        I'll get on those samples!

        • 1WineDude

          More is planned in this dept., Jefe – but I am still bound by the sample pool! :)

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, Andy – quite a shout-out, hope you're not a Pillsbury employee? (kidding)


  • Andy

    Not an employee…and i did not like Free Willy 3 either (he directed that!)

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, Kevin. Would you say being marketing "pioneers" isn't really being pioneering?

    I wouldn't say that myself. As you mentioned, more power to these guys if they can market their products nationwide.

    I'm pretty sure there aren't too many true winemaking pioneers – after all, almost no one in the U.S. is really treading new ground in planting grapes and making wines…

    • kevin

      the definition of pioneering can fall under the same category as the definition of "natural"… no need to mince words or waste energy trying to figure out who the "real" pioneers are. people like dr. frank in the finger lakes, david lett in oregon, you get the picture… glomski and keenan like to count themselves among those and they're welcome to… doesn't mean it's true. i would go as far as saying that their marketing is pretty formulaic and in that regards they are only really "pioneering" wine commercials, er, movies.

      • 1WineDude

        Kevin – totally agree that the Frank and Lett were vinous pioneers; I disagree that Keenan and Glomski are being formulaic in their marketing approach, though – or, I should say, in applying marketing principles that are known to work now to the world of wine, the aspects of what they've done may have formulaic elements, but when applied to wine it's actually pretty pioneering!

        • kevin

          true… formulaic for the music industry, groundbreaking for wine marketing.

  • Jenny

    I am sure Europe at one time was also saying WTF California makes wine??

    • 1WineDude

      Ah Jenny… very insightful comment!

    • El Jefe

      Actually, in the late 1800s Europe said "Thank goodness California makes wine!" after the phylloxera had wiped out most of Europe's vineyards…

    • SFGREG

      Sure until 1977 when Ca beat the French, could be awhile for AZ wines and not in my life time LOL

  • Mel

    I totally agree with your comment that Arizona's wine industry is being overlooked and treated the same way that Canada's wines have been – I recently tasted Keenan and Glomski's Merkin Chupacabra (as it is the only Arizona wine available in my part of the world, as of yet), and as I read about Arizona wine it felt like deja-vu; you could have easily substituted "Canada" for "Arizona" in many places.

    I definitely think that Keenan's wines are overpriced and over-marketed, but at the same time, other Arizona vintners should recognize that these two have brought a LOT of attention to their industry, which is going to benefit all of them in the long run. Might as well ride those coattails while they can!

    • kevin

      read the label, chupacabra is a california wine.

      • kevin

        not only is it a california wine, but unlike the caduceus wines it is not even made in arizona… they blend and bottle it in california.

        • melpriestley

          Oops, I meant to say "Keenan wine" instead of "Arizona wine" above. I knew that it was a California wine, but it still got me reading about Arizona wines since that's where all the rest of Keenan's stuff is from.

  • Jeff

    Love to see the Arizona wine scene booming! So many great wineries and wines right here in Arizona! If you are a fan of AZ wines, you will want to check our the AZ Wine Travel Card. I bought one at Sonoita Vineyards and have used it a ton! Saved me a lot of $$. You can find it @

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Jeff.

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