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Saturday, March 22, 2003 - Sonoita, AZ

Has California run out of wine discoveries for you? Well, here's a look at several nice wines from a very surprising source - Arizona! Now, I know what you're thinking - no, this isn't cactus wine, rattlesnake juice, or some other weird thing. These are the same varieties you've been drinking all along, although Arizona's growing conditions might give the wine a different expression of the grape (see map). These wines are generally grown at higher altitudes, which helps compensate for the state's desert climate. Sonoita's about 60 miles southeast of Tucson, and, given its altitude of about 4,700', the climate becomes very similar to that of Paso Robles, CA.

I'd arranged to meet Kent Callaghan (Callaghan Vnyds) and Al Buhl (Dos Cabezas Vnyd) at Kent's winery. In addition to his own Dos Cabezas label, Al supplies fruit to a few other wineries, including both Callaghan and a relatively new label named Echo Canyon. With Echo Canyon located up north near Sedona, it sure seemed like a heckuva long way to come for grapes, I thought aloud. Only a five hour drive, replied Al. The more I thought about it, I guess that really wasn't much different than a Napa producer purchasing grapes from the Central Coast.

Since I knew that Kent had been purchasing some of Al's fruit for some time now, I wanted to try a few varietals from the Dos Cabezas label. About 60 acres in size, the vineyard itself is located about 1-1/2 hours further east, tucked into the southeastern corner of the state, in a place called Kansas Settlement, which is near Wilcox. But luckily for me, Al lives nearby and offered to bring by some of his wines for tasting. Also, as it turned out, Jon Marcus of Echo Canyon had stopped by Callaghan's the week before, and left a treasure trove of his pre-release wines for Kent. So, it looked like a "three-fer" for me - one stop to taste the wines from a trio of producers.

Overall impressions: I've tasted the Callaghan wines on several occasions (see 1st visit), but never had the opportunity to try either of the other two labels. The Dos Cabezas Riesling was really interesting - with lots of ginger and mineral qualities. The Echo Cyn Chardonnay was fascinating - with a nice smoky note that was probably influenced by the California Central Coast fruit in the blend. Of the two Sangiovese-based wines, the Dos Cabezas "Toscano" was certainly the smoothest, with the Merlot polishing off some of the edginess, youth and wood that seemed evident in the Echo Cyn - which was massive. The Echo Cyn Cab Franc was absolutely killer - with a fabulous dark cherry nose and big chewy mouthfeel!

Across the board, I thought each of the Rhone varietals produced by this trio were excellent, including a second inter-state blend by Echo Cyn, the 2001 Echo Cyn Syrah. Both Dos Cabezas and Callaghan are making Petite Sirah blends (Callaghan's is called "Padre's," which is 70% Tempranillo, 30% Petite) that are smooth and seductive. Finally, the Callaghan Estate Mourvedre fruit seems to be coming along nicely, as evidenced by both vintages of his "Back Lot Cuvee."

For some reason, we're always looking to pigeonhole wine varietals, with a "this doesn't taste like (fill in the blank) to me" attitude. But, it's important to remember that good wine is wherever you find it. And overall, these are some very nice wines - regardless of appellation. Yes, I think I can safely say: Arizona! It's not just for Rattlesnake Red anymore! In fact, here's my suggested slogan for the local vintner's association: "Arizona Wine -- Reach For It!"

Tasting Notes

2002 Echo Canyon Riesling - Dos Cabezas Vyd, Cochise County. Light yellow-gold color. Fairly typical Riesling nose, with a nice added ginger/golden raisin scent. Crisply sweet on the palate, light ginger-beer and fruity flavor, crisp and firm finish.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B+ Overall score: B+

2001 Echo Canyon Chardonnay - American. Light-medium yellow-gold color. Fascinatingly smoky nose of apple, pear, and sweet lemon. (We speculated on the source of the 1/2 CA fruit.) Medium-full mouthfeel, very tasty apple and maple flavors, nice balance, though the intensity seems to flatten out just a bit on the back end. 50% Dos Cabezas Vnyd; 50% Central Coast, CA.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B+ Overall score: B+

2002 Dos Cabezas Chardonnay - Dos Cabezas Vyd, Cochise County. Light-medium yellow-gold color. Ripe, minerally nose with citron, caramel, and lemon. Al says the slightly overripe scent is really just how the fruit comes from this vineyard. Medium-full on the palate, with nice caramel and semi-sweet lemon taste, and long balanced finish.
Aroma score: B Taste score: B+ Overall score: B

1998 Callaghan Chardonnay - Cochise County. Light-medium gold color. Somewhat dank initially in the nose (swirls off), with obvious lemon-apple fruit, and a nice touch of toastiness. Slightly sweet mouthfeel, good balance, tasty and chewy, very toasty long finish. Kent said he wasn't pleased with this wine on its release - thought it kind of monolithic. But, we all agreed it was tasting great now.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B+ Overall score: B+

2001 Dos Cabezas "Toscano" - Dos Cabezas Vyd, Cochise County. Medium-bricky garnet color. Very spicy nose of dried cherry and cranberry, clove and a touch of stems. Huge mouthfeel, with lots of grip and spice, plenty of red fruit flavors, picks up a bit of oak on the long finish. 78% Sangiovese, 22% Merlot.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B+ Overall score: B+

2000 Echo Canyon Sangiovese - Dos Cabezas Vyd, Cochise County. Medium-dark ruby garnet color. Big effusive nose, lots of dried cherry and spice, with a sweeter black cherry lying underneath. Sweet and juicy mouthfeel, with a lot of youth and coarseness coming on about mid-palate. Big and chewy, with seemingly no shortage of oak on the huge long finish. I had no idea how much the Merlot smoothed out the Dos Cabezas Sangiovese until I tried the Echo Cyn behemoth. No one's going to mistake this for papa's Chianti! 5% Syrah.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B Overall score: B+

2001 Echo Canyon Cabernet Franc - "Estate," Yavapai County. Very dark ruby color. Deep black cherry and floral nose, with touches of loam and creamy bittersweet chocolate. Somewhat bright black cherry flavors, with a nice clove and vanilla note, a big chewy mouthfeel, good balance and very long finish. 5% Merlot. 15.7% alcohol - but you'd never know it right away. Well, maybe a couple of glasses later....
Aroma score: A-Taste score: A- Overall score: A-

Tasting Notes

2001 Dos Cabezas Cabernet Sauvignon - Dos Cabezas Vyd, Cochise County. Dark ruby garnet color. Nose of cassis and cherry, with a slight toasty sage note. Moderately full mouthfeel, very approachable, good balance and long tasty finish.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B Overall score: B

2001 Callaghan "Buena Suerte" - Sonoita. Dark ruby purple color. Nose of cassis, cherry, chocolate, and creamy mocha. Big and gutsy on the palate, lip-smacking tasty, with nice long finish. 39% Cab Sauv, 31% Merlot, 15% Petite Verdot, 15% Zin.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B+ Overall score: B+

2001 Dos Cabezas "La Montaña" - Cochise County, Arizona. Dark purple ruby color. Fleshy nose of blackberry and raspberry, with a just a touch of licorice. Very smooth and chewy on the palate, lots of flavor, very good balance and a smooth long finish. 80% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot, 2% Cab Sauv.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B+ Overall score: B+

2000 Callaghan "Back Lot Cuvee" - Arizona. Dark ruby color. Nose of black cherry, bing cherry and a touch of chocolate. Thick, ripe and fruity initially, more of the bing cherry comes on at mid-palate, along with touches of vanilla and chocolate. Good balance, though picks up a bit of acid on the very long finish. Blend of Syrah (Dos Cabezas Vnyd), Mourvedre & Zin (Buena Suerte Vnyd, "Estate").
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B Overall score: B+

2001 Callaghan "Back Lot Cuvee" - Arizona. Dark ruby color. Wow! Big dense nose of chocolate, espresso, and blackberry. Nicely balanced on the palate, with plenty of fruit and juicy flavors, and a toasty long finish. 15.7% alcohol! 50% Mourvedre, 36% Syrah, 14% Zin. Syrah (Dos Cabezas Vnyd), Mourvedre & Zin (Buena Suerte Vnyd, "Estate").
Aroma score: A- Taste score: A- Overall score: A-

2000 Echo Canyon Syrah - "Estate," Yavapai County. Dark ruby garnet color. Nice smoky black fruit, with a touch of tarry licorice and hint of bittersweet chocolate. Full on the palate, lots of balanced black fruit flavors, touches of minerals and licorice. Tablas clone.
Aroma score: B+ Taste score: B+ Overall score: B+

2001 Echo Canyon Syrah - American. Dark ruby garnet color. Well, here was a seductive nose. This blend of AZ and CA fruit combines to show off the best of both worlds. Resembling something like a blackberry latte in the nose, with licorice, shaved chocolate and mocha notes. Delicious taste and mouthfeel, tarry chocolate-infused flavors, long toasty finish. 50% Yavapai Co., "Estate;" 50% Halter Vnyd, Paso Robles, CA. Interestingly, the AZ fruit came in at 16%! Luckily, the 13.9% Halter blends things down a bit.
Aroma score: A- Taste score: A- Overall score: A-


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