Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Arizona Stronghold wines.....

Arizona Stronghold is a very interesting concept. Co-owners Eric Glomski (former winemaker at David Bruce) and Maynard Keenan (Caduceus Cellars, lead singer of the band "Tool") teamed up in 2007 with the goal of overhauling the rundown Dos Cabezas Vineyard near Wilcox, AZ and making fine wines from grapes in Arizona. They took a chance on hiring an unknown winemaker, Tim White, from a winery in Virginia and they haven't looked back. I love the fact that they are primarily doing this with Rhone, Iberian and Italian grapes rather than trying to force the issue with Cabernet and Merlot.

Last week, the retailer I work for hosted a screening of "Blood Into Wine," a documentary about Glomski's and Keenan's efforts at making serious wine in Arizona. Of course, a selection of Arizona Stronghold wines were poured for guests to enjoy during the movie. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend the screening/tasting. But out of curiosity, I bought a few bottles to review on my own:

2010 Arizona Stronghold Mangus Red Table Wine, Cochise County (Arizona) - 71% Sangiovese, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, 3% Petite Verdot and 2% Merlot. Has the kind of light ruby color that one would expect from a Sangiovese. Varietally-correct nose of dust, tart cherry and sweet licorice. Seems rather oaky. Tart red fruits carry the palate and there is a nice core of refreshing acidity that just doesn't quit. Although the buttery oak says "this isn't from Tuscany," I think I would still nail this as a Sangiovese if I tasted this blind. And considering the source, I think that's saying a lot about the winemaker. I've had plenty of domestic Sangioveses that aren't nearly this true to its roots. Well done and perfect with a meaty take-out pizza. You can probably find better Chianti for the same price, but I don't think $24 is out of line for a wine of this quality.

2010 Arizona Stronghold Dayden Pink Table Wine, Graham County (Arizona) - A bone dry blend of 89% Zinfandel, 9% Sangiovese and 2% Petite Sirah that should appeal to fans of old world rose from the south of France. Rusty, coppery color belies the wine's lightness and freshness. Beautiful aromatics of spice, watermelon, tart strawberry and orange citrus. On the palate, the wine is lithe and tart with prickly acidity and a long, stony finish. Thoroughly enjoyable with ceviche (bay scallops, swai, shrimp, lime juice, garlic, shallots, cilantro and avocado) and no complaints about the $16 price tag.

2010 Arizona Stronghold Dala Cabernet Sauvignon, Graham County (Arizona) - Rather light, Pinot-ish color isn't very promising. Sweet-tart cherry and wintergreen on the nose tells me this is going to be a rather light interpretation of Cabernet. Nose follows through onto the palate with tart cherry and watermelon notes punctuated with harsh oak and rough tannins. I have to say, this is by far my least favorite of the Stronghold line-up. $21

2010 Stronghold Vineyards Mandala Red Table Wine, America - I opened this after the disappointment of the Dala Cabernet. Opens with a deep color that actually leaves a little stain on the glass as it drips down after a good swirl. Very rustic, old school nose of tart blackberry, green peppercorn and a good whiff of alcohol. Turns a bit richer on the palate with cocoa and chocolate notes to accompany the blackberry and serious black pepper notes. Nice acidity and tannins in here. 39% Cinsault, 25% Syrah, 25% Petite Syrah, 5% Counoise, 4% Grenache and 2% Viognier from vineyards in Napa Valley and Paso Robles. At $22, this was thoroughly enjoyable with a venison and root vegetable pot pie. I'm curious as to why a wine from Napa and Paso would be labeled as simply "American." I wonder if they have plans to eventually shift this to a blend of California and Arizona fruit?


  1. Bill, in Oct. you gave some of the best comments of any I've received when I reviewed the 2009 Cab. I think I liked it better than you, but you've touch the curiosity-button in me with Mandala Red!

    1. Ha! I had forgotten all about that, Dennis.

      Looks like we had rather similar impressions (albeit of different vintages) of the Dala. It's a definite "pass" for me.

      Is the Merkin Chupacabra available in NH? I still think that's the flagship wine of Keenan's operation(s).

    2. Bill, though that picture I took for my post was done with a point and shoot camera, I had a great deal of fun trying to get an "Arizona-feel" to it; just curious, did that feel come through?

    3. Dennis,

      Your photography is amazing. I wish I could send you empty bottles for you to take pictures for my blog!

      Love the look of your AZ Stronghold photo. The salsa in the stemless wine glass is perfect!

    4. Bill, send what you want, and I'll photograph what I can and send them to via e-mail.
      If you have something (theme) in mind, let me know.
      Dennis Tsiorbas
      452 Mast Rd.
      Manchester, N.H.
      If you just want to send a label, that's OK too.