As would-be presidents spent March 2016 traveling the country asking for our votes, we spent the month exploring a more elegant take on America's cities and countryside. Though we didn't set out with the intention of an all-American best of the month wines list, when we'd compared the month's tasting notes, that's exactly what we had. While this month's "Best of" includes two amazing Oregon wines from standout winemakers, we also found ourselves enjoying two entries from the "they make wine there?" category: a white from Cochise County, Arizona and a red from Arrington, Tennessee.
Caduceus Cellars Merkin Vineyards The Diddler 2012 (Cochise County, Arizona)
You don't find many wines from states like Arizona, and we don't find many wines that we love as much as The Diddler from Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards. Casual drinkers will delight at the floral nose accompanied by melon and honey on the palate. Wine geeks will love the geographic novelty and the blending partners of this Chenin Blanc driven white in which the winemaker seems to swap out various percentages of Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia, Chardonnay, and Albarino grapes depending on the year. A real crowd pleaser, most of us can find something to like in The Diddler. It manages to be sweet but not sugary, similar in character to a well done Gewurtztraminer. We also loved the optics: a beautiful gold wine in a crystal clear bottle etched with Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. The Grand Canyon State suddenly has an open invitation to our wine glasses!
Happy Canyon Vineyards Merlot Barrack 2010 (Santa Barbara, CA)
The Happy Canyon Vineyard brings us the "Barrack", an amazing Merlot that we've tried several times in the past and found so much to love in the 2010 edition. This amazing wine filled our senses with the notion of raspberry black tea we love at the Atlantic Spice Company, sweet blueberry syrup, and menthol. It tastes just as it smells, really drawing out the blueberry and menthol when it hits your tongue before going down smoothly. It appears their 2011 vintage is currently on offer, and we'll be looking into getting more. We've been talking about this wine for a month!
Eisold Smith Chardonnay 2013 (Willamette Valley, OR)
Sticking to the west coast, we head northward to Oregon's famous Willamette Valley where you'll find winemakers Adam Smith and Lauren Eisold of Eisold Smith Wines. They are some of the most passionate winemakers we know, and it shows in their relatively limited production lineup. Though we love their Edel white blend and their Pinot Noir, we want to showcase the 2013 Chardonnay because of its unique balance and food oriented qualities. A far cry from the big buttery fruit bomb Chardonnays you'll find in the supermarket, Adam and Lauren age their Chard in neutral barrels to produce a mellow nose with a touch of insanely pleasing candle scent. Honeydew mellon headlines a smooth, pleasantly creamy texture that never once feels overwhelming. This wine is meant for food!
Brandborg Ferris Wheel Pinot Noir 2012 (Umpqua Valley, OR)
Situated south of the Willamette Valley, down Interstate 5, the Umpqua Valley is less well known but produces wine just as good as its northern neighbor. We enjoyed a lineup of Brandborg Wines over dinner with winemaker Sue Brandborg, and then had to make tough choices choosing our favorite for this writing. The Ferris Wheel, one of their several Pinots, is the namesake of a great story Sue told us. This limited production (450 cases) "estate" wine (meaning that the grapes are grown entirely in the Brandborg vineyard, in this case on 900-foot slopes facing south) is cooled by the Pacific maritime influence; we found it to be an excellent springtime red as we transition to warmer months that sometimes cry for a white! The nose conveys a calming pipe smoke and beach plum, though you'll find a little swirling in the glass brings out teak and mahogany wood scents. Ferris Wheel "crosses the cranberry line", a characteristic we find when some cooler Pinot Noirs transition from cherry to cranberry notes. You can drink the 2012 edition now, though it has the nice acidity to make it even better in five to seven years.
Arrington KB 713 (Arrington, TN)
I wrote about Arrington Vineyards in my treatment of the Nashville wine scene (among other things) last week, writing that "Co-owned by Kix Brooks of country music duo Brooks & Dunn, we give the winery credit for taking its craft seriously, rather than resting on the obvious laurels of its famed owner." The KB 713 is their top of the line, which they say is "made from our best barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon". The naming scheme for the KB combines the edition, in this case "seventh", with the vintage year, in this case 2013 (we presume that the KB 814 is forthcoming). This wine is trying to be big, and needs a lot of time. The bottle's rear label itself suggests decanting now or cellaring until 2022, and we couldn't agree more. Nonetheless, should you choose to open and decant now, you'll find some nice black fruit with touches of clove that give way to darker (but not bitter) chocolate in the finish.