It’s been a little over a year since I last blogged and I do miss writing. Last year at this time, I was in the midst of an intense and ambitious job hunt that I’m thrilled to say led me here to Arizona and a new wine industry to explore. The wineries here aren’t as easy and accessible as Virginia but I see this as an advantage. When the heat, known as Arizona Summers hits, I can escape north or south to slightly cooler temperatures and enjoy good wine.
I admit when I started reading up on the wine industry here I was scared it was going to be all sweet wines. I also grew tired quickly of everyone asking me if I’d tried Maynard’s wines. Ok, yes I’m a fan of Tool but really, that’s not the only winery in Arizona. Since moving to Scottsdale, I’ve been to my fair share of wine festivals trying many Arizona wines. This past Tuesday night I attended my first winemaker’s dinner with Curt Dunham and Peggy Fiandaca, of Lawrence Dunham Vineyards, hosted at Baratin in Old Town Scottsdale.
I’m still learning my way around and was thrilled when Baratin owner Pavle Milic called out my name, upon arriving, directing me where to go. I’d just connected with him via Twitter and it was great to meet him in person. He immediately poured me a glass of Rosé and pulled Peggy over to introduce us. However, I had the pleasure of meeting Peggy two weeks earlier at the Southeast Arizona Wine Growers Festival, Kief-Joshua Winery hosted, in April. I poured for Carlson Creek Vineyards who was set up next to Lawrence Dunham and took advantage of meeting Peggy. We caught up and once it appeared everyone was there, Pavle gathered us all to his attention and introduced Curt and Peggy to the crowd. Curt ushered Peggy forward to speak to us first. Peggy is the president of the Arizona Wine Growers Association and updated us on how the industry is really heating up and there are now 60 licensed and bonded wineries in the state. She noted there aren’t enough grapes in the state to meet demand so many are still buying but many are planting as well.
The vineyard is 5,000 feet above sea level in the Chiricahua Mountain foothills and made up primarily of volcanic soil. It’s a unique climate close to the mountains providing for cool, cloudy conditions and all four seasons. Grapes hadn’t ever been planted there before and part of the work to plant required the removal of 1300 mesquite trees. I loved seeing the passion and excitement in Curt’s eyes as he talked about how the conditions are perfect for the vines and will produce some unique flavors. This winery leans towards education and has a great website based on a journal Peggy had Curt keep from day one of this adventure. Curt let us know dinner was soon explaining the three wines we were going to taste and I was so excited to learn one of them would be their Petite Sirah. This would be my first time tasting Lawrence Dunham’s wines and I do love a big, bold red.
Pavle knew I was alone and sat me next to Peggy and Curt. I was delighted to find I had actually met everyone at our table before dinner. It was a fun group of great people and there wasn’t an empty seat anywhere. First course was a grilled shrimp, basil, mint and pink peppercorn salad paired with the 09 Lawrence Dunham Sky Island Grenache. Curt let us know this was his lightest red and right away my nose picked up the classic pepperiness of Grenache. However, on the palate I only got a touch of the spice and the fruit took over that matched beautifully with the shrimp. We were all amazed at how well the wine paired with the citrus flavors of the grapefruit along with the basil and mint. This was something different for sure and I wanted more. It’s always fun to see how everyone responds to wine and food but I think this pairing got us all thinking of new and creative dishes we could pair with the tasty red.
Second course was a prosciutto, goat cheddar, focaccia dish paired with the 09 Lawrence Dunham R.E.D Blend. The wine is a blend of 58% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre aged in neutral barrels and 22% Petite Sirah aged in new French oak. From the moment I smelled this I knew I’d love it and the first words out of my mouth after my first sip were, a bottle of this is coming home with me. I have to be honest here. I was so busy talking with everyone I didn’t ever combine the cheese with the wine. No doubt they would have paired wonderful together but I really loved this by itself. While it is a medium bodied wine, it had some structure to it along with blackberries and a smooth, velvety finish.
The third and final course of the night was ribeye, salsa verde, shaved parmigiano and purple potatoes paired with the 09 Lawrence Dunham Petite Sirah. Steak is my favorite food and I love Petite Sirah so yes this is the standout for me and a bottle of this wine came home. Talk about heaven in your mouth if you like a big red that can stand up to bold flavors. This Petite Sirah is aged 16 months in half neutral oak barrels and half new American oak barrels. This is full bodied, a tad inky, great structure and complexity with dark fruit and I got lost in flavors when combining with the steak.
For an introduction to this Arizona winery, I’d say this was a huge success and a really fun way to try wine. I enjoy festivals but sitting down with a bunch of people and the winemaker sipping wine with food is really a great way to really experience the wine. I had a great time talking to Curt and Peggy about how we like to pick the wine and plan a meal around it. Curt told me later he’s always enjoyed cooking. I look forward to tasting the rest of their wines in a couple of weeks at the Willcox Wine Festival. A huge thank you to Pavle for making me feel so welcomed and to Chef Charleen Badman, who is an amazing cook. I look forward to attending more winemaker dinners there in the near future. These types of dinner events are always done differently and I’m always interested to hear from others their experiences. No doubt though, Arizona is making some truly high quality and very delicious wines. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore, learn and write again.