Pavle Milic’s crusade for Arizona wine

by Mark Tarbell – May. 10, 2010 06:27 PM

Arizona wines are coming into their own. Though many people have been supporting them for years, one person, Pavle Milic of FnB restaurant in downtown Scottsdale, has kicked awareness into high gear. I recently sat down with him.

Question: You created an Arizona-only wine list. Why?

Answer: That question is asked often. I remember when I first worked at Cowboy Ciao in 1999 and had the opportunity to try and really enjoy Callaghan’s wines (Callaghan Vineyards in southeastern Arizona). Fast-forward to 2004. I moved to Napa Valley, where most restaurants give a tip of the hat to the local wineries by placing their wines on the lists. Fast-forward again to 2009. (Filmmaker and Arizona vintner) Sam Pillsbury walks into Prado, at the InterContinental Montelucia Resort and Spa where I was general manager . . . and said the magic words: “Would you like to taste some local wine?” Sam remembers this well because apparently my eyes lit up.

I remember tasting Pillsbury’s wine and reacting in a rather uncouth fashion by stating: “I can’t believe this is Arizona wine.” . . . We did a couple of winemaker dinners at Prado and found that guests were very happy. Last fast-forward: FnB is 2 weeks old. Chef Charleen Badman’s cooking philosophy is to try and source local, organic and sustainable whenever possible. I began to think about the possibility of exercising the same ideology with the wine list. It was simply a question: Is there enough good juice in AZ to construct a list?

I decided to conduct a controlled experiment: I would ask guests to blind taste in exchange for a complimentary dessert. Not once did anyone guess Arizona. The most valuable part of this experiment was that most guests really enjoyed the wine.

Q: What are the top six wines on your list, and how would you describe them?

A: 2008 Canelo Hills Chardonnay: . . . This Chardonnay is restrained and bone dry. You get some toasty vanilla notes on the nose from a delicate oak aging. The wine is slightly lean, but finishes supple. I get citrus and a little tropical notes on the palate. Their property is located right next door to Kent Callaghan (of Callaghan Vineyards).

2008 Page Springs Vino Del Barrio Blanca: Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia Bianca mostly compose the blend. Great dichotomy of dry and fruity. Grassy and herbaceous on the nose at first but as it tempers the peachiness from the Malvasia starts to blossom. Great with our fennel salad.

2009 Pillsbury Rosé: Mostly composed of Zinfandel. This one I love. I have had Bandol, the benchmark of rosé for a lot of us. Pillsbury Rosé pleases the same way. Bone-dry and not too alcoholic. The wine is light on its feet but with assertive tannin structure. Great versatility; it goes well with salads, seafood, poultry and even grilled beef salads. Great quaff, especially with the weather warming up.

2006 Dos Cabezas Toscano Blend: This wine is my “go to” when a guest asks for a Pinot Noir. The nose is full of cherry and spice. The wine also has zippy bright acidity that makes it a refreshing red wine. I love this one.

2008 Arizona Stronghold Nachise Syrah Blend: First place at the 2009 Arizona Wine Festival. A full-bodied Syrah with a beautiful red color courtesy of Grenache and Petit Syrah added to the blend. The wine is spicy and peppery but tamed by blueberry notes on the palate from the presence of Petit Syrah. A crowd pleaser.

2008 Callaghan Cabernet Sauvignon: Kent has always made blends, and I was both excited and surprised when I heard he’d bottled a single varietal wine. It’s a nuanced, delicate and well-balanced wine that I often coin as civilized. . . . It’s made to enjoy with food and won’t take center stage but elevate and complement stews, grilled meats, cheese and poultry. More Old World than New World.

Q: How would you rate the price-to-quality for Arizona wine vs. the rest of the world?

A: Arizona is a relatively new wine industry. A lot of the folks making wine here are still paying new mortgages and equipment. Everything costs a little bit more here. Whereas in Napa, you have mobile bottling lines; here they don’t have that luxury yet. Yields are also another factor. Most wine-growing regions in the world yield 5 to 6 tons of fruit per acre. In Arizona, they are lucky if they get 3 tons. In terms of perceived value, if you buy an Arizona wine for $15, I think they stand up to similarly priced wines.

Q: Who, in your view, are the current stars and leaders of Arizona’s wine industry?

A: I think Eric Glomski has done a lot for the industry. His association and partnership with Maynard (Keenan) of the world-renowned band Tool also has helped to get the word out there. Sam Pillsbury is a one-man show, opinionated and passionate; one trailblazer to look out for who makes great focused wines. Todd Bostock of Dos Cabezas continues to please with great wines. I couldn’t talk about Arizona wine without mentioning Kent Callaghan as one of the first to put Arizona wines on the map.

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