Arizona… wine?

If you’re like me, when you think of Arizona, visions of massive red rock structures jut up into a hot, sunny sky. So when I planned a trip out to Sedona, Arizona for a much needed rest in nature, I was shocked to find out there were so many wineries. Hiking in the morning and wine tasting in the afternoon? Sign me up!

Along my drive out from Los Angeles, I noticed something curious. My car dashboard displays the temperature and I watched as it surged hotter and hotter while driving through the Mojave Desert. It stayed quite warm when I reached Phoenix, even though it was January. But as I turned north toward Sedona, only an hour and a half from Pheonix, I watched it take a considerable dip of about twenty degrees. Then even more so once the sun went down. Interesting, I thought. Sedona boasts cooler weather due to its altitude but also has a more drastic difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. In the wine world, this is what we call a diurnal shift. It’s important for the grape vines because the cool temperatures at night give the wines time to rest and maintain acidity, while the warm temperatues during the day allow the grapes to ripen and create sugar, vital for alcohol production.

The first winery I visited was Alcantara. I had the pleasure of talking with the winemaker, Ron Brumley. When I told him I was into obscure grape varieties he let me try their Charbono. This grape, also called Bonarda, first originated in the French alpine village of Savoie, and is now grown in Argentina (as Bonarda), California (as Charbono), and apparently, Arizona. This 2018 was medium bodied with juicy red and black berries at the front and a smokey quality on the finish. I really enjoyed seeing this beautiful vineyard and where each grape was grown.

Next I tasted at DA Ranch. As northern Arizona’s only 100% estate-grown vineyard, I got to taste their “Capra” Reserve made from Tannat, a grape most famous in parts of Southern France and Uruguay, but now grown more and more in California and Arizona. This wine was intensely smokey with meaty flavors of bacon mingling with dark, purple fruit. The whole property of DA Ranch is gorgeous and even houses some farm animals.

Here, I learned that a lot of Sedona wineries actually source their grapes from Wilcox, AZ. Wilcox is one hour east of Tuscon and produces 74% of the grapes grown in the state! It, too, has a high dessert elevation, diurnal shift, and mountains to protect the area from harsh weather. All this is ideal for grape growing. The Sedona area’s Verde Valley AVA also grows grapes, and DA Ranch has planted some Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah, and Tannat on their property, but not even close to as much as in the Wlcox AVA. Due to the limited amount of their own wines available they also showcase Chateau Tumbleweed wines. I tasted “Dr. Ron Bot”, a Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend and, what I especially liked, their “Willy”, a red blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo. I bought a bottle to take home.

In between wine tasting I marvelled at nature. I took a hike to Devil’s Bridge, where you can take a picture on a narrow rock with nothing but sky below you. Next was a challenging rock climbing hike up Catherdral Rock to the feminine energy vortex, unique because energy goes back into the earth’s core instead of up and out like most other vortex in the area. One such masculine vortex is Shaman’s Cave, which is not easy to find. I reached it after an hour in an off road venture. I even got to see the Devil’s Sink hole and Seven Sacred Pools on my hike through Soldier’s Pass. It is a truly magical place.

But, of course, there was more wine to taste, and what caught my interest most was how many different varieties were grown in Arizona. At Page Spring Cellars they grow Traminette, Malvasia Bianca, and Counoise to name a few. But my favorite tasting room by far was The Original Jerome Winery in Jerome, AZ. Jerome, once known as the “wickedest town in the west”, is an old copper mining town built into the side of Cleopatra Hill. There are goregous views, ghost town vibes, and an old asylum turned luxory hotel.

When I wandered into Jerome Winery tasting room I wasn’t expecting much. Right away I asked where the grapes were grown and I heard that old, familiar name of Wilcox, AZ. What I wasn’t expecting to hear was that,their winery holds the record for most grape varieties grown in the world. They grow 98! Everything from Graciano (Spanish) and Blaufrankish (Austrian) to Pinotage (South African), Sagrantino (Italian), and Caladoc (French)! I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I wanted to try them all, but in the back of my mind I thought, with that many grown they can’t be good. They were. OK, maybe not Grand Cru quality but definitely enjoyable to drink! The wine maker, John McLoughlin, has another project called Bitter Creek Winery so I was able to taste that line as well. I walked away with their “3 of Pentacles”, an interesting blend of Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This full bodied wine has notes of rasperry, plum, chocolate, and dried herbs. I highly recommend visiting this tasting room! Afterward, you can grab dinner at the Jerome Grand Hotel, used previously as an asylum and said to have haunted rooms.

If you haven’t tried Arizona wines yet, I highly recommend a trip to Sedona. I’ve already touched on the nature and the wine, but the food is also spectacular! Some highlights are the Coffee Pot Restaurant for breakfast, Nic’s Italian Steak & Crab House, and wine bar/restaurant, Merkin. At Merkin you can also taste wines from Carduceaus Cellars. This wine is famous because it’s owner is Maynard James Keenan of the band, Tool, fame. I didn’t get to taste their full line up because the tasting room in Jerome was closed at the time, but have to admit I wasn’t that impressed by the couple I tried at Merkin. The gnocchi pasta I had, however, was delicious.

Of course, you probably want to know what I paired with the wines I took home. I decided that there was no better way to enjoy an Arizona wine than with an Arizona view. A couple weeks later, my husband and I enjoyed the Chateau Tumbleweed “Willy” while watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon. The red fruit and spice went down just as smoothly as the the sun dipping behind the canyon rock. There could not have been a better pairing.

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