When you think of high-quality wine produced in the United States, California first comes to mind. However, Arizona vineyards are gaining prestige and more wineries keep entering the market, producing high-quality and unique wine. The warm climate and high elevation provide a good environment for growing grapes. With low temperatures in the 40s and 50s and highs in the 70s and 80s (Fahrenheit), the climate is similar to wine-growing areas like Spain, Italy, and southern France. As California becomes more affected by climate change, Arizona will gain importance in the domestic wine market.
Tasting rooms are sprouting up in Old Town Scottsdale, where you can start exploring these wonderful Arizona wines. You can sample a flight or choose a glass while learning about the varietals and wineries. Take home a bottle or two, or join a wine club to keep the good flavors coming.
1. Merkin Vineyards
Maynard James Keenan, of the rock band Tool, moved to Jerome, Arizona, in 1995 and decided to call it home. He discovered that the area was perfect for growing grapes and making wine. He now owns Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards along with his wife, Jennifer. The vineyards cover 110 acres in Wilcox, in the southeast corner of Arizona, and near Jerome, north of Phoenix. They ship wine across the United States and you can sample and purchase it in Jerome and Old Town Scottsdale.
The Old Town restaurant is located just off the Scottsdale Waterfront on Stetson Drive. Merkin Vineyards strives to offer a complete Arizona experience with their wine paired with locally-sourced food. They rely on Mother Nature to provide the perfect combination of fresh ingredients. They grow most of the menu’s ingredients in their gardens and orchards in the Verde Valley. What they cannot grow themselves, they purchase from local farmers.
The menu ranges from small plates and charcuterie boards to pasta and pizza. My favorites are the lasagna cupcake and burrata with mango chutney. Nothing pairs better with a good red wine than a warm brownie with peanut butter ganache and Merkin gelato.
The Caduceus and Merkin brands offered included six varieties of white wines, three rosés, and ten reds. You can choose a flight and taste a good sampling or order a glass or bottle of your favorite. My standard choice is the Merkin Tarzan Red, a delicious blend of 65 percent Tempranillo and 35 percent Garnacha. The friendly Merkin staff is always ready to help you decide.
The dark wood interior gives a feel of being in an elegant wine cellar. The U-shaped bar provides plenty of seating to chat with the bartender. Two large rectangular tables accommodate a group of wine lovers. When the weather is warm, the large windows along Stetson Drive make the small four-tops the perfect spot.
2. Arizona Stronghold
Another vineyard taking advantage of the Wilcox, Arizona, terrain is Arizona Stronghold. They believe that the “wild and fierce” land of the high country here creates a great environment for the production of a multitude of delicious wines. They also include grapes from around the region in making their high-quality wine. Grapes need to be hardy to survive in the desert and Arizona Stronghold believes this adds to their unique flavor.
The tasting room is a small storefront on Marshall Way. The patio, with its handful of tables and vertical heat lamps, is a great place to spend a warm evening watching the passersby. You can also perch on benches around the tables indoors while gazing at a mural of the vineyard on deep red walls.
Choose a white or red wine flight consisting of six 1.5-ounce pours for $15 and compare the different varietals. I enjoyed the Provisioner Red Wine enough to bring home a bottle. They call their Provisioner “wine for the people” and believe they capture the soul of Arizona, harkening back to the small-town general store of frontier times. You can grab a cheese or charcuterie board to allow you to keep enjoying the wine.
Pro Tip: Watch this video for a hint of what Provisioner wine offers.
The name Aridus comes from the Latin word for “dry.” Located in the dry high-elevation southeastern part of Arizona, this family-owned business converted a 28,000-square-foot apple warehouse into one of the largest wineries in the state. They combine grapes grown on their 40-acre vineyard with grapes from other vineyards in Arizona, New Mexico, and California. They have striven to use organic and sustainable practices wherever possible including drip irrigation.
The Aridus tasting room sits among the art galleries on Main Street. The chandeliers over the bar, jazz music in the background, lighted tables, and flowers give the room a sophisticated, elegant vibe. You can perch at one of the four intimate high-top tables spread out between the walls lined with wine bottles. An area behind the bar with a long table is suited for large gatherings.
Our server had spent many years working in California wine country and was very knowledgeable about the craft of making wine in both states. My husband and I enjoyed the red wine sampler consisting of four 2-ounce pours for $20. Each wine had a rich flavor and it was difficult to choose a favorite. When I made the reservation, I was able to request a charcuterie board and it was ready when we arrived.
By joining the wine club, you can receive eight bottles of their newest vintages in the spring and fall. You can choose a mix of red and white or only red wines. The wine club also includes discounts and free wine tastings.
4. Carlson Creek
The Carlson family planted their first 7 acres of grapes in 2009. Their vineyards have gradually grown to 280 acres near Wilcox, Arizona. The 4,200-foot elevation provides warm days and cool nights similar to southern France and Argentina. As they grew, the family added more varietals and then a winery and tasting room. They often sell their grapes to 10 other wineries and make 11 varietals themselves.
You can now sample their local wine in a tasting room along Marshall Way that has the feel of being right at the vineyards. The long bar rests on wine barrels set on a wood plank floor. A tin ceiling reflects the light down onto the couches and high-top tables, perfect for discussing wine with friends.
You can choose the five-sample tasting for $12 or choose a full glass of your favorite. For an extra charge, you can even take home your glass as a souvenir. A wonderful $15 cheese board with artisan cheese, meat, olives, and nuts helps to keep your palate fresh.
Carlson Creek also hosts wine classes and wine and food pairing events. You can join the Wine Society and receive 12 bottles of a mix of red, white, and rosé wines or your choice of varietals. You can also enjoy free tastings and a discount on further purchases.
Pro Tip: The space is a converted art gallery and you can still find beautiful artwork that is for sale on the walls.
5. LDV Winery
When LDV owners Curt Dunham and Peggy Fiandaca decided to start a winery, they found the ideal conditions in the southeastern corner of Arizona, near the Chiricahua Mountains. Their desired conditions included a mountain environment, pristine water, good drainage, volcanic soil, and land that had never experienced commercial agriculture. This transformed them from ardent wine collectors to enthusiastic winemakers.
The LDV tasting room rests a few yards from the South Bridge on the Scottsdale Waterfront. The large patio is hemmed in by a fence made of whole barrels and barrel staves — perfect for a cool day or warm evening. Three different wine flights are offered for $15 each and they include three varietals, which change periodically. A full glass or bottle is also available for sale.
LDV offers the Sky Islander Wine Club which has three levels of benefits as well as special events listed on their website. Check out their short blog posts, including a short video, with monthly wine tips including what wine to pair with Girl Scout cookies and how to prepare for a party.
6. Salvatore Vineyards
Named after their winemaker Jason Domanico’s grandfather, Salvatore Vineyards concentrates on small-batch, meticulously-made wine. The Domanico family originated in Sicily and Calabria, Italy. The logo on the wine bottles combines elements of the crests of these two areas. Passion Cellars, the winery, was created to take advantage of the expansion of Arizona winemaking. The vineyard concentrates on fruit-forward white wines and complex red wines. They set aside their best grapes to age longer for a reserve series under the Salvatore label.
You can find the tasting room across from the Bronze Horse Fountain near the Scottsdale Waterfront. A long bar allows you to gaze at the rows of wine bottles while chatting with your server. There are also a handful of small tables under the beautiful, colorful art that adorns the walls. Various flavors of oil and vinegar are also for sale.
A visit to Scottsdale is a perfect time to sample the up and coming Arizona wine scene. The tasting rooms in Old Town offer a wonderful experience where you can start your education of wonderful Arizona varietals. You will likely be tempted to join one of the wine clubs to bring these flavors to friends at home.
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