Wine Country is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Arizona. But a growing number of vineyards and wineries are popping up and churning out vintages that rival those from some of the best known regions. And why not? Arizona boasts a climate of near desert-like conditions and high elevation sites (3000-4000 feet above sea level). Sounds not unlike Mendoza, Argentina, which has risen to fame for its bottlings of Malbec.
Wine grape growing in Arizona dates back some 400 years to the days of the Missions. Today, over 20 wineries dot the Arizona landscape and are located in three main areas: Sedona (Verde Valley), Sonita/Elgin (southeast of Tucson) and Willcox (east of Tucson).
A recent visit to Arizona wine country led me up to Sedona where I visited three small wineries: Page Springs, Oak Creek and Echo Canyon.
Specializing in Rhone style wines, Page Springs Cellars is the brainchild of Eric Glomski, who worked in California under noted winemaker David Bruce. Most of Page Springs' current offerings are produced from California fruit while they await their estate vineyard to reach maturity. Since the estate vines were planted in 2003, the 2008 harvest should result in sizable amount of fruit.
The standout wine in my tasting was the 2005 El Serrano--a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Cabernet Pfeffer, produced from Central Coast fruit. Rich and brooding dark fruit aromas, jammy plum, cassis and pepper notes with a velvety texture. Medium/full bodied.
An interesting note: Page Springs also produces wine in conjunction with Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer of the band TOOL. The label is called Caduceus and the story can be found at caduceus.org.
Oak Creek Vineyards
Just up the road from Page Springs, lies Oak Creek, which is also owned by a veteran of the industry, Deb Wahl. Deb grows Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay.
My fav wine was by far Deb's Petit Verdot, which offers rich and brooding aromas of coffee and cedar followed by gamey/leather and cassis notes. Full bodied with a lingering black plum finish.
The final stop on my journey up Page Springs road was Echo Canyon Vineyard & Winery. Accessing Echo Canyon is not for the faint of heart--down an unmarked, one lane dirt two-track that traverses the side of a steep canyon. An advance appointment is necessary as Echo Canyon does not have a public tasting room. But the trek is worth the effort, as Jon Marcus makes some of Arizona's best bottlings.
Utilizing organic and biodynamic viticulture, Marcus produces a range of reds that will knock your socks off.
The 2003 Triad--a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon--bursts with ripe red fruit flavors with silky smooth finish. Loads of black cherry, strawberry, a hint of blueberry and vanilla spice.
Marcus' 2003 Cabernet Franc is also a winner with black cherry, black currant, pepper spice and a velvety texture.
In my next Arizona wine country installment in June, I will explore Arizona's southern regions, including Dos Cabezas Wineworks and Callaghan Vineyards. Stay tuned!
For more information on Arizona Wine and to plan your wine country escape, visit www.arizonawine.org.