You Will Want to Try These Six Arizona Wines
Published on April 4, 2023 in Triangle Around Town
Unlike wine-growing states such as California, Oregon, New York and even here in North Carolina, Arizona isn’t exactly known for its wines—but they do produce some fine wines, and we were able to sample some last month during a recent American Wine Society event tasting.
There are three major Arizona regions: Verde Valley, which is near Sedona, and Sonoita and Willcox, both near Tucson. And the only two AVAs in the state. Currently, the state is starting to gain success in its wines produced using varietals that are native to Italy and the Rhone Valley due to similar soil and temperatures.
Although it is not entirely clear when wine was first produced in Arizona, some believe it could have been in 1703 when Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino started growing grapes to make wine for Mass at his mission.
Today there are roughly 110 wineries in the state, including tasting rooms in cities such as Phoenix and Tucson. The state’s wineries grow popular varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. But you’ll also discover others you might not think to find in Arizona, such as Gewurztraminer, Malvasia, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Riesling and Sangiovese.
In the town of Clarkdale, you’ll uncover Chateau Tumbleweed. With a panoramic view of Verde Valley, stop inside this winery and tasting room to sample up to 12 various wines. With its first production of wine back in 2011, this winery does not own a vineyard but sources its grapes from 12 different vineyards throughout the state. We were first introduced to Chateau Tumbleweed’s 2021 The Descendants for our tasting of Arizona wines.
2021 The Descendants ($26)
The Descendants found its identity as a Rhone blend back in 2018. Viognier from multiple vineyards in the state forms the base of this vintage with notes of pineapple, pear and white flower blossoms. The Descendants also contain Picpoul Blanc, which adds a lot of crisp acidity and another layer of lemony citrus. Finally, a small splash of Grenache Blanc from the Sierra Bonita Vineyard is added to round off this white blend – adding more lemon verbena to the palate.
2020 Estate Pretty Girls Viognier ($26)
Four Tails Vineyards hails from Willcox Cochise County, located in Pearce, Arizona, and are big animal lovers. If you look at the winery’s labels, you’ll see one of the rescue dogs roaming around the winery. From Barley and Abe to Dash and LeeLou to Bruno and Bubby, Four Tails wines are 100 percent estate grown. You’ll find varietals such as Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and the Viognier that we tasted from the winery.
Pretty Girls features Bono and LeeLou on the label, and the Viognier was barrel fermented and aged in neutral French oak for 21 months. A little citrus, spice and oak made this a perfect wine to enjoy by the pool this summer.
2020 Willy ($29)
This red blend is one of the first wines Chateau Tumbleweed ever dreamed up in 2012. At that time, the winery started looking at Grenache as the “Pinot Noir” of Arizona because both grapes are lighter-bodied fruit with lower tannins, and both feature a velvety texture with a touch of spice. Our table enjoyed this wine and its silk and spice features, which to us had some characteristics of a Tempranillo. The Willy was limited to only 18 barrels produced by Chateau Tumbleweed.
2019 The Boss ($25)
Vino Stache’s The Boss is a 100 percent Granciano wine chock-full of nice tannins and full-bodied without being too overwhelming. We quickly picked up cherries and blueberries in the taste with a pleasant subtle taste of oak. Vino Stache is based in Elgin, Arizona and is a 100 percent woman-owned winery in the Sonoita AVA. The labels are themed around “Westerns” with names such as “Gunfighter,” “The Quick Hand,” “Paniolo,” and our wine for the evening, “The Boss.”
This fruit-forward wine had nice acidity and would pair well with fatty foods such as grilled chicken thighs or salmon. We really enjoyed this wine and went back for seconds.
2020 Gallia ($35)
Produced by Saeculum Cellars in Clarkdale, Arizona, the Gallia blended 68 percent Cabernet Franc and 32 percent Merlot to make a pretty damn fine red blend! Saeculum Cellars is the line produced by Michael Pierce, who is known for his winemaking skills and the fancy wine labels designed by Pierce himself. The label of the Gallia featured a nude brunette model hiding behind a red silk sheet and had some of the older gentlemen at the tasting asking to see the bottle for a second take.
As for the wine, red currants, homemade raspberry jam and cherries were on the nose, with the cherries and currants repeating in the taste. We also picked up plum, espresso notes, black pepper, cinnamon, and vanilla. This was an intricate wine and probably our favorite of the tasting. The finish on this wine was long, and some “heat” lingered on the back of the throat, suggesting it was a higher ABV than the other reds of the evening. We later learned that Pierce was awarded the Willcox Wine Industry Person of the Year in 2016 – so this guy knows how to make some fantastic wines!
2018 Naga ($50)
Coming into this Arizona wine tasting, I told Jennifer that you couldn’t have a tasting like this without featuring a bottle of wine from Caduceus Cellars – and the couple hosting didn’t disappoint. Caduceus is probably the most famous winery out of the state because of its owner and winemaker, Maynard James Keenan. Keenan’s claim to fame comes from being the frontman of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer.
He now resides in Arizona, making wine under the Caduceus Cellars name and making wines such as the Nagula de la Naga, a blend of 70 percent Sangiovese and 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a very complex wine and is a good representation of old world versus new world found within the bottle of this Tuscan-style red.
The Naga and Gallia were two great wines to end the tasting in the group’s first-ever Arizona wine tasting. We want to revisit this theme in the future and try some different wines, but that would mean the couple who hosted going back to Arizona on vacation and bringing back more wine for us.
Let’s make it happen.