When we think of high-quality wine produced in the United States, we think first of California. However, Arizona vineyards are gaining in prestige and more and more wineries continue to enter the market, producing unique, high quality wine. The warm climate and high altitude provide a good environment for growing grapes. With low temperatures in the 40s and 50s and high temperatures in the 70s and 80s (Fahrenheit), the climate is similar to wine regions like Spain, Italy and southern France. As California becomes increasingly impacted by climate change, Arizona will gain prominence in the domestic wine market.
Tasting rooms are springing up in Old Town Scottsdale, where you can start exploring these wonderful Arizona wines. You can taste a flight or choose a drink while discovering the grape varieties and wineries. Bring 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 settle there. He discovered that the area was perfect for growing grapes and making wine. He now owns Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards 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 taste and buy 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 provide a complete Arizona experience with its wine paired with local foods. They rely on Mother Nature to provide the perfect combination of fresh ingredients. They grow most of the menu ingredients in their gardens and orchards in the Verde Valley. What they cannot grow themselves, they buy from local farmers.
The menu ranges from small plates and charcuterie boards to pastas and pizzas. My favorites are the lasagna cupcake and the mango chutney burrata. Nothing pairs better with a good red wine than a warm brownie with peanut butter ganache and Merkin ice cream.
The Caduceus and Merkin brands offered included six varieties of white, three rosé and ten red wines. You can choose a flight and enjoy a nice sample or order a glass or bottle of your favorite. My standard choice is the Merkin Tarzan Red, a delicious blend of 65% Tempranillo and 35% Garnacha. Merkin’s friendly staff are always ready to help you decide.
The dark wood interior gives the impression of being in an elegant wine cellar. The U-shaped bar offers plenty of seating to chat with the bartender. Two large rectangular tables welcome a group of wine lovers. When the weather is warm, the large windows along Stetson Drive make little four-tops the perfect spot.
2. Arizona Bastion
Arizona Stronghold is another vineyard that takes advantage of the terrain in Wilcox, Arizona. They believe that the “wild and fierce” land of the high country here creates an ideal environment for the production of a multitude of delicious wines. They also include grapes from all over the region in making their high quality wine. Grapes need to be tough to survive in the desert, and Arizona Stronghold thinks that 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 people go by. You can also perch on benches around tables inside while admiring a vineyard mural on dark 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 supplier “wine for the people” and believe they capture the soul of Arizona, reminiscent of the frontier-era small town general store. You can take a cheese or charcuterie board to allow you to continue enjoying the wine.
Pro tip: Watch this video for an overview of what Provisioner wine offers.
The name Laughed at comes from the Latin word for “dry”. Located in the dry, high-altitude part of southeastern Arizona, this family business has 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 strived to use organic and sustainable practices wherever possible, including drip irrigation.
The Aridus Tasting Room sits among the Main Street art galleries. Chandeliers above the bar, jazz music in the background, lighted tables and flowers give the room a sophisticated and elegant vibe. You can perch at one of the four intimate high tables spread between the walls lined with wine bottles. A space behind the bar with a long table is suitable for large gatherings.
Our server had spent many years working in the California wine country and was very knowledgeable about the art of wine making in both states. My husband and I enjoyed the red wine sampler which was four 2oz pours for $20. Each wine had a rich flavor and it was hard to pick a favourite. 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 latest spring and fall vintages. You can choose a mixture of red and white wines 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 gradually grew to 280 acres near Wilcox, Arizona. The elevation of 4,200 feet offers 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 craft 11 varietals themselves.
You can now taste their local wine in a tasting room along Marshall Way that feels like you’re in the middle of the vineyards. The long bar rests on wine barrels on a wooden plank floor. A pewter ceiling reflects light onto sofas and high tables, perfect for chatting wine with friends.
You can choose the five-sample tasting for $12 or choose a full glass of your favorite. For an additional fee, you can even take home your glass as a souvenir. A wonderful $15 cheese platter with artisan cheese, meat, olives and nuts helps keep your palate fresh.
Carlson Creek also hosts wine tasting classes and wine pairing events. You can join the Wine Society and receive 12 bottles of a blend of red, white and rosé wines or your choice of varietals. You can also enjoy free tastings and a discount on other purchases.
Pro tip: The space is a converted art gallery and you can always find beautiful artwork for sale on the walls.
5. LDV Vineyard
When LDV owners Curt Dunham and Peggy Fiandaca decided to start a winery, they found the perfect conditions in the southeast corner of Arizona near the Chiricahua Mountains. Their desired conditions included a mountainous environment, crystal clear water, good drainage, volcanic soil, and land that had never experienced commercial agriculture. This transformed them from ardent wine collectors into enthusiastic winemakers.
The LDV Tasting Room is just a few feet from the South Bridge on Scottsdale’s waterfront. The large patio is surrounded by a fence made of whole barrels and barrel staves – perfect for a chilly 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 offers three tiers of benefits along with 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 the grandfather of their winemaker Jason Domanico, Salvatore Vineyards focuses on meticulously crafted wines in small batches. The Domanico family originated from 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 capitalize on the expansion of winemaking in Arizona. The vineyard focuses on fruity white wines and complex red wines. They are setting aside their best grapes to age longer for a reserve run 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 contemplate 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 on sale.
A visit to Scottsdale is the perfect time to sample Arizona’s growing wine scene. The Old Town Tasting Rooms provide a wonderful experience where you can begin your learning about the wonderful varietals of Arizona. You’ll probably be tempted to join one of the wine clubs to bring these flavors to friends back home.