Ask me if there is fine wine being made in the state of Arizona and my answer will be a hard yes. In spite of Arizona’s reputation of blazing desert heat, we are demonstrating nothing short of excellence in growing quality grapes for wine. The vineyard sites are not located here in the Valley, where our temperatures would unequivocally squash their survival rate. Alternatively, they are found at higher elevations between 4,000 and 5,000 feet in the Verde Valley, Willcox and Sonoita/Elgin regions of the state. It is there, where the daily mood swings in temperature, along with the rich alluvial and volcanic ash soils from the surrounding mountains, work in great favor of the grape.
Over the course of the past 50 years, the right people have assumed position, and are continuing to do so. Thanks to them, the progress in quality wine production has been off the charts. If the last time you tasted Arizona wine was 20, 10 or even just five years ago, it’s time for you to revisit a drink. This isn’t a history lesson, it’s just about time, trial and error, and a whole lot of passion – the same goes for the highest ranked wine regions in the world.
Wine from one place will not, and should not, taste like wine from another place. I often hear people make the comment, ‘"Arizona wine isn’t anything like California." I usually respond by saying, "Well thank goodness for that." The fact of the matter is, we aren’t trying to be like California. If you love French wine, would you make the statement that French wine isn’t like Italian wine? It doesn’t even make sense. They are different, because they are made in different parts of the world, by different people. You will even notice variances between wine made in Willcox, Sonoita/Elgin and from the Verde Valley. The fruit will take on its own special characteristics depending on what it is exposed to and where it is grown. One must respect the creation that comes from all places, and why.
Big Cabernets, Merlots and Chardonnays swarm the wine regions of California. It’s much of what they do there and they do it well. However, in Arizona there are other varieties that embrace our land with much more grace. European varieties like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Graciano, Grenache and Malvasia Bianca are among some of the most amiable friends of the vine.
With tasting rooms scattered about the state in Scottsdale, Cottonwood, Jerome, Bisbee, Prescott and Superior, Arizona wine is becoming more accessible to Valley residents and tourists alike. Many local restaurants such as Divided Vine Beer & Wine Bar, Peacock Wine Bar and Gertrude’s at the Desert Botanical Gardens have Arizona wines on their menus. My hope is that more restaurants include at least one local wine on their menu very soon – what a fabulous way to share our greatness and increase visibility.
There are also a host of wonderful festivals featuring Arizona wine throughout the year all over the Valley and the state. Even with all these occasions to taste, in my opinion, nothing beats a trip to the vineyards. Take your palate on an adventure and, give it ample opportunity to explore which wines you like best. You may not like everything you taste, but you will undoubtedly find your favorites. I most certainly have mine.
Discovering wine can be a personal journey or one you take with others -- either way grant yourself the freedom to connect and truly be where you are tasting. Instead of allowing regional comparisons to hinder your experience, appreciate the subtle nuances and distinct characteristics in each sip. Welcome the unfamiliar and try everything, everywhere because every wine will unveil pieces of their existence through their little corner of the earth.
Pick up a copy of the first fully comprehensive book on Arizona wine, "AZ Uncorked, The Arizona Wine Guide," by Jenelle Bonifield. It is an invaluable resource while wine tasting in Arizona – now available in all AJ’s Fine Foods.