Road Trip: Arizona

By John ~ April 25th, 2008.

This past Sunday we spent most of the day in the Sedona area looking for Arizona wines made from Arizona grapes because we had learned last summer that many Arizona wineries use California grapes in their wines. And that’s not what we wanted to taste. Our first stop was at the Art of Wine tasting room in Sedona. We paid a $15 tasting fee to taste what the tasting room host said were almost all wines made with Arizona grapes. After examining the bottles though, we discovered that only two of the six wines represented to be Arizona’s best were actually made with Arizona grapes, and we thought those two were the weakest of the six we tasted. The two Arizona grape wines were the 2004 Echo Canyon Cabernet Franc and the NV Sedona Red Wine.

20080425_oakcreek.jpgFurther down the street, we found a much more forthright sales clerk, Waynette, at Made in Arizona Wine and Gifts. She not only gave us the straight scoop on which wines were made with Arizona grapes and which were not, she also shared with us a copy of the Sedona Monthly magazine from November 2007 which had a nice article on Arizona winemaking. Based on that article, we visited two winery tasting rooms that had wines made from Arizona grapes, Oak Creek Vineyards and Alcantara Vineyards.

Oak Creek Vineyards is a six year old winery with production of about 1,000 cases per year, all sold through their tasting room or ordered by phone out-of-state. We tasted five of their wines, finding only one that we could recommend: the 2005/2006 Oak Creek Desert Flower Syrah. The other wines we tasted were the 2005 Oak Creek Viognier, the 2005 Oak Creek Sauvignon Blanc, the 2006 Oak Creek Zinfandel, and the 2005 Oak Creek Arizona Port.

20080425_alcantara.jpgNext we visited Alcantara Vineyards, a new winery on 87 picturesque desert acres with only 12 acres currently in production. Three of the five wines we tasted were produced with Arizona grapes, and they were the best true Arizona wines that we tasted. It’s a shame that their production is so small and their wine is only available through their tasting room. In our opinion, this winery has serious potential. Our favorite of their Arizona wines was the 2006 Alcantara Meritage (a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and a touch of Malbec). The other two we tasted were the 2006 Alcantara Mourvedre and the 2006 Alcantara Grand Rouge.

From our limited sampling of Arizona wines, we believe Arizona has considerable potential for red wines but not necessarily for whites. However, the sooner more of them start using Arizona grapes for their Arizona wines, the better off they will be. Today, their credibility suffers because many wineries and tasting rooms are not being completely upfront about what they are producing.

Here’s a recap of most of the wines we tasted in Arizona, in our order of preference. All prices given are winery/tasting room prices.

2006 Alcantara Meritage
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $30

2006 Alcantara Mourvedre
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $29

2006 Alcantara Grand Rouge
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $25

2005/2006 Oak Creek Desert Flower Syrah
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $24

2005 Oak Creek Arizona Port
Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $20

2004 Echo Canyon Cabernet Franc
Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $35

NV Sedona Red Wine
Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $30

2005 Oak Creek Viognier
Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $24

2006 Oak Creek Zinfandel
Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $24

2005 Oak Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Quality: 1.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $22

Have you ever had Arizona wine actually made from Arizona grapes? If so, how did you like it? What was your favorite?

Filed under: American Wine, Arizona Wine, Cabernet Franc, Dessert Wine, Mourvedre, Port, Red Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz/Syrah, Viognier, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $25, Zinfandel

Reader's Comments

  1. Jim | April 25th, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Some Arizona wineries use local grapes, I know they do down in Sonoita.

    I really enjoyed your article!

  2. Jim | April 25th, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Some Arizona wineries use local grapes, I know they do down in Sonoita. Have not tried it.

    I really enjoyed your article!

  3. Ron | February 26th, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Interesting article. I too have found that the origins of “Arizona wines” can be misleading. I would recommend checking out a place called Sphinx Ranch Gourmet Market. They carry wines from seven Arizona wineries. I was assured that all wines carried in the store were grown and produced within the state. Labels include: Arizona Stronghold, Dos Cabezas, Keeling-Schaefer, Kokopelli, Page Springs Cellars, Pillsbury Wine, and Sonoita Vineyards.

    Many of the varietals that Sphinx carries have garnered local and national acclaim. What’s more, Sphinx hosts periodic wine tastings to help educate its customers as to the virtues of Arizona wine.

    Also, a new local eatery, FnB in Scottsdale, has a wine list comprised totally of Arizona wines (many of which Sphinx carries for retail purchase).

  4. John | February 26th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks for your compliments and suggestions, Ron.

  5. Victoria | August 1st, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    We were pleasantly surprised to find a number of vineyards in the area Southeast of Tucson Arizona. Nestled at the foothills of the stunning Chiricahua Mountains there must be more than a dozen vineyards (and more under development). It seems the climate, soils and access to water is ideal for growing grapes. We found 2 wine tasting rooms open (and 1 under construction) in the historic section of Wilcox. Other vineyards welcomed us to tour their vines and taste their wines on-site. We had a great time visiting vineyards meeting fun people and tasting wine made with Arizona grapes. You’ll have to check it out – it was an amazing discovery.

  6. John | August 2nd, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Victoria, Thanks for the heads-up on the vineyards and wineries near Wilcox, AZ. We’ll try to check them out on our next trip to the area.

  7. Victoria | August 2nd, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    I love Washington but just after the new year I find that I just have to get some sun and Southeastern Arizon is just the ticket. Sun, Wine, Golf and Moutains – who could ask for anything more. The Chiricahua Mountains are spectacular – hard to describe – they must be seen – wonderful wildlife and birds – you can easily spend the winter in this beautify meca. I counted over 30 vineyards in the area of Willcox.

  8. Ronald Senn | August 4th, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    You are absolutely correct that Arizona does have a wine industry. There are three base wine growing regions in the state. I wrote a blog post about my state’s wine industry that goes into much more detail ( I hae enjoyed looking at your blog and intend to review it for more info my readers could be pointed to. Thanks.

  9. Mike | December 13th, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Two friends and I toured the Sonoita area wineries in October. The best we found was a super tuscan blend from Lightning Ridge Cellars, called Compagno.

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  11. Cecilia Keeling Knaggs | July 7th, 2013 at 11:32 am

    I want to thank everyone who mentioned the vineyards in SE AZ near Willcox! It really is a wonderful area to grow wine. Many of the vineyards in this area use 100% Arizona grapes including my dad and step-mom, Rod Keeling & Jan Schaefer of Keeling Schaefer Vineyards. We have an estate vineyard and use all our own grapes.
    As you may have guessed, you saw a tiny piece of what AZ has to offer. Since you visited in 2008 there are many more vineyards in Arizona that are committed to using 100% AZ grapes and producing a quality product. Please come back to Arizona and check out an issue of Arizona Vines and Wines magazine. It will be a good guide to what is available.