Pour an Arizona wine at your next festive gathering
If you’re looking for the perfect red, white or rosé to complement your holiday fare, Arizona wineries bottle an impressive array of award-winning varietals.
By Christina Barrueta | Photography by Becky Limburg
Whether you’re tasked with bringing a bottle of wine to a festive dinner party or you’re stocking up as the host, you may find the wall of unfamiliar bottles at your local wine shop to be a bit overwhelming. But don’t let that intimidate you. Think of wine this holiday season as something to be explored together with friends and family.
“Wine is the most social drink on the planet. It’s meant to be shared and enjoyed with others.” says Jason Caballero, wine director of Scottsdale’s upscale steakhouse Maple & Ash and one of only 11 individuals in the state to earn the designation of advanced sommelier. “When you have a really good food and wine pairing, the whole is so much better than the sum of its parts.”
Most restaurants and bottle shops categorize wine by its color: red, white or rosé. And within each are hundreds of grape varieties. The color is the result of how long the grape juice, which is clear, stays in contact with the skins, stems and seeds, a process referred to as maceration. White wine is made with grape varieties that can be green, yellow and pink and spends little or no time in contact with skins. Red wines, made with red grapes, attain their deep hues from the length of maceration. Rosés, which can range in tone from pale blush to garnet, are made with red grapes and macerated for a limited amount of time, usually 12 to 48 hours. The skins are also the source of tannins, the compound that produces the dry sensation in your mouth when you drink a red wine. With its thicker skin, cabernet sauvignon grapes have more tannins, while thinner-skinned varieties, such as grenache and pinot noir, have less. Flavor and structure are also influenced by myriad factors, including type of grape, the climate and soil it’s grown in, and the length and method of aging.
Other categories include bubbly and dessert wines. Sparkling wine can be made with red or white grapes and is produced and bottled in a way that captures the CO2 gas naturally occurring during fermentation. The sweetness of dessert wines can result from a variety of methods, including the use of sweet grape varieties, allowing the fruit to ripen on the vine longer, arresting fermentation or reducing water to concentrate the natural sugar.
“I’ve always thought of wine as a huge spice cabinet,” says sommelier T. Scott Stephens, co-owner of Phoenix restaurants Southern Rail and Beckett’s Table. “It can be peppery or herbaceous, or it can even taste of baking spices.”
To help narrow down your choices, we suggest that you seek out some of Arizona’s award-winning wines. More than 100 bonded wineries offer an array of rich reds, delicate whites, refreshing rosés and everything in between. “Arizona’s vintners are producing amazing wine,” notes Jeremy Pacheco, culinary director of Genuine Concepts, a hospitality group that operates some of the Valley’s top restaurants and bars. “You see the winemakers’ commitment and passion, and the wines just get better every year.”
Looking to bring some holiday cheer to the table? Here are some Arizona wines that are guaranteed be crowd-pleasers.
For reasonably priced and easy-to-find reds, Pacheco suggests Mule’s Mistake from Page Springs Cellars in Cornville or WildChild Red from Pillsbury Wine Co. in Cottonwood, which he notes pair well with ham.
Two of Caballero’s favorites are Jerome-based Caduceus Cellars’ Airavata—“Grenache is one of those grapes that really express terroir (a region’s climate, soil and unique growing conditions) and what Arizona has to offer,” he remarks—and Sonoita-based Dos Cabezas’ Aguileon, which he says, “Is a blend that’s very expressive and showcases vintner Todd Bostock’s winemaking ability.”
Nagual de la Naga by Caduceus Cellars “is elegant, beautiful and restrained, with layers of flavors,” Stephens notes. He also recommends Elgin-based Callaghan Vineyards’ graciano, calling it “a slam dunk with braised brisket.” From Sonoita, Rune Wines’ grenache, “has a great level of acidity, so it can cut through multitudes of fat, but it’s not overpowering,” Stephens adds, and the Amigos petite verdot from Four Tails Vineyard in Pearce, “is a rock star of a wine, herbaceous with a great mouthfeel. It would be perfect with an herb, garlic and salt-crusted prime rib.”
For an easy-sipping accompaniment for any meal, Pacheco recommends WildChild White by Pillsbury Wine Co. “It nails it for a turkey dinner and the side dishes,” he notes. “It’s aromatic, light and crisp.”
Caballero suggests the sauvignon blanc from Bodega Pierce in Willcox. He notes, “I was introduced to it at a blind tasting and thought it was from one of my favorite Italian regions. It’s super food-friendly and complex.”
Stephens offers a choice of wines to bring to your next get-together. Miss Sandy Jones from Clarksdale-based Chateau Tumbleweed, “is a blend with a lot of flavors that would go with appetizers, fruits and nuts or crudités,” he says, while Pillsbury Wine Co.’s chardonnay, “knocks it out of the park every year.” For a wine that would pair as well with turkey as it would with latkes, he recommends Sky Island Viognier from LDV Winery in Pearce. “It’s a Rhone-style varietal with great acid, so I would feel very confident in bringing that to a dinner party with comfort foods and fall flavors.”
Dos Cabezas’ Pink and sparkling Pink in a can (which regularly sells out quickly) are fan favorites. “Sparkling rosé would be great with potato pancakes and sour cream, “says Caballero. “The bubbles clean up the palate and turn the volume up on flavors.”
Stephens favors Willcox-based Sand-Reckoner Vineyards rosé. “It has delightful Provençal floral characteristics in the nose with a refreshing mandarin orange zest finish.”
Caballero praises Dos Cabezas’ Principrana, a white blend. “It has tight, small bubbles, tart green apple undertones and cascades beautifully in the glass,”agrees Stephens.
“Your wine should always be sweeter than your dessert,” Stephens advises, “unless you have something like a great cabernet paired with dark chocolate, because that’s a match made in heaven.” He suggests Harvest seyval blanc by Chateau Tumbleweed, which was sourced from D.A. Ranch Vineyard in Page Springs.
KNOW YOUR REGION
Arizona’s wine country is divided into three main regions located north and south of Phoenix.
The Sonoita-Elgin area, approximately one hour’s drive southeast of Tucson, kickstarted the state’s modern-day wine industry and was the first Arizona region to be designated an American Viticultural Area, or AVA. Visitors can sample their way through more than one dozen tasting rooms, including Callaghan Vineyards and Rune Wines.
East of Tucson lies Willcox, the Arizona’s second AVA, producing almost 75% of the state’s grapes. Nestled at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains, Willcox has close to 10 tasting rooms located in the historic downtown area and surrounding vineyards.
The Verde Valley is currently under petition to become Arizona’s third AVA. Plan to follow the Verde Valley Wine Trail to visit some of the Valley’s most scenic tasting rooms, including those found in Cottonwood’s charming downtown, along Oak Creek in Cornville and perched on Cleopatra Hill in Jerome.