Winemaking has become a serious industry in Arizona, where more than 80 licensed wineries have sprouted—most of them in the last decade. The best and closest example (about five hours away) is the “Verde Valley Wine Trail,” a cluster of four vineyards and about a dozen tasting rooms in northern Arizona. With its high elevations and a Mediterranean-type climate, this region has turned out to be a great place for making a variety of wines and, especially on a pleasant spring day, drinking them. Not many bottles can be found outside state borders, and that’s what makes a trip there even more rewarding. Here are three surefire ways to find out for yourself:
Old Town Cottonwood
With its row of galleries, antique shops, lunch spots (don’t miss Crema Café) and four tasting rooms within stumbling distance, a visit to this little old farm town’s Main Street could easily fill up a half day. Two of Arizona’s most popular brands can be sampled here. The Pillsbury Wine Company has a fun Beaujolais-style red, the 2012 WildChild, plus the sumptuous Diva, a shiraz blend that scored 88 points in Wine Spectator. Arizona Stronghold, the biggest distributor of all northern Arizona wineries, features the 2010 Lozen, a rich blend of reds that comes in a cool-looking bottle (its label is just a small Indian handprint) that you’ll enjoy watching age on your shelf. Both tasting rooms have welcoming environments and smart, attentive staffs. OldTown.org.
The Cornville Trio
A great way to get a taste of the Arizona winemaking scene is to head down Page Springs Road in the tiny town of Cornville, where you’ll find three vineyards within a few miles of each other. Page Springs Cellars is a must-stop for its handsome tasting bar and lounge, scenic patio, sharp wait staff and its variety of Rhone-style and experimental wines (the menu is ever-changing, but the 2012 Vino del Barrio red blend is a favorite for its affordability and food-friendliness). Oak Creek Vineyards is a more basic experience (generic décor, smaller menu), but it’s worth stopping in for four tastes of solid wine (especially the red zin reserve) for five bucks. Javelina Leap Vineyards has a rustic little tasting room (a circle bar surrounded by wood walls stocked with Navajo rugs and jams for sale) that showcases some good product, with the most delicious being the all-Arizona Syrah blend. PageSpringsCellars.com, OakCreekVineyards.net, JavelinaLeapWinery.com.
The 87-acre estate sits at the lovely confluence of the Verde River and Oak Creek on the outskirts of Cottonwood. And one of its signature wines is called Confluence, a fruity, medium-bodied blend of five red varietals all grown on-site. There are 16 other wines to sample in the laid-back tasting room or on the panoramic patio. You can also order a full glass and wander down to the creek. Or, if you’re feeling even more adventurous, take the Verde River Wine Tour (SedonaAdventureTours.com), a scenic three-hour kayaking trip that concludes here. 3445 S. Grapevine Way, Verde Valley, AlcantaraVineyard.com.