As I prepare for my trip to Arizona, I ask myself two very critical questions? What should I pack and where can I locate great wine in the desert? Not water, but wine. So, I look in my handy Frommers guide and three towns are listed: Cottonwood, Jerome, and Sedona. These three magical, ghostly, and mystical places weren’t on my radar as prime wine tasting regions and I feel instantly aware of my lack of wine travels outside of California. I know where every Vortex site is in Sedona, even a Psychic center for New Age, but apparently I need a Frommers guide to tell me where wine grows in Arizona. Although, the vortex visits and red rock hikes yield some good feeling energy, my real enlightenment comes while passing through Jerome on our way back from Sedona.
At Passion Cellars, a small boutique winery at the start of town, Cody Burkett, Gentleman Adventurer (listed on his business card and very apropos), shares his extensive knowledge with us about Arizona wines. The first critical information that Cody points out to us is that people tend to think of Arizona as all flat desert when in fact most of the varietals being produced are in regions with elevations of more than 4000-5000 feet. The very hot days and cooler temps at night mimic regions such as Mendoza, Argentina or even places in Italy where wine has been produced for centuries with success in these extreme temperatures. With low water crops like grapes, a little more struggle yields a happy, plump grape. Makes sense.
From the wine tasting list we choose 5 different wines to sample. My favorites include the Syrah 417 which Cody describes as a “1950’s pinup model – rich, voluptuous and vivacious.” I’ll have to agree there. Most notably the rich flavors of blueberry and chocolate that are present are remarkable. Another favorite and unusual wine is a greek white varietal, 2011 Freitas Vineyard’s Malvasia Bianca which has a syrupy, silky texture and notes of melon, pear, and opens with a bouquet of florals. If your’e not an intense red drinker, then the Jerome Red is a wonderful Syrah blend that’s smooth and light. This is great with food or just sipping alone. And lastly, a spicy 2012 Black Hills Zinfandel that’s aromatic and filled with ripe flavors of plum and raspberry is memorable on the palette. The overall wine list is well balanced and each wine on the list has it’s own unique character, which I look for when reviewing wineries.
Next door, and part of the same tasting room,is Echo Canyon Wines. Tasting room attendant, Lundon Crow, introduces us to an eclectic collection of wines that are mostly 2003 vintages or older. The wine list here is a hit or miss depending on each pour, but my favorite is a 2003 Crop Circle Merlot (call for info) with great rich flavors of blueberry, coffee, spice, and a smooth finish. Being on this side of the tasting room is like going on a wine treasure hunt and pulling out some of the last great bottles from unknown places. And for this reason, I highly recommend a stop to both tasting rooms at Passion Cellars if you are driving through.
So finally, I can say I’ve tried Arizona wines and in fact, I even managed to smuggle two bottles home in my suitcase free and clear of any unfortunate breakage.
Happy Wine Adventures!
Where to Taste
417 Hull Ave.
Jerome, AZ 86331