Story and photos by Linda Kissam
It’s not often I get to see a wine region in the rock star process, but I think I may have hit it just right with the Valley Verde Wine Trail. Just about 100 Miles North of Phoenix, Arizona, this wine region has been around for about 10 years sort of flying under the radar. About six years ago local growers and wineries began to dig in and make some significant investment and improvements to the region. In 2009 the Verde Valley Wine Trail Association came to be, promoting the area as a tourist destination.
Wine Barrel Old Town Cottonwood
There are four Arizona wineries and seven tasting rooms on the Valley Verde Wine Trail that offer a variety of wines to satisfy most any wine lover, and sights and sounds that soothe the mind and spirit. Seriously the landscape is gorgeous. As with most other wine regions each tasting room has its own unique story, personality, and wines to discover
I think this region has done things right so far. They appear focused, yet flexible. Not every wine is a winner yet, but what I was most interested and appreciative of was the emphasis on blends. Blends are the perfect way for an emerging wine to go. Offering a varietal specific wine like Chardonnay or Syrah comes with risk. Young vines aren’t quite up to showcasing the best a region has to offer. Blends on the other hand allow the winemaker to mix and match grapes producing a fusion of notable fame.
You’ll need two days to visit all the wineries and tasting rooms and still have time to visit the nearby town of Cottonwood for lunch or dinner and a shopping stroll and buy. I visited six of the tasting rooms (reviewed below) and did lunch and some serious spending in Cottonwood.
Alcantara Vineyards: Located at the union of Verde River and Oak Creek this picturesque winery on 87 acres of sloping limestone has 19,000 vines showcasing 12 varietals. Great place to have a picnic, take in the majestic views, and observe bald eagles flying leisurely over the vines. Red and white wines available. Definitely taste the Confluence III ($ 36.95). Nice fruit, spice, earthy tones and a touch of floral characters. Complex with notable balance and finesse; a smart cellar blend of Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo.
Wine Cellar: Billy and Sandra Baker opened the Wine Cellar tasting room July 1, 2011 on N. Main St. in Old Town Cottonwood. I think you’ll enjoy the cozy intimate atmosphere they’ve created. Comfy couches and chairs and a gorgeous wooden bar make this a great place to relax. Only a tasting room at this point, it features the wines of Dionysian Cellars (California grapes, but made in Arizona). The standout for me (and most of those with me) was the Maenad ($28). This is lovely fruit forward blend of Russian River grapes: 60% Muscat Canelli and 40% Chardonnay featuring dynamic notes of lime, melon, orange grove and peach. Tasting hours: Mon – Sun:12:00 pm – 9:00 pm 928-649-0444
Vineyard Bistro and Wine Bar: Also located on Main Street in Cottonwood, this is the perfect place to grab some lunch and a glass of wine. I had a yummy Jim’s Special consisting of fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, garlic puree, basil, and Parmigianino ($10) and a glass of Granite Creek Chenin Blanc ($8.50). I like that they purchase from local vendors Orion Bread Company, local farmers and wineries, and Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders. The menu is broad enough for everyone’s tastes, the service is great and the prices are affordable. A winner by any standard.
Javelina Leap Vineyard & Winery: Located in the beautiful valley of Paige springs, this 10 acre winery is a must do. Saturdays complimentary winery tours are led by the charming Dr. Russ Balda, North America’s leading ornithologist. Recognized internationally for his ground breaking research study on the Arizona Pinyon Jay, Dr Balda recently retired and traded in his wings for grapes. A four-wine tasting flight is $8. In it you’ll be able to taste a 100% 2010 Arizona Zinfandel ($35). The blend of 4% Petite Sirah and 96% Zinfandel makes for a nicely rounded wine with raspberry and cherry flavors and a touch of vanilla. The Petite Sirah gives the wine a bit of earthiness. $20.
Oak Creek Vineyards: This winery opened in 2002. It offers a large selection of wine-related merchandise alongside a smart selection of wines, cheeses, salami, and olives. I am afraid my visit didn’t meet the great things I had heard about this place. The server was perhaps having a bad day, but she was unable to answer many of our questions making the tasting a bit mechanical. When I go back I’d like to give it another try. My guess is it will be worth the effort. Open daily, 10AM-6PM. Located at 1555 Page Springs Rd, Cornville, Arizona. (928) 649-0290
Page Springs Cellars: Winner! This new 400 square foot space features the traditional wine bar and an intimate, relaxing lounge atmosphere with soft leather couches, rich cork flooring, and a soft lit custom mural recessed in the ceiling. Somehow this winery has taken all the components that make a tasting room fun and memorable and gotten the experience just right. Just minutes from Javelina & Oak Creek don’t miss the solid line up of red and white wines and definitely purchase a nosh plate to go with your wine. Try everything, buy everything, but if you’re short of time and have to be selective ask to taste the 2010 Vino de la Familia Blanca ($21). It’s a fragrant white wine with tropical notes. A very food friendly wine with origins in southeastern Turkey. Complex and perfectly crafted.