(October 16, 2011) Southern Arizona has two main areas for growing wine grapes: Willcox about an hour’s drive east of Tucson and Sonoita/Elgin less than an hour’s drive to the southeast. But when people talk about Southern Arizona’s Wine Country, they’re mainly referring to Sonoita and Elgin.
Until just recently, it had been many years since Ms. Karen and I did any serious wine tasting at the wineries around Sonoita & Elgin. Back in 2002, there were only 2 wineries and frankly we were disappointed in the quality. Now (fall of 2011) there are 10 wineries and the quality has certainly improved.
If you have the time, a day trip to our Wine Country is definitely worthwhile. Before we went, I did a little homework to better focus our limited time. I wanted to know which were the better wineries and so checked with Wine Spectator’s website that grades about a quarter million wines, including 42 from Southern Arizona along with fairly detailed tasting notes.
According to Wine Spectator, among the best Sonoita/Elgin wineries are: Callaghan, Rancho Rossa, Flying Leap Vineyards, (formerly Canelo Hills), and Dos Cabezas WineWorks. Kief-Joshua Vineyards is also mentioned. Since Callaghan, Flying Leap, and Kief-Joshua are right together on Elgin Road, we focused on these over two Sunday day trips.
We ran out of time and will have to go back to sample Dos Cabezas at their Sonoita tasting room. Oh, darn. In the meantime, I acquired a bottle of Dos Cabezas 2009 El Norte, but haven’t opened it yet.
On the first Sunday we visited Kief-Joshua and Callighan and tasted quite a few varieties. At Kief-Joshua, we lucked out. On the weekends, they have a cook and we were able to enjoy omelets and a good white wine.
In between Sundays, I went to Total Wines in Tucson and bought several local wines, including a Rancho Rossa Chardonnay. So, on the second Sunday, we bypassed it and went straight to Canelo Hills Winerie, (now Flying Leap Vineyards). We’ll spend some quality time at Rancho Rossa next trip.
One of the joys of wine tasting in this area is we usually have the privilege of meeting the people who grow the grapes and make the wine. At Canelo Hills, we met
Joan, who self-identifies as a farmer, and is conveniently married to Tim, the winemaker, who I imagine was out back stomping on grapes. You can read all about them on their website. They definitely did not start out their professional lives to be farmers and winemakers, but they have succeeded in just 8 years to produce some very good wines.
“Canelo Hills in Wine Spectator
April 18, 2011:
Canelo Hills was featured in Wine Spectator magazine as one of three Wineries to Visit in their travel article about the Tucson area. The article in the May issue describes Tucson as a world-class destination and features Canelo Hills as well as Callaghan Vineyards and Dos Cabezas WineWorks.“
Canelo Hills has won many awards for excellence, including the Arizona Wine Growers Association’s “Best White Wine In Arizona” for their 2008 Malvasia. Wow!
We sampled several varieties and settled on the 2009 Merlot for our picnic in Madera Canyon on the way home. As we dined in a beautiful picnic area amid the pine and juniper of upper Madera Canyon, we toasted Joan in thanks for her recommendation. Her Merlot went very well with the deli items we had purchased at the Sonoita Mercantile General Store & Deli.
You can check out Canelo Hills Winery’s Awards and Ratings at their website.
After two Sundays of wine tasting in this region, I can offer a couple of general observations. First, as a general rule, the whites are better than the reds, but there are exceptions.
Second, most people who come to this region, including myself, are most familiar with California wines. Sonoita and Elgin wines don’t taste like California wines. The growing conditions, particularly the soil, is different than Napa-Sonoma and so they taste different. That’s neither good nor bad, just different.
I see no point in prejudicing you, and spoiling a really good time. I have my Baja Arizona favorites, but the adventure for you is tasting them and judging for yourself. If you go, I think you will have a terrific day trip.
One other tip. So many people visit these wineries, that there are now three limousine services, including Sonoita Limo. When I first heard about them, I thought what a good idea. Since I was driving, I had to limit my wine tasting. But if we stayed overnight at one of the B&B’s or local inns, and took a limo to all the wineries, …