In July I found myself in Tucson with a few extra days on my hands, so naturally, the first thing I did was to find out how close the wineries were. Arizona has one AVA, Sonoita, which is located about an hour southeast of Tucson. The elevation slowly climbs in that direction, so that wine country is at about 4000 ft., and much cooler than Tucson. Scenic drive too. Clustered around the small town of Elgin are about 9 wineries, 3 of which were open on the Thursday I went there. The wineries charge a reasonable fee, $3 - 5, for tastings, but that includes the glass, and once you have a glass from one of the wineries, the cost for tasting at the others is discounted to $1 - 3. The wine industry is about 30 years old. Specialties, not surprisingly, are grapes from the hotter European climates. The potential of this region is massive, the wines reminding strongly of Tuscany, and the Sangiovese a ringer for Montalcino. And the capability (not just potential) for producing structured, long lived wines is there. This region deserves a reputation greater than Texas, but I suspect there just aren't enough wineries for it to ever come to prominence. If wine lovers find themselves in the Tucson area, make this your number one destination.
My first stop simply because it was the first winery I came to that was open. Because their vines haven't come to full maturity yet, they are currently getting their fruit from California. But clearly there is a good winemaker here, and a distinctive house style that will serve their Arizona fruit very well. Good future here, I think. Very nice tasting room.
Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Chenin Blanc, California 2007
Citrus, nectarine, grassy/herbal notes toward the finish. Pleasantly tart, with good body. 13.5% abv. Very Good / Excellent (86 - 88). [7/16/09]
Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Viognier, California 2007
Floral notes, citrus, tropical fruits. Nice aromatics. Lightish in body, and hides its alcohol (14.5% abv) well. Very Good / Excellent (86 - 88). [7/16/09]
Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, California 2005
Nice, clear, medium ruby. Excellent nose of savory red fruits and cedar. On the palate, tart cherry, currants, plum, perhaps a note of roses, and gentle cedar on the finish. Somewhat light in body. Should be very food friendly. Very Good / Excellent (86 - 88). [7/16/09]
Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Syrah, California 2005
Nearly opaque ruby/purple. Raspberry, plum, earth, spice. Nice finish. Medium-full bodied. Very Good / Excellent (86 - 88). [7/16/09]
Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Nebbiolo-Sangiovese-Tempranillo, California 2005
Nose of savory red fruits and a hint of forest floor. On the palate, tart, slightly savory red fruit. The fruit is very low-key. Lingering earthiness and french oak notes. Drink now or in the next 2 years. Very Good (85 - 87). [7/16/09]
Kief-Joshua Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino 2003
Medium, opaque ruby/garnet. Funky nose. Cherry, savory blackberry, spice, and oak. Needs plenty of breathing. Drink now or in the next 3 yrs. Very Good / Excellent (86 - 88). [7/16/09]
Village of Elgin Winery
A prolific winery, offering ~40 wines (perhaps more) under at least two different labels. Eclectic style here, with unusual blends and winemaking methods. Definitely a sense of humor and adventure here. Very competent winemaking, the wines quite at ease with their seeming lack of "conventional polish." Fun wines to taste.
Village of Elgin Winery, Sangiovese, Sonoita [AVA] 2006
Medium ruby/garnet. Nice nose of cherry, smoke, and a hint of orange rind. Savory palate, with cherry, strawberry, plum, orange rind, smoke, herbs, and spice. Good acidity and body. Very good effort. Very Good / Excellent (86 - 88). [7/16/09]
Village of Elgin Winery, Old World Cuvee, Sonoita [AVA] NV
Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in chesnut. Pure, medium ruby. Nose of cherry blackberry, and chesnut. On the palate, cherry, blackberry, and very prominent chesnut, with smoke, orange rind, and nutmeg. Nice but gentle grip to the acid and tannin. Good effort. Very Good / Excellent (86 - 88). [7/16/09]
The story on aging in chesnut is that the winemaker discovered in researching historical winemaking that chesnut was supposedly the first wood used for wine barrels.
Village of Elgin Winery, Barbera, Sonoita [AVA] 2006
Light garnet. Very pleasant nosee of sweet red fruit, a touch of smoke, and oragne rind. Sweet cherry on the palate, with savory herbs, and hints of smoke and orange rind. Chalky tannis. Very Good (85 - 87). [7/16/09]
Village of Elgin Winery, Bella, Sonoita [AVA] NV
Moscato and Colombard. Light, clean, sparkly silver-yellow. Orange, peach, melon, and a barest hint of sweet nettle. Off-dry. Pleasant picnic wine. Very Good (85 - 87). [7/16/09]
Village of Elgin Winery, Vino della Primavera, Sonoita[AVA] NV
A blend of six different grapes. Cherry, banana, nectarine, leather, and sweet greeness. Good acid and body. Strange, but suprisingly good. Excellent (87 - 90). [7/16/09].
The oldest winery in the state. Potentially world-class wines, confident winemaking, and a very high standard of quality. Apparently started as an agricultural experiment, the founder having researched the location, climate, etc., and determined that it was ideal for winemaking. Their flagship wine is their Pinot Noir, which was unfortunately not available for tasting, but I can only imagine that it would be a very excellent wine. In addition, here is a winery that could make long lived wines, as evidenced by the available library releases of their Cab. Sauv., including the 1984, a wine they say is drinking quite well. They deserve some respect and attention!
Sonoita Winery, Colombard, Cochise County, Arizona NV
Light golden. Bright citrus, green apple, and melon. Refreshing but rich, with great body. Excellent (87 - 90). [7/16/09]
Sonoita Winery, Sonoita Fume, Sonoita [AVA] NV
Prominent smoke and flint on the nose. Citrus and green apple on the palate, with good focus, mouth-puckering acidity, and lots of flinty mineral. Good body. Excellent (87 - 90). [7/16/09]
Sonoita Winery, Sonora Rossa, Sonoita [AVA] NV
Merlot, Cab. Sauv., and Colombard. Dark salmon/ruby. Nice, aromatic nose. Cherry and blackberry, with Colombard's citrus and apple on the rear palate. Very interesting. Very Good (85 - 87). [7/16/09]
Sonoita Winery, Sangiovese, Sonoita [AVA] 2007
Medium ruby/garnet. Cherry, black raspberry, a touch of strawberry, hints of savory herbs, and orange rind, with oak giving it great body. Almost like a Rosso di Montalcino. Sangiovese like this could put Arizona on the map. Should drink well for another 5 years, perhaps longer. Excellent (87 - 90). [7/16/09]
Sonoita Winery, MeCaSah, Sonoita [AVA] 2006
Merlot, Cab. Sauv., and Syrah. Medium garnet. Good nose. Cherry, blackberry, and currant. Toward the finish, a good, savory quality, with a hint of orange rind. Relatively closed at this stage. A wine of good quality. Having tasted this, one can certainly see how in a good year, their wines could age very well (they reported that their library release 1984 Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking nicely). Will improve over the next 5 - 10 years. Excellent (87 - 90). [7/16/09]
Sonoita Winery, Desert Zin, Arizona 2008
I'd always heard that Zinfandel could produce a port-style wine from natural sugar content, and yea verily, here is one, with 16.5% abv, and 6% RS. Deep ruby towards black. Concentrated black cherry and black raspberry, a savory touch, orange rind, and tabacco. Very intense - has some punch to it! Great stuff. Excellent (87 - 90). [7/16/09]
Sonoita Winery, Arizona Sparkles, Brut, Sonoita [AVA] NV
Colombard and Muscat. Citrus, apple, and melon; like their still Colombard, with the addition of bubbles. Not quite as good though, its balance a bit lacking. Very Good (85 - 87). [7/16/09]