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A Wine Region On The Cusp: Part 1

23 June 2012

When I tell people about the quality of many Arizona wines, most respond by saying something like, “They make wine in Arizona?” Before I visited, I had my doubts as well. Surely it’s too hot and too dry to make serious wine, I thought. The overblown wines I tasted at Tlaquepaque confirmed some of my fears, but a visit to Page Springs restored my confidence in the potential of Arizona to make delicious wine.

My first stop began inauspiciously. I asked to taste the entire range of wines on the menu at Oak Creek Vineyards (except the white zin), and requested a spit bucket. “We don’t have spit buckets,” the friendly but rather taken-aback employee replied. Spitting at the bar was actually expressly forbidden by the health department, because cheeses and charcuterie are served there. After wrapping my head around the idea of a tasting room without spit buckets (you can’t walk to this tasting room, after all), I managed to negotiate a spit-friendly place at a different table.

The wines I tasted were all good, and some were excellent. Priced between $20 and $30, these wines aren’t inexpensive, but if you can find them, they’re worth it. Not only will you get a tasty bottle, you’ll be investing in an up-and-coming wine region I feel is destined for greatness. Many of the wineries are less than 10 years old, but they are already producing impressive stuff.

Here’s what I discovered at Oak Creek. All of these wines, unless otherwise noted, are made with fruit from Arizona’s southeast, not Page Springs:

2010 Oak Creek Fumé Blanc: An almost limey aroma, with a little intriguing funk. Bracing, limey acids, and some stone on the finish. Very refreshing. $24

2010 Oak Creek Viognier: I loved this one. It had peaches and pineapples on the nose, but it wasn’t a perfume bomb. I tasted lily of the valley and litchi, followed by some light acids. In spite of how it sounds, this well-made wine was definitely dry. I’m a sucker for these aromatic dry whites, and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it. $26

2010 Oak Creek Sunflower Chardonnay: This blend combines Chardonnay from the Page Springs estate with Roussane (a Rhône variety) grown in southeast Arizona. It may have been the power of suggestion, but I had to agree that this wine smelled like buttery roasted sunflower seeds. Or perhaps buttermilk? It felt creamy on the palate, but lemony acids kept things alive and balanced. $24

2010 Oak Creek Merlot: An appealingly opaque brick-red with an equally appealing aroma of ripe plums. This Merlot was big, almost overheated, with ripe fruit followed by a bit of alcoholic punch. Tannins took over from there, but the finish was a surprise. It ended, at least to my tongue, with a unique popcorny note. $26

2009 Oak Creek Syrah: A deep purple, this wine had a very fruity nose, rather like cherry pie. Big cherry flavor kicked things off on the palate, but the wine was a little too much for my taste. I’m not sure what the alcohol content is, but it left my palate feeling a little numb. Fun to drink, but unrestrained. $26

2010 Oak Creek Zinfandel: This wine seemed more balanced than the Syrah, with an aroma of raisins and jammy blackberry flavors. I liked the acids, and though this is also an alcoholic wine, it didn’t feel overpowering. With its big fruit, this boozy flirt of a wine would surely be a hit at a party. $30

Oak Creak Arizona Cream Sherry: An orangey-salmon color, this fortified dessert wine smells sweet and tastes sweet as well, but zippy acids held my attention. It had a fascinating earthy, almost mushroomy finish. $20

Oak Creek Port: This Zinfandel-based port had enticing brandied cherries on the nose and palate. I detected some ripe banana in the middle before a satisfying finish of almonds. $20

So how is it that wines of this quality are coming out of somewhere as seemingly hostile as Arizona? An assistant winemaker at Page Spring Cellars, the next winery I visited, illuminated what was staring me right in the face…


3 Comments to “A Wine Region On The Cusp: Part 1”

  1. […] Odd Bacchus: Arizona wines will be the next big thing. You heard it here first! […]

  2. I’m not doubting your opinion of the quality of these wines. But if Arizona is on the cusp, so are Texas, Colorado and a few other places. They still haven’t broken out,

    • Hi Ken,

      Thanks for your comment, and I think you’re probably right. I know Texas makes some fine stuff, and Virginia has some absolutely amazing wines, but they have yet to really break out. Hopefully good wines from all these places will be easy to find on store shelves in the near future.

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