A day tasting in wine country evokes images of endless vineyards, wide-open spaces and a bucolic countryside. But imagine having the wine country experience in the heart of a city. That’s what you’ll find in downtown Scottsdale, a new hotbed for wine tasting rooms.
Now Arizona probably isn’t your first thought for a wine vacation – maybe you didn’t even know the state had a fast-growing wine culture. But in the last two years, the region has become an oenophile’s paradise.
Having lived here for 18 years, I remember the infancy of Arizona wine. It wasn’t pretty. For years, I shied away from local wine. But intrigued by my wine snob friends who were drinking it, I decided it was time to reevaluate, and what better way to do it than a walking (and Uber) tour through downtown Scottsdale’s new tasting rooms. Here are three I tried on the new Scottsdale Wine Trail.
Housed in a converted bungalow with a killer patio, Lawrence Dunham Vineyards’ tasting house is as charming as its wines are sophisticated. Unlike other Arizona wineries, LDV’s vineyards are in the Chiricahua Mountains. The four Rhone varietals of estate wine that husband and wife Curt Dunham and Peggy Fiandaca produce reflect the mountain terrior and climate.
“We went where no man has grown before,” Curt, the winemaker, quipped when he and I sat down to taste through the portfolio.
Curt’s been cooking since age six and his wines are bold and made to hold up to food from BBQ and pasta to Thai and everything in between. LDV only makes one white, a Viognier that is the perfect sipper if you’re in town on a 110-degree day. LDV is best known for petite Syrah, the grape Curt believes is best suited to their land, but today my favorite is a complex 2012 Grenache that for whatever reason took on elements of Port, minus the sweetness. It’s the wine that keeps me coming back to explore the fig, smoke, and dried raisin nuances.
I tell Curt that his wines are making me reconsider my opinion of Arizona wine.
The third largest wine producer in the state is the latest to join the Scottsdale tasting room trend. I meet with Robert Carlson the general manager, winemaker, vineyard manager and designer of the coolest Arizona wine T-shirt out there (perfect souvenir) on opening weekend of his Scottsdale tasting room.
A former broker, Robert believed an investment in Arizona’s wine culture was what he should make. With his father, he started Carlson Creek in 2007 in Willcox where 75% of the state’s wine production is centered, earning it the nickname “Napazona.”
The Scottsdale tasting room is an airy space dominated by a 20-foot distressed copper bar that I belly up to to taste four whites and five reds. The 2011 Chenin Blanc took a gold medal in the San Francisco Chronicle competition, but surprisingly it’s the 2014 Chardonnay that is my favorite white, probably because it isn’t a big, buttery beast. I tend to gravitate towards reds and while the award-winning 2013 Grenache and 2012 Sangiovese are good, it’s the flagship 2013 Rule of Three that does it for me. According to Robert it’s named for him and his siblings.
“If two of us were together, it was ok, but if you put all three of us together, interesting things happened growing up,” he said with a laugh.
My first impression walking into the tasting room is how gorgeous it is with its cool tones, modern design and chairs that I want to take back to my place. I’m not surprised when Matt, the barkeep, tells me that owner Scott Dahmer’s first career was in design. Today he and his wife Joan own Aridus Vineyards and their daughter Leah makes the wines in Willcox.
Aridus has the most breadth, producing a host of different wines. They usually release one or two new ones per month, so you never know what you might get to sample at the tasting room.
“Our wines are unique because we focus on single varieties. I like to let the grape variety sing,” Scott explained. “I also design all our wines to be distinctively different from one another, and at the same time have consistency with our varieties and vintages.”
The day I’m there I sample four whites, including the 2012 Chardonnay, a popular butter bomb that has been compared to Rombauer. My favorite wine of the entire tasting though is the new Malvasia, a light floral wine that would make the perfect aperitif. I try a Petite Syrah and Syrah, and appreciate the less dry, less chewy Syrah. Matt tells me the top seller this year has been the Malbec. On the nose I get a strong raisin smell, but the taste is extremely earthy.