Arizona Wine Country, In the Name of Research

What feels like the first day of a true PNW fall has finally come after an oddly warm start to the season. As much as I love the leaves changing and drinking coffee in sweaters, writing about Arizona has left me daydreaming my living room heater is the Arizona sun beating down on me. A girl can dream, right?

Alas, we resume our journey from the Los Angeles area, where we stayed with Frank’s family and got some much-needed rest. After which, we begin heading to the focal point of our trip, Arizona!

Day One (Kinda): Driving Through Joshua Tree

Distance Traveled: 346 mi
Destination: Scottsdale, AZ
What we did: Drove through Joshua Tree National Park
Where we ate: Sol Cocina
Where we slept: Scottsdale Camelback Resort

Frank had never been to Joshua Tree, and since I used to go all the time, I really wanted to show him around. We had toyed with the idea of driving through Palm Springs, but we chose to take in a beautiful view and drive the length of the entire park.

Joshua Tree National Park
Frank walking through Joshua Tree National Park

But, first, we stopped for beer. Pappy & Harriet’s is a classic spot in town that’s 30 minutes from the entrance to the park. After a quick bite and a beer, we drove straight through the park and into a… flash flood!

This wasn’t wholly unexpected, as we knew it was monsoon season in Arizona. To be honest, it really added to the view. We had hoped to go on a bike ride, but I was content driving on.

We arrived at Scottsdale, where we had a resort picked out for the week, and we had just enough time to change and grab dinner. We went to Sol Cocina, where I enjoyed scratch-made margaritas as well as duck confit tacos and filet tacos.

Day Two: Checking out Old Town Scottsdale

Distance: Stayed in town
Destination: Old Town Scottsdale
What we did: Tasted at Merkins, LDV, Carlson Creek
Where we ate: Apps at Beverly on Main, Dinner at EVO

We started the day with a quick breakfast at The Breakfast Club, then biked around Old Town before it got ridiculously hot, at which point we biked home, took a dip in the pool, then Ubered back into town to begin our adventuring.

Winery #1: Merkins Vineyard

Caduceus Cellars wine tasting flight
Wine tasting at Caduceus

Now, if you’re a Tool fan then you may or may not know that Maynard lives in Arizona and owns a winery! I personally am not a huge fan (kind of indifferent), but Frank is a fan, and honestly, the merch looks cool.

Maynard owns Caduceus Cellars, Merkins Vineyard, and a canned wine company, Puscifer, all of which are made in the Verde Valley. We decided to start there with an awesome cheese tray and a selection of their wines.

For being my first Arizona wine experience, it was pretty good. Overall, it did not end up being my favorite spot, but I was happy to check it out and get gifts for friends.

Winery #2: LDV

LDV wine tasting flight
Wine tasting at LDV

We didn’t have to go far to check out our next winery, LDV. LDV is based just past Wilcox, belonging to a non-AVA region.

The vineyard is strategically placed along the Chiricahua Mountains, where temperatures fluctuate, and the mountain breeze cools the grapes down during the hot Arizona summers. LDV specializes in Rhone-style wines made in volcanic soils.

I especially enjoyed getting to compare two vintages of their GSM and noting the drastic difference, thanks to the sometimes unpredictable growing seasons. I also enjoyed learning about the process for making the Viognier, where Curt (the winemaker) chooses a different winemaking method each year.

Winery #3: Carlson Creek Vineyards

Carlson Creek is based Wilcox, which is Arizona’s most prestigious wine region located southeast of Tucson. Southern Arizona produces approximately 3/4 of all Arizona wine.

Carlson Creek features Rhone-style varietals with a “South American flare.” I particularly enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc as well as a varietal I had never heard of (but would see quite often during this trip), Malvasia Bianca.

Malvasia Bianca is a grape common in the Mediterranean and is slightly sweet with notes of honey, floral, pear, and a touch of spice. It hadn’t occurred to me until this point that Arizona’s weather is surprisingly similar to Italy’s, which would explain the number of Mediterranean varietals we tasted.

Following our last tasting, we grabbed drinks and some yummy appetizers at Beverly on Main, then ended the evening with an outstanding Italian dinner at EVO. By the time we returned to the resort, it was hard to believe we still had so much more to do!

Day Three: Visiting the Verde Valley

Jerome, Arizona
Walking through Jerome, AZ

Distance: 120 mi.
Destination: Jerome & Cottonwood
What we did: Tasted at Caduceus, AZ Stronghold
Where we ate: The Belly

The following day we headed north to the Verde Valley region. We were especially interested in visiting Jerome, which is a somewhat-abandoned copper mining town that is famously haunted.

While we didn’t notice anything alarming, we did watch a couple of Tiktoks, we were unpleasantly surprised to find out that many of the bricks used to build the town used human ashes. Hence the haunting.

Moving on, we really just came there to taste more wine. The town was surprisingly cool, with shops built into nearly demolished buildings and numerous handcrafted souvenir stores to check out.

Winery #4: Caduceus Cellars

This time around, we went closer to the source and tasted wine at Caduceus Cellars’ tasting room. Again, the wine was good, but not my favorite. Honestly, my favorite part was the meat and cheese board. 10/10 Maynard knows how to feed his customers.

Winery #5: AZ Stronghold Vineyards

After strolling around Jerome for a while, we headed to nearby Old Town Cottonwood (“old town” is a vibe, I guess) where we tasted at AZ Stronghold, based out of Wilcox.

AZ Stronghold wines
AZ Stronghold

This place was my favorite. We tasted through two flights, but really it was the bonus pour our server gave us that really got me excited.

The Belly in Phoenix
The Belly in Phoenix

The Bayshan and the Loten blends blew us both out of the water. It was rich, bold, and surprisingly smooth for only being 2020. I bought a bottle, eager to age it and revisit our time spent here in a couple of years.

By dinner time, we were starving. Frank found a spot in Phoenix called The Belly. Upon our arrival, I was a bit unsure, as it is in a random part of town in a discrete building. However, I was pleasantly surprised with what ended up being my favorite dinner of our whole trip.

The Belly features Japanese-Vietnamese-Thai fusion with a curated wine and cocktail menu. The food came out quickly and tasted authentic, rich with fresh flavors and textures that reminded me of the best food I had during my travels in Southwest Asia.

Day Four: Bike & Brunch

Distance: Stayed in town
Destination: Absolutely nowhere!
What we did: Biked around Scottsdale
Where we ate: Brunch at Prep & Pastry, Dinner at Olive & Ivy

Prep and Pastry in Scottsdale
Prep & Pastry in Scottsdale

For our second-to-last day in Scottsdale, we decided to get a much-needed bike ride in. Frank found a deceptively challenging route, meaning basically 95% of the incline happened in one-half of a mile… We got through it, some of us more scathed than others.

Afterward, we got brunch at Prep & Pastry, then kicked it around town. Later that evening, we had dinner at Olive & Ivy, where Frank and I discovered our mutual love for espresso martinis.

We enjoyed our time so much that we have since planned to break our Sober October fast with espresso martinis.

Day Five: Heading South to Wilcox

Biking around Scottsdale, Arizona
Biking through Scottsdale

Distance: 200 mi.
Destination: Wilcox
What we did: Biked through the Saguaro National Park and tasted wine in Wilcox
Where we ate: BBQ a Big Tex BBQ and a light dinner at Chopshop

For our final day exploring Arizona wine country, we made our way south to Wilcox, Arizona’s biggest wine region. We stopped first to ride through the Saguaro National Park, which offers a well-paved, bike-friendly 8-mile loop. The route was easy, with only 1 steep climb. The view was rewarding, and there was only 1 car while we were there.

Winery #6 & #7: Golden Rule Vineyards & Copper Horse Vineyards

After our ride, we parked in downtown Wilcox and tasted wine at Golden Rule Vineyards and Copper Horse Vineyards, both of which were in the same storefront. The wines were not my favorite, more so because they were all chilled. I would have liked to taste the reds at room temperature as I could tell they had potential, but you can’t always get what you want.

We were pretty beat from our ride (and our week), so we grabbed dinner at Big Tex BBQ and headed back to Scottsdale.

Up Next

Frank and I got some rest, packed up the van, and left the following day to slowly head home. We had a rough itinerary, but we knew we wanted to get some sightseeing in and check out more national parks.

Our first destination was one that we had planned and one that proved to be one of the most memorable part of our trip – Antelope Canyon.

Be sure to subscribe to check when I post on the final leg of our trip, I promise it’s worth it.

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