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Jean Diot, Champagne (France) Extra Brut NV ($50)
 This bone-dry Champagne from Jean Diot delivers exceptional complexity, showing notes of freshly baked brioche, crunchy green apple and spice.  The structure is a remarkable combination of firm acidity and creamy texture, with excellent persistence of flavor through a long, lip-smacking finish.   
94 Robert Whitley


Posted by Robert Whitley on November 6, 2019 at 2:32 AM

Verde Valley Wine Trail, Sedona, Arizona

There are a number of good reasons to visit Sedona, Arizona.  The stunning and picturesque "red rock" country alone is a magnet for tourists.  Proximity to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon also rank high on the list.  Then there is the perceived spiritual and healing aspect of a Sedona vortex; the Native American culture and history; and the hundreds of hiking trails.

There is another attraction that doesn't get as much attention, though awareness seems to be growing.  The Verde Valley Wine Trail, which includes Sedona and the neighboring villages of Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Oak Creek, provides a glimpse into the potential of Arizona wine.  

The Arizona wine industry may be minuscule by California, Oregon and Washington standards, but it is very real and, from all appearances, very promising.  When most of us think of Arizona, the Phoenix area and intense heat come to mind, not verdant wine country.
The Verde Valley and the Cochise Valley (considered Arizona's premier grape-growing region) to the south, near Tucson, are at elevation, high above the desert floor. Sedona sits at 4,500 feet above sea level, for example.  The conditions and the soils, primarily limestone and sandstone, are compatible with viticulture. T his would be news to many wine enthusiasts because awareness of Arizona wine and its potential is but a recent development.

I stumbled across the Verde Valley Wine Trail by accident while taking a shortcut off Interstate 17 into Sedona.  My curiosity was aroused while driving north through the rugged Page Springs area and passing four wineries and/or winery tasting rooms.

Upon reaching my vacation destination, I was pleased to find Arizona wines on a number of restaurant wine lists and pleasantly surprised to discover the wines were rock-solid.  Sufficiently intrigued, I carved out some time to visit Cottonwood, about a 20-minute drive from Sedona.  The winery tasting rooms — and there are six — are situated in Old Town Cottonwood and have a rustic western aura about them.   

A few have restaurants, and I chose Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria for lunch and a flight of white, rose and red wines made from Arizona grapes.  Lunch was superb.   So were the wines, with the exception of an orange wine that I suppose would work for someone who actually enjoys the oxidative characteristics of orange wine, which I don't.    

What struck me most, besides the excellent quality, was the creativity of the blends offered.   There was a Riesling (75%)-Chardonnay (25%) offering and a Malvasia Bianco (70%)-Albarino (30%) offering that were both quite refreshing and well balanced.  The red blends included a Sangiovese (60%) and Negroamaro (40%) blend that you would be hard-pressed to find in Italy, where those two grapes are traditional.

Also presented was a very traditional blend of Grenache (40%), Syrah (40%) and Mourvedre (20%) that hit the mark, as well as a Super Tuscan-style
Sangiovese (95%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (5%) blend.  A 100% Tempranillo and a 100% Monastrell also had good vibes.

My brief visit wasn't intended to be a deep dive into Arizona wine.  It was, however, enough to convince me Arizona wine has enormous potential and merits closer attention.    

Connect with Robert Whitley on Twitter at @WineGuru.  

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Visit a World Class Winery While Near DC? Yes…Linden Vineyards
Michael Franz

Wineries are popular places to visit, but the reasons for this aren't immediately obvious. Growing grapes and making wine are not easy tasks, but they involve a fairly small set of standard practices. Vintners around the world spend their time doing pretty much the same things in facilities that differ very little in functional terms. You could get the idea that seeing one is seeing them all, and though that is not entirely wrong, it turns out to be superficial and misleading. Along with particularities of climate and soil, the real essence that differentiates one winery from another radiates from the priorities of the proprietor. It only takes a few minutes at Linden Vineyards to sense that the place is run by a farmer. Neither a merchandiser nor an entertainer, Jim Law is first and foremost a farmer, and that's what makes Linden Vineyards such a distinctive and valuable enterprise in Fauquier County.
From Sting and Family: More than Another Celebrity Wine
Rebecca Murphy

What do you do when you, a world-famous writer and singer of songs, and your wife, an actress, movie director and producer, are looking for a summer place for family vacations? You find a 400-year old estate in Tuscany and spend years restoring the house, the groves of olive and chestnut trees and vineyards. Along the way, you buy back vineyards that previously had been sold. You add beehives and restore vegetable gardens. After 15 plus years, you have a working farm with so much wonderful produce you start offering honey, olive oil and wine. Maybe even rent out the place for weddings when you're not there. In 1997, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler fell in love with and bought Il Palagio, an agricultural estate located near the village of Figline Valdarno, south of Florence. They kept on many of the staff, and with their help and that of many others, began restoring the 400-year old property.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Pork Cutlets and Cauliflower Rice Pancakes

Pork cutlets are boneless loin chops that are cut in half through the equator so that they are thin, full of flavor, and take less time to cook than regular chops. Ask your butcher to cut the chops into cutlets, or do it yourself if you've a steady hand. Pork cutlets are usually breaded and pounded very thin, but they can also be quickly seared in a pan, which is what we have done in this recipe. Because they are seared for just a couple of minutes on each side, and the pancakes likewise take very little time to put together and cook, this entire dish can be prepared in little more than 30 minutes if you have all the ingredients ready to go. Each of the wines noted here was a good match for the dish. Though they varied in terms of intensity, they all tasted fairly elegant, finishing on a refreshing note that went well with the richness of the pancakes and the meaty density of the pork.
On My Table
Charm, Freshness and Vibrancy
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Five years ago, I reviewed four 2012 Pinot Noir wines from Anderson Valley that carry the Maggy Hawk brand. Recently, I had the chance to taste the 2017 Maggy Hawk Pinot Noirs and was pleased to see their subtle evolution. Maggy Hawk is a wine estate owned by Barbara Banke, who heads the Jackson Family Estate collection of wineries in six countries. The estate is situated in the western part of Anderson Valley, where it is one of the vineyards closest to the Pacific Ocean, at the cool end of a cool region. The property is a patchwork of slopes deliberately planted with different vine orientations and different clones. Five vineyard blocks exist, but the 2017 wines represent only four of them. The estate takes its name from one of Banke's favorite race horses, and each of the 2017 Pinot Noir wines carries the name of one of Maggy Hawk's offspring. Like the 2012's, these four 2017 Pinot Noirs share an intensity of aroma, soft and silky texture and general charm. In the 2017's, however, I notice more freshness, more vibrancy in most of them, less evidence of oak, more nuance and modulated alcohol levels.