Surprise: Arizona has an Impressive Wine Industry


We were recently in Jerome, Arizona and wrote about the wines of Caduceus, the big kahuna among Arizona wineries. While in town we also stumbled into a marvelous tasting at Vino Zona. Not associated with any specific winery, it’s the project of Ginger Mackenzie, who has assembled a well-curated collection of wines from under-the-radar producers, many of whom have no tasting room (or even a website) of their own. She led me through a tasting of eight wines, including some from nearby Yavapai College, which has a two-year wine program similar to those at Walla Walla Community College.

I left the shop with a half case of other Arizona wines, which we’ve explored at greater length as our vacation passed pleasantly through the following days. I started this adventure with absolutely no knowledge or preconceptions about the Arizona wine industry, but I return home a true believer in the wines and potential of the state. How to obtain some of those mentioned below? Text Ginger at 928-284-8053 or visit her website here.

Arizona has more than 30 wineries and three certified AVAs – Sonoita and Willcox in the southeast, and newly-sanctioned Verde Valley in the north central part of the state. Both regions boast high elevation vineyards that offset the desert heat. Unsurprisingly for a new region, a mind-boggling range of varieties are being cultivated – Aglianico, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Counoise, Gewürztraminer, Graciano, Grenache, Malbec, Malvasia, Merlot, Montepulciano, Mourvèdre, Muscat Canelli, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Picpoul, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Tannat, Viognier and Zinfandel.

My goal as I tasted through about two dozen wines was to see if there was a stylistic thread running through them, and which varieties seemed to offer the most potential for evangelizing the region. I was more than a little surprised at the overall quality, delighted with the aromatic complexity and elegant flavors of many wines, and impressed with the experimentation with varieties not “claimed” by other, more widely-known wine producing states.

To re-cap the previous notes on Caduceus, I tasted two of the wines over a period of three days. Both were still drinking quite well after 48 hours, no sign of fading or a crack-up, just a bit smoother and softer. The Sangiovese-driven 2020 Nagual de la Naga was more tart as the days wore on, less fruity. The Syrah-heavy 2021 Primer Paso was a standout from the beginning, and kept its strength and focus until the last glass was poured.

Among the wines I tasted at Vino Zona I particularly liked the Southwest Wine Center’s 2022 Balancing Act, a white blend of Malvasia, Picpoul and Viognier. It was grown, vinified and finished at the college’s on-site winery. I merely recorded quick impressions, not tasting notes for this and the other wines we opened in the shop. Other highlights were the Birds & Barrels Vineyards 2020 Aglianico, the Seventeen Sixty-Four Vineyards 2021 Excogitamus Sangiovese and the Saecul Cellars 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had a better, longer look at the half dozen wines I purchased and brought back to our lodging in Phoenix. Searching for that common thread among all these wines I’d point to the intense fruitiness of the white wines and the dusty, desert flora aromatic highlights of the reds. Some unusual blends were in the mix, such as Laramita Cellars 2022 Tres Caballeros which incorporated Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Syrah. A particularly engaging bottle was the Wagon Wheel 2016 Louie’s Wild Red Grenache. At seven years of age it was in a prime drinking window, quite different from any Washington or Oregon Grenache in my experience, and lush with desert aromatics. Just 13.3% alcohol, it was the only example among my tastings of an Arizona wine with some years under its cork. We drank it with barbequed ribs, and it proved a graceful, seductive and complementary companion. The Deep Sky Vineyards 2019 Constellation Syrah also impressed. Classy and true to variety, it had the old vine elegance and depth of a Lodi Zinfandel. And finally the Omphalos 2021 Malbec was a stunner, with astonishing fruit power and length. I’m showing you the back label which provides some insights into the brand.

Among the white wines, the Oak Creek 2021 Viognier stood out with bright fruit flavors mixing citrus and tropical notes. I don’t know if/how this wine was able to bring such lip-smacking acidity to the palate, but the acids seemed natural and sufficient, though not at all biting. There was none of the bitterness I find sometimes in under-ripe Viognier, nor the mix of botanical accents in the better Oregon versions. Instead, this was jubilantly fruity, fresh and ripe with enough length and backbone to provide a satisfying finish.

There were enough wines of real finesse in these tastings to convince me that Arizona belongs on any wine lover’s bucket list. Vino Zona has tasting rooms in Jerome, Cottonwood and Sedona. Caduceus wines are easily found almost anywhere in the state. I’d be remiss if I did not offer a shout out to Jerome’s Connor Hotel. Next to the Caduceus tasting room, it’s located upstairs from a gift shop. The building dates to 1899, and the 12 rooms are clean and comfortable. We happened to land in town at the start of a holiday weekend and had all but struck out on finding a place to stay overnight. The hotel manager (John) kindly found us a room – the last in town apparently – and we passed a very comfortable evening at a budget price. If you want to party like it’s 1899… well, look no further.

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 ( Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine,, and in the Waitsburg Times.


  1. A few years back, explored highlands south of Tucson. Found region crawling with wineries and Homeland Sscurity checkpoints.
    The wine market has also drawn first taste restaurants to Sonoran highlands. Thanks to our wine expert for illuminating article.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.