Drinking (and eating) locally in Arizona

Last week, I had to spend a week in Tucson, Arizona to attend a conference for work. Since MolM and I have good friends in Tucson, I opted to extend my visit, spend the weekend with R. and P., and check out Tucson in the company of locals rather than from the lofty environs of the resort where the conference was held.

Friday night, we went to Poca Cosa, for what R. referred to as “Mexican 2.0.” The chef sources as much food as possible locally, including the chicken I had in a fantastically rich mole sauce. Sides were rice, beans, and lovely homemade tortillas.

arizona.jpgOn Saturday, we decided to drive to Bisbee by way of Elgin in Sonoita. Sonoita (Note: NOT Sonoma, and no, I don’t think it’s intentional!) is the center of Arizona’s wine industry. Wine in Arizona, you ask? Well, Sonoita, while being south and east of Tucson, is quite a bit higher in elevation, so the summer temperatures averages in the high 80s, while Tucson temperatures stay stubbornly above 100. The result is wines that are relatively high in alcohol (right around 14% for those of you playing at home), but with a rich, jammy palate.

We embarked on our tasting adventure at Sonoita Vineyards. They had a wide variety of wines, ranging from a colombard to a pinot noir. These wines were fairly uneven in quality, with the colombard being light, fruity, and refreshing, while the pinot noir was acidic and unpleasant. However, this winery did just come out of a remarkable run of sonoita-vineyards.JPGbad luck (parasites required the uprooting of all their root stock a couple of years ago, and hail destroyed most of the subsequent vintage). They have been frequently recognized in the past, and I’m sure that once they’re settled back into a groove, the wine will improve. I bought a bottle of the Antelope Red (rustic yet tasty) and R. & P. bought the merlot, colombard, and (I believe) the cabernet.

Next up was Callaghan Vineyards, where any doubts I may have harbored about the quality of Arizona wines were quickly laid to rest. Everything here was excellent–absolutely everything. We tried the Lisa’s Selection (viognier and riesling–a wonderfully fragrant nose and a super-dry refreshing palate), the Little Red (cab/merlot–very green beany), the syrah (a huge, tarry monster), the zinfandel (jammy and huge), the Claire’s (a blend of Rhone varietals–black cherry and spice), and the Buena Suerte (cab/petit verdot–an enormous amount of cocoa and fruit). I bought the Lisa’s, the Little Red, the zinfandel, and the Buena Suerte. I think R. and P. bought one of everything.

callaghan.jpgWhile at Callaghan, we heard of a new winery that had just opened up a bit up the road–Rancho Rossa. They’re so new they don’t even have a web site! They had two different versions of their sauvignon blanc–one fermented in stainless steel tanks, and the other barrel-fermented. The stainless steel version is full of grapefruit–very crisp and refreshing–while the barrel-fermented version has a richer vanilla taste. They also have a cabernet, and a grenache that clocks in at 18%. That’s as big as a port, but without being fortified. It’s rich and sweet, with a lot of underlying complexity. I buy the stainless steel sauvignon blanc and the grenache. R. and P. again buy one of each (though once back home, P. swears she only meant to buy the cab and the sauvignon blanc).

After sampling Elgin’s finest, we spend some time in Bisbee (where I’d like to return and explore further) and then return to Tucson, where we have dinner at El Charro, which is the nation’s oldest family-owned, continuously operated Mexican restaurant. They also claim to be the originators of the ubiquitous chimichanga. We have really solid, tasty Mexican food, and I have a tuna ‘rita (tuna is prickly pear–there was nothing fishy about this margarita!).

While I wouldn’t swear that the places we ate were entirely (or even mostly) sourcing their food from local sources, it was all area-appropriate. The strong viticultural presence in Sonoita really speaks to the wonders of micro-climates; while it’s definitely warmer in the Sonoita area in June than it would be in Sonoma or Napa (or Yakima or Walla Walla for that matter), it’s temperate enough that certain varietals do very well.

Drinking (and eating) locally isn’t necessarily hard; it’s just about looking around you and evaluating your options.

2 Responsesto “Drinking (and eating) locally in Arizona”

  1. Man of La Muncha says:

    I for one wasn’t very impressed with the Little Red (give me an Oregon Jezebel any day), but I’m glad you brought that and the other wines home.

  2. DairyQueen says:

    I think it’s cool that there are so many wineries in Arizona, and I plan to take a field trip to a few when we’re there in late November.