Arizona wines produced in the Willcox Region—just a little over an hour’s drive east from Tucson—are palate-pleasing and quality crafted. Combining the volcanic-rich soil with attentive grape growing and skillful wine making produces stellar results.
First stop—Carlson Creek Winery & Vineyards’ wine-tasting room in quaint ‘downtown’ Willcox, just across the railroad tracks. Robert Carlson commandeers this family-owned operation. Formerly on track with a stockbroker’s career, Robert became enamored with the operations of the California vineyards. He shared his passion with brother John, father Robert (a lawyer), and Mom Liz, all of whom were all on hand to share the vineyard’s two newest wine releases for our review.
The 2010 Carlson Creek Sangiovese, is lighter than most Sangiovese. This wine offers smooth tannins and notes of cherry, strawberry, honeycomb, and cinnamon—sure to pair well with any red sauce pasta dish.
The 2010 Carlson Creek Rule of Three is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape inspired blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. This sleeper hints of pomegranate, tart plum, and rose oil. An elegant wine, this is food friendly and will only get better with age.
My take-home choice from the tasting was a bottle of the recently released 2009 Carlson Creek Syrah. I have long been a fan of their 2008 Syrah, but this vintage is a bit more spicy with a nose of cherry, unrefined cocoa, and dried spice, giving way to a pleasant acidity and wooly tannins with a peppery finish—my type of wine. The grapes for this vintage were sourced from Colibri Vineyards in the Dos Cabezas Mountains, and received 88 points in a Wine Spectator review.
Tasting & Dinner in the Vineyards
The Coronado Vineyards is located conveniently off I-10 (Exit 344). We first arrived in the midst of a terrific thunderstorm, but the cozy tasting room welcomed us. Jacque Cook, who owns the business with her husband Mark, greeted us and began pouring some amazing wines, mostly priced in the $10-$15 range.
I fell in love with Coronado Vineyard Two Heads Red, a full-bodied 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. The smooth mouthfeel is luscious—a nice balance between the rich jammy texture and a dry but lingering finish.
But we didn’t linger long over the tasting; it was time for our dinner reservations at the Taste of Coronado, the on-site restaurant with a vineyard view. Chef Zach Hoffman greeted us earlier, and we were amazed with his extensive menu selections and friendly service. The bottle of wine bought earlier was brought to our table to enjoy—we’d chosen Coronado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, a medium-bodied wine that offers layers of herbs, coffee, and cherries.
I won’t linger over food details, but I must rave about my perfectly grilled Salmon served with Risotto dish—it was melt-in-my-mouth magic! My friend had the prime rib, which is served every Friday, and there were no complaints from her side of the table either.
This little restaurant offers evening dining at its finest and many surprises —including roast duck and roast quail; now serving Sunday brunch too.
Grape Stomp 5K Success
Team Tucson: Nancy Stewart, Katherine Waser, Karen Irby, and Pour Me Some Grapes.
Our main reason for venturing to Willcox in the first place was to ‘compete’ in the first leg of Arizona Wine Growers Association’s Great Grape Stomp 5K. Under clear blue skies, we gathered in the Coronado Vineyards early that Saturday, and about 45 hearty souls trekked through the vineyards for 3.1 miles, up and down the muddy rows of grapes. Robert Carlson, race director, had to layout the course at least twice, considering the previous day’s buckets of rain wiped out his initial efforts.
It was in great fun, and the Tucson Team finished 1-2-3-4…that’s the LAST four places, of course. Hey, we were there for the wine.
Next stop on AWGA’s Great Grape Stomp 5K is Cottonwood, Arizona, deep in the heart of the Verde Valley Wine Region on October 1, 2011; followed by the Sonoita/Elgin leg of the journey on October 22, 2011. Sign up now!
Fall Wine Festival
The Willcox Wine Country Festival is a two-day fun-filled event (from Saturday, October 15 at 10:00am until October 16 at 5:00pm) at the historic Railroad Park in downtown Willcox. The Festival is a perfect getaway for Phoenix & Tucson residents—not too far, but feels a world away. Your $10 tasting fee will be good for 6 wine tastings, a commemorative glass, and live entertainment. Additional tasting tickets may be purchased at the hospitality kiosk.
While you’re in the area, I recommend a side trip to Apple Annie’s, just a few miles north off I-10. Apples, pears, and pumpkins are all in season, ripe for your picking and/or purchasing.
Wilcox Wine Tour
Looking for a way to get to/from the Willcox Wine Region without the worry of DUIs? Arizona Wine Tours, owned by Mike and Dian Clark, offers group wine tours, traveling in their comfortable and elegant Excursion SUV limousine for an all-day, all-inclusive wine tour. You can be picked up at any location you request.
The trip from Tucson or Phoenix includes visits to the three tasting rooms in Wilcox; then on to Taste of Coronado for late lunch or early dinner and Coronado Vineyard’s tasting room. Clients/guests are returned to their desired location.
For the set tour price, Arizona Wine Tours covers tasting fees and meals at Taste of Coronado, and provides bottled water, snacks in the limo, and a gift bag with wine-related items. You can purchase bottles of wine at all the locations. Mike, the chauffer, is wonderful with people and will accommodate most any requests. Contact Arizona Wine Tours for more information.
Cheers to my new friends in Willcox, we’ll be back soon!