It’s only an hour out of town, but Baja Arizona’s wine country feels like another world. Drive southeast out Tucson and watch as the saguaro, creosote bush, and palo verde-dominated landscape becomes mesquite forest, scenic rolling grasslands, and scrub oak woodland. Especially in the warm season, the cooler temperatures are a refreshing break from the low desert.
Arizona wine has recently been the recipient of some overdue industry attention, winning awards in international competitions and getting mention in national wine magazines like Wine Spectator. As winemakers hone innovative practices and the growers sleuth out varieties best suited for our arid region, the finished product is becoming finer and more distinct.
A trip to Sonoita/Elgin makes a great weekend getaway, allowing you to taste a good percentage of Arizona wine over two days. Bring friends and if you want to have a fine time along with your wine, try hiring Sonoita Limo to drive you around (520.954.5314). It’s surprisingly inexpensive, especially if you are sharing the cost with others. Most wineries close around 6 p.m., so head over to Xanadu Ranch, nestle into a hammock, and watch the sunset over the serene Sonoita hills (92 South Los Encinos Rd.; 520.455.0050). Rooms have kitchens; the shared back patio has a koi pond and a grill.
Most wineries have their tasting rooms located right on the estates. You can sip wine, wander out back, and meander among the grape vines. No need to be intimidated; Arizona winemakers are friendly, full of character, and interested in chatting with beginners and experts alike.
For some fine dining to accompany your wine, stop in for a meal at Overland Trout, the newest venture of acclaimed chef Greg LaPrad (3266 Highway 82; 520.455.9316). LePrad closed his famed restaurant Quiessence, a farm-to-table restaurant at the Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix, in May after an eight year run. Opening in September and featuring fresh, artful, locally sourced cuisine, Overland Trout is sure to draw dinners all the way from Tucson.
If you want to come back down to earth after sipping so much wine, there are several fun bars teeming with local personality and true grit. Check out Tia Nita’s Cantina in Sonoita proper, walking distance from Xanadu Ranch, or the Wagon Wheel Saloon in the village of Patagonia, which has karaoke on Saturdays. (3119 Arizona 83, 520.455.0500; 400 Naugle Avenue, 520.394.2433)
Fall is harvest time. If you haven’t scheduled a ramble in Baja Arizona’s wine country yet, now is the time to do it. Talk to the growers and winemakers who produce in this beautiful region; taste and swirl and learn; and head home with a bottle of two or wine you can be confident you’ll enjoy. ✜
Jared R. McKinley is the associate publisher of Edible Baja Arizona.