Wine tasting in the Arizona desert

But if you can break away from Arizona’s fiestas and festivals, mining and mineral museums, and gunfight shows and ghost towns, head to the Sonoita/Elgin region for a sampling of delightfully complex wines you’re sure to enjoy.

Sip the tangy acidity of a 2007 Sangiovese, with hints of cherry, raspberry, blueberry and pomegranate. This dry white wine with a tart peppery finish pairs nicely with Italian dishes, especially Tuscan. But you’re not in Tuscany or for that matter Napa Valley, France or Australia. The Sonoita-Elgin wineries in the southern Arizona Desert easily hold their own against some of the finest wines worldwide.

The Sonoita/Elgin region is one of three major wine growing areas in Arizona. All three areas are located high in the desert, somewhere between 4200 and 5200 feet. The high desert produces an ideal climate for growing grapes, hot daytime temperatures that cool off at night. The rainy season in July and August provides some additional water for the vineyards.

Ten Sonoita wine growers are nestled in scenic mountain ranges and rolling grasslands of southeastern Arizona’s diverse terrain. I spent a Sunday afternoon with my family visiting two of the vineyards that currently make up the Sonoita/Elgin region.

Sonoita Vineyards

Arizona’s oldest and largest winery, a 25 acre vineyard located on a hillside, provided us with our first wine tasting experience. In addition to the bright fruit flavors of their Sangiovese, Sonoita Vineyards grows a variety of grapes including Colombard, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Planting the vines on the hillside protects the vines from severe winds and frost. In addition to the late summer rainy season that provides needed water, Sonoita Vineyards is on drip irrigation (water pumped from a well).

We tasted a number of featured wines in Sonoita Vineyards’ spacious 5000 square foot wine tasting room ranging from the light and fruity Sonora Rossa to the bold and complex Arizona Fume. Sonoita Vineyards’ wine tasting connoisseur described the subtle delicacies and pairings of each of the winery’s premium wines. For example, the sweet and delicate Sonora Blanc blends well with cheesecake or a fruit and cheese plate. Try a glass of the apple and pear flavors of the Cochise County Colombard with roast chicken, havarti or fresh fruit.

Sonoita Vineyards wine tasting includes a souvenir glass and a taste of the featured wines of the day (approximately 10 wines) for $5.00. They also have wine tours if you have a minimum of 10 people (make sure you reserve in advance) as well as wine festivals throughout the year.

Kief-Joshua Vineyards

Our wine tour continued at the Kief-Joshua Vineyards where we sipped their finest wines in an elegant Italian Gothic styled wine tasting room. Peek through any window and you’ll enjoy the magnificent view of the mountain ranges of Sonoita.

As with Sonoita Vineyards, Kief-Joshua Vineyards’ wine tasting expert walks you through their finest wines, pairing them with mouthwatering meals and desserts. For example, if you love grilled fish or like to finish off a meal with crème brulee, make sure you pick up their 2009 Chenin Blanc. The 2008 Malbec’s rich ruby color, aromas of black currants and flavors of ripe red cherries pairs well with red meats and tomato based sauces. And the blackberry, spice and oakiness of the 2008 Tempranillo makes an excellent pairing with grilled meats or roasted lamb.

Kief-Joshua’s Wine Tasting Room offers about six wines and a souvenir glass for $5.00, as well as private tastings and tours. In addition, they also offer a number of specialty tastings, a session on the aspects of winemaking, and a program on the proper techniques of wine tasting.

Fine Dining in the Desert

After our wine tasting experience in the Sonoita-Elgin Region, we dined at Viaggio Italiano Ristorante on Highway 82, a few miles from the wineries. According to the owner, they prepare tasty authentic family recipes that originated in Ricigliano, Italy. I tried their Italian meat loaf – veal, sausage, beef, cheese and Italian herbs with roasted vegetables, and wasn’t disappointed.

And There’s More to the Sonoita/Elgin Region Then Wineries and Vineyards

Before we headed for the wineries, we stopped off in Patagonia, a few miles southwest of Sonoita. This tiny town features a number of shops and galleries offering art from local and regional artisans. If you have time, you can hike Patagonia’s numerous trails, including the historic Arizona Trail or explore the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park

Check out Patagonia’s Gathering Grounds for lunch. They offer delicious sandwiches, soups and fresh salads. Or if you looking for a quick snack you can sip their organic lattes and chilled café mochas as you munch on their mouthwatering baked goods (the brownies are delicious).

Further Information:

Tucson International Airport is about 45 minutes north of Sonoita. Take I-10E to AZ-83S. Turn left onto AZ-82.

Sonoita Vineyards
290 Elgin-Canelo Road, Elgin, AZ 85611/ (520) 455-5893

Kief-Joshua Vineyards
370 Elgin Road, Elgin, AZ 85611/(520) 455-5582

Where to Stay:

Where to Eat:

Viaggio Italiano Ristorante
3266 Highway 82S, Sonoita, AZ 85637
(520) 455-5282

Canela Southwestern Bistro
3252 Highway 82, Sonoita
520-455-5873 /

Maureen Bruschi, a freelance travel writer and photographer from Hunterdon County, New Jersey, has written articles for a number of publications including GoNOMAD, BootsnAll Travel, TravelLady Magazine, OffBeatTravel, 40plus Travel and Leisure, Travel Post Monthly, Real Travel Adventures, Lovin’ Life After 50 and The Writer.