The wines of Arizona's Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards

A view from the tasting room at Caduceus Cellars in Arizona. Photo c/o Jeff Shewan

A view from the tasting room at Caduceus Cellars in Arizona. Photo c/o Jeff Shewan

When you think of Arizona, you think of dry lands, cactus and the Cardinals' continuous losing record – and not wine. But believe it or not, the state has been producing wine since the 16th century, and if you tried some, you'd probably love it.

If you are a fan of the rock band, Tool, or its head honcho Maynard James Keenan, you probably already know about the wines being produced by Caduceus Cellars. And if you don't, well, here is your chance to learn.

As owner of Caduceus Cellars, as well as Merkin Vineyards in Arizona, Keenan is known for some pretty powerful and tannic wines in the likes of Judith, Airavata and Anubis. Keenan is also a partner with Stronghold Vineyards – so you might say Keenan is holding down the fort in Arizona.

Both Caduceus and Merkin don't see a lot of distribution here in North Carolina, if you see it in a bottle shop, it's probably thanks to 17th Street Distributing out of Concord. So when our friends at Wine & Beer 101-Wake Forest posted on Facebook its "The Great Wines of Arizona," we knew we had to attend.

Wine & Beer's Rufus Hoffman told the intimate crowd of around 18 people that this event is just one of many he plans for the future – a day to "try to find some unique stuff," he said. After a brief introduction on Arizona wines, he handed it over to the representative from 17th Street Distributing.

THE WINES

Merkin Chupacabra Blanc (Reg. $19.99) – This was a blend of 45% Sauvignon Blanc and 55% Riesling. We have lately lost our love for Sauvignon Blanc, but blended with the Riesling, keeps this wine from being either too sweet or too dry. It was a great wine to start out this tasting.

Caduceus Dos Ladrones (Reg. $26.99) – Roughly translated meaning "Two Thieves" this wine is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Malvasia. This was an interesting wine – for us not being fans of Chardonnay. However, we were enthralled with what the Malvasia grape brought to this wine. A native of the Mediterranean, this grape is starting to see more growth on the west coast (California, Arizona and parts of New Mexico).

Merkin Chupacabra Red (Reg. $26.99) – The Chupacabra is a blend of 45% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 15% Mouvedre, a GSM, if you will. GSM's usually come from South of France in the Rhone Valley, but you sometimes see them here in the U.S. – and it's usually a gem when you can find one. This was a great wine to have with any sort of meal (pastas with red sauce, pizza or burgers).

Caduceus Primer Paso (Reg. $44.99) – Now we're starting to get into the big boy section. This is where the deep, dark, rich fruit and high tannins come into play. And it started out big with the Primer Paso. This is the wineries take on the Coté Rotie-style. However, this wine was altered using Malvasia Bianca in place of the Viognier – and is made up of 60% Syrah, 36% Petite Sirah and 4% Malvasia Bianca. This wine got a lot of praise around the table.

Caduceus Naga (Reg. $44.99) – This is Keenan’s take on a classic super tuscan wine. The Rep mentioned how the blends can change on this wine depending on the year, and the one we were enjoying happened to be a blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. We liked the Primer Paso a little more than this one, but still one great wine.

Caduceus Anubis (Reg. $59.99) – Of course they saved the best for last. The blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a dash of Petite Sirah was the perfect way to end the night. It’s Caduceus’ beefiest beef friendly wine in its lineup.  Produced in small batches, it left us wanting more … and so we bought more – to take home!

Many at the tables really loved the Cabernet Franc taste in the last wine, which lead the rep to praise North Carolina winemakers, and the wines they've produced using the Cabernet Franc. "Cabernet Franc is growing well in North Carolina, and there are some very incredible wines in this state to check out," he said. "Cabernet Franc loves the red dirt and really does well here." We have to agree – along with Chambourcin and Traminette, these grapes grow well in our state.