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My memory of a 2019 wine festival feels like eons ago.

It was January in downtown Phoenix and people wore sundresses. It was a time when a former coworker and I could make our way through the throng of people, brushing shoulders with mask-less strangers, and our only concern was what wine to sample next, not whether we were spreading an infectious disease.

It was also the day I declared Earth Cuckoo my favorite Arizona wine.

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Chateau Tumbleweed, a winery in Clarkdale, produces approximately 100 crates a year of Earth Cuckoo, a red wine made with a blend of tempranillo, grenache and graciano.

I can’t tell you why it was my favorite other than I liked the way it tasted the best. (When it comes to judging wine, I’ll leave that to experts such as Richard Ruelas.)

What I can tell you is this: Earth Cuckoo reminds me of my first year exploring Arizona, good food with good company, and the people who helped me settle into a new city and new job.

So this year when I celebrate my small, pandemic-era Christmas in Phoenix, I know which bottle of wine I’m reaching for.

BEST ARIZONA WINES: These are the 2020 azcentral Arizona Wine Competition winners

A distinctly Arizona kind of Rioja

Earth Cuckoo is a Rioja-style wine produced in Arizona by Chateau Tumbleweed. (Photo: Courtesy of Chateau Tumbleweed)

Kris Pothier, one of the owners of Chateau Tumbleweed, describes Earth Cuckoo as an “Arizona homage with some poetic license” to the Rioja wines of Spain.

Vintners in Spain tend to plant their grapevines further in the ground, giving the grapes more earthy characteristics, Pothier said. In Spain they tend to push the grapes to a ripe state and age their Riojas in American oak, giving it a big and beefy profile, she explained.

In comparison, Earth Cuckoo is lighter because the grapes are picked earlier when they’re still bright and lively, Pothier said. The wine is aged in Hungarian and Eastern European oak, which pairs better with the lighter fruit, she added.

The result is versatile red wine with a spicy plum and watermelon character. It would go well with anything that has fat, salt or brine — the usual suspects in a hearty holiday feast. It probably won’t pair well with a bright citrus salad, but some aged cheese, green olives and fig crostini would do nicely.

Where to find this Chateau Tumbleweed wine

Let’s start with the bad news: Since Earth Cuckoo is a small-batch wine, Chateau Tumbleweed does not sell it in retail stores.

But there’s good news: Chateau Tumbleweed has an online shop and the winery delivers to metro Phoenix.