Merkin Osteria Opens on Cottonwood's Main Street

Cottonwood, Arizona's Main Street has just welcomed a new stop to its long list of culinary and wine attractions.  Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria brings an exciting blend of fine cuisine and fine wine selections to this vibrant historic shopping district and destination hot-spot in the heart of the Verde Valley.  With many neighboring retail and restaurant locations along this portion of historic highway 89A, Merkin Osteria adds even more zest to Cottonwood's unique flavor. Serving local Arizona wines and fresh pasta dishes, salads and more - using locally sourced Arizona produce and sundries when possible - Merkin Osteria is the place to tackle your taste buds while supporting some of Arizona's best growers and food producers.

The Wine

An extension of the Caduceus Cellars, Merkin Vineyards is a family-owned winery located in Jerome, Arizona.  The production space is an underground, concrete facility that is often referred to as "the bunker."  Made from grapes grown in the high elevations of the Willcox Bench in Southern Arizona, roughly 6,500 cases are produced annually. Focusing on Spanish, French and Italian varietals, Merkin blends are sure to please both red and white, sweet and dry preferences.  The wine list includes Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Chenin Blanc, and Viognier; as well as red varietals like Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Primitivo, Grenache and Sangiovese.  Whatever your pleasure, be assured that the experience at Merkin Osteria is both approachable for those new to wine and complex for more experienced palates.

Chef Christopher Smith creating food, delighting the tastebuds

Chef Christopher Smith creating food, delighting the tastebuds

The Chef

Chef Christopher Smith, like the wine, is also local.  Born and raised in Flagstaff, he attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute and has a long history creating and mastering his skills in the kitchen.  Once a personal Chef as well as a Restaurateur, he has also held the Executive Chef title at Robert's Creekside, Sedona Rouge, the Asylum, and Los Abrigaddos.  Smith has transitioned into his new role with ease and has welcomed the challenge, producing house baked breads, pasta, sauces, and preserves accentuating the wine while defining a true Osteria.

noun Italian pronunciation: [ōstəˈrēə]) Gathering place for locals serving regional wine and food with an emphasis on local specialities such as pasta, grilled produce, meat or fish, and often served at shared tables.
Cacio E Pepe ; spaghetti with a traditional cracked black pepper and parmigiano and pecorino blend

Cacio E Pepe; spaghetti with a traditional cracked black pepper and parmigiano and pecorino blend

The Food

Following a "less is more" philosophy, the menu is simple yet fabulous.  Looking to prepare the freshest ingredients, Chef Smith and Merkin Osteria owner and winemaker, Maynard James Keenan, have researched local growers and food producers to create a perfect union between wine and food. When grapes are grown in a similar "terroir" as the wheat for the fresh pasta, the result is a more powerful pairing. The team is committed to using ingredients from Arizona's farms, fields, pastures, and trees, with expansion plans for their very own Merkin Orchards and Gardens.

Hayden Flour Mills, Phoenix, Arizona

Hayden Flour Mills, Phoenix, Arizona

Local Arizona Ingredients

Keenan and Chef Smith are dedicated to coming as close as they can to 100% Arizona presentation on each plate. The cornerstone of the house made, hand cut pasta and breads is Hayden Flour Mills - a local mill devoted to making the freshest and most flavorful flours from some of the world's oldest varieties of wheat. The wheat is grown on several family farms here in Arizona bringing an authentically local taste to a host of comforting dishes. Immediate favorites on the menu are a wine and prickly pear infused mac and cheese with pancetta and a cavatelli pesto accented with ricotta and goat cheese. Both rich and fulfilling, sure not to disappoint.

Additional local ingredients are sourced from Arizona Legacy Beef, Whipstone Farms, McClendon Farms, Top Knot Farms, Blue Sky Organic Farms and the Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders right across Main Street in Old Town Cottonwood. Merkin Osteria is not just premier food, but is setting the tone for a stellar local, farm-to-table movement in the Verde Valley and across Arizona.  Keenan and Smith are raising the bar, with hopes that more will follow.  

Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria is located at 1001 North Main Street in Old Town Cottonwood.

The Velvet Slippers Club (VSC)

The official wine club of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards has some incredible wine packages to choose from for every palate and budget. Visit the VSC page for more information about the selections.  These specialty wines will keep your palate buzzing all year long.

Upcoming Events

Merkin Osteria will host quarterly wine club dinners in the new year.  The first intimate dinner will take place on Tuesday, January 24th from 7-9pm.  Space is limited so purchase your ticket now at only $75 per person. There is a 4 ticket limit per VSC membership. As a special offer for members, mix and match cases of Velvet Slippers Club wines will be offered at a 10% discount, at the event only.

The terraces of the Judith vineyard site just outside Jerome in Northern Arizona  Photo Credit:

The terraces of the Judith vineyard site just outside Jerome in Northern Arizona
Photo Credit:

Arizona Wine

Curious about Arizona wine, the challenging climate, the rough terrain and how it compares? Be sure to read this newly released article Arizona is the Next Frontier of Great US Winemaking, by Stuart Pigott, highlighting the establishment of the Arizona Vigerons Alliance (AVA) and some of Arizona's great winemakers.  The article expands on the work of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards owner, Maynard James Keenan, aka MJK.  

In the end, Arizona’s accelerating wine industry comes down to a motley crew of pioneers. Chief amongst them both in prominence and winemaking daring is Maynard James Kennan of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards, based in the living ghost town of Jerome not far from Sedona in the North. MJK, as his fans usually refer to him, is more famous as the singer of the heavy metal band Tool and his own Puscifer. But unlike many celebrity winemakers, MJK is actually making the wines himself (since the 2010 vintage) and doing basic winery stuff like cleaning tanks.
— Stuart Pigott