To sip, or not to sip? Why, to sip, of course! Thanks to the oenophiles of our great state, there are as many great wines to discover here in Phoenix as there are cacti. Granted, the wines are often more approachable — unless you’ve already gotten a head start on the tastings, in which case, the saguaros can become quite conversational …
1 Fred's at Barneys New York
At Fred’s, General Manager David Jette has infused the wine list with plenty of his energetic personality and desire to serve the most perfect vino for anyone and everyone. “Wine is subjective, and it should be fun,” he says, which explains why his staff are so happy to help guests find the glass or bottle they’ll be happiest with, regardless of the guest's level of wine savvy. Representative of all different regions and price points, Fred’s wine menu was designed to be “friendly, approachable, and palatable." Try a bright and juicy sauvignon blanc or crisp chardonnay with the Palm Beach Shrimp Salad, one of Fred’s most popular lunchtime options. The citrus notes of the wine will nicely complement the shrimp, mixed greens, hearts of palm, avocado, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and green goddess dressing. For meatier dishes, choose one of the soft and luscious cabernet sauvignons on offer, or ask your capable server for some guidance.
Scottsdale Fashion Square, 602.337.6111, web
Since its opening, FnB and its owner, Pavle Milic, have remained loyal to Arizona wines, which comprise the entirety of the restaurant's wine menu. In fact, Milic's pride is local wines is so great that last year he even hosted a blind tasting that pitted several Arizona wines against similar ones from Australia, Spain, Italy, California, France and Washington -- and the panel of judges gave the Arizona wines the top scores in both the white and red categories! Lisa's white blend from Callaghan Vineyards and the Nagual del Judith Cabernet Sauvignon from Caduceus Vineyards, respectively, claimed the victories. The restaurant serves simple yet sophisticated American comfort food from a menu designed by Executive Chef Charleen Badman, and this spring we've been loving the lamb tenderloin with spring ragout, olives and mint.
7133 E. Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, 480.425.9463, web
Quiessence is widely touted as having one of the best wine menus in the Southwest, and Arizonans know: It's all true. At Quiessence, the menu changes daily, bringing diners new and exciting surprises in contemporary American cuisine all the time -- which means the wine menu (with a selection of more than 60) needs to be high-quality yet adaptable. And with the revolving dinner menu, wine-savvy restaurant regulars will delight at the challenge of deciding on the just-right pairing for dinner. Best described as contemporary American farm dishes made with ingredients from local farmers, artisans and herders, the menu is the brainchild of Executive Chef Greg LaPrad, along with Sous Chef Anthony Andiario. In July 2010, LaPrad was invited to prepare a dinner for a selection of international culinary luminaries at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City. If you've been meaning to get back to Quiessence sometime soon -- or try it for the firs time -- don't hesitate; the restaurant goes on hiatus each year from about the end of June to the beginning of August.
The Farm at South Mountain, 6106 S. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602.276.0601, web
4 Kazimierz World Wine Bar
At Kazimierz, the joke is that you can go "around the world in 88 wines;" but the truth is, the restaurant actually boasts more than 3,200. Whether it's red table wines from Portugal, rare blends from Lebanon or dessert wines from right here in Arizona that you want to try, Kazimierz has just the bottle. Their wine list represents more than 35 countries, roughly a quarter of the United States, and about 200 different blends. The wine menu is conveniently organized according to price, and you'll find everything from $10 per bottle to $10,000 per bottle. Needless to say, wine is a passion here, and it could take you days to read through the entire wine list (ahem, there's even a prologue to the actual document), which has interesting background information and anecdotes throughout regarding their selections. Head to Kazimierz on a night you're feeling adventurous, or maybe just need a comforting glass of red.
7137 E. Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, 480.946.3004, web
5 Tarbell's Restaurant
Tarbell's, which features an award-winning wine list and an extensive selection of wines by the glass, is the brainchild of local celeb chef Mark Tarbell, who studied vino at l'Academie du Vin in Paris. After earning a Grande Diplome d'Etude Culinaire from La Varenne Ecole du Cuisine, he became the food and beverage director at The Boulders Resort in Carefree at just 23 years old, making him the youngest person to hold that position at any Five Diamond property in the world. Considering his credentials then, the bar is set pretty high for Tarbell's cuisine and wine list -- and the restaurant delivers. To pair with one of the tantalizing dishes from an eclectic menu, guests may choose from a hefty selection of champagne and sparkling wine, chardonnay, cab, white burgundy, sauvignon blancs, zin, organic whites and reds, Old World whites and reds, pinot noir, Bordeaux, dessert wines and everything in between. And then some.
3213 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, 602.955.8100, web