On the Road in Arizona

I’ve been on the road a bit lately and discovered some excellent California wines while visiting Arizona to play golf and check out the Spring Training baseball scene.

For seven years running, I’ve spent a week in March in  Phoenix  with four high school buddies seeking sunshine and camaraderie.

The Valley of the Sun provides a lot of options for fine dining and drinking, so I figured I’d share some of my experiences.

Grand Canyon State of Mind

Arizona does have a handful of wineries, mostly in the southern portion of the state outside Tucson. On this trip,  I turned to locally produced beers for diversion.

The brewpub scene is alive and well in the Phoenix metroplex. I tried several homegrown selections and my favorite, turned out to be HopKnot, an IPA from Four Peaks in Tempe.

Following an afternoon baseball game, the brewpub was packed with students from nearby Arizona State University and a mob of hungry and thirsty out-of-towners.

The brewpub is inside an old creamery/warehouse building in an industrial district.

The food is good, basic pub grub and the beers are fresh and tasty.

Besides the Hopknot, an IPA that was the hands down favorite at our table, I enjoyed the Kiltlifter Scottish-style Ale for its sweet malty flavors.

Scottsdale Dinner Break

I always book a table at the Atlas Bistro in Scottsdale when I’m in the area.

The restaurant is small. Only 10 tables. And, it’s located in a nondescript strip mall.

Chef Carlos Manriquez

But, it’s a great place to eat with a wonderful chef, Carlos Manriquez, who has a long track record of gastronomic success.

And, they let you bring your own wine.

That’s important because BYOB is against the law in Arizona, unless the restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license.

The bistro doesn’t suffer because it’s located next door to AZ Wines, one of the best wine stores in the Grand Canyon State.

Alpha Omega

My longtime friend, Paul Ainger, turned me on to a great cabernet sauvignon from Alpha Omega a few months ago, so I was ready to be pleased when he recommended that we put a bottle of the AO chardonnay ($51) on the table at Atlas.

Paul’s batting two-for-two with this recommendation because this Napa chardonnay hits a flavor home run.

The wine is finely balanced, creamy, round and full-flavored with hints of honeysuckle and vanilla. Citrus flavors mingled with apple and a dash of sweet melon.

It was so good, we ordered a second bottle. Same reaction. The balance of fruit and acid was seamless, near perfect.

AO winemaker Jean Hoefliger, with help from jet-setting French consultant Michel Rolland, is on a roll up in Rutherford.

The chardonnay married well with a couple orders of sweetbreads over baby greens that we shared plus a plate of Kurobuta pork belly with polenta that was gobbled up by our group.

The AO carried over nicely with what the restaurant calls its “Absurd Cheese Platter” featuring a rotating selection of 10 international selections.

I can’t remember all of the cheeses, but the entire experience was absurdly delicious!

Sebastiani Scores

We  also tried several red wines that I brought along from my cellar, but one really stood out.

The 2002  Sebastiani Winery Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, which made the Wine Spectator Top 100 list  in 2005, is drinking beautifully now.

I bought a case for $180 and have just a couple of bottles left.

It will be hard to replace, having sold out at the winery long ago.

The wine tastes of slightly dusty black fruit. The blackberry and cassis flavors marry well with the just-below-the-surface tannins to provide excellent balance and structure.

It was a great match for a divine pork confit with juicy meat that nearly melted on the plate.

I’m already gearing up my palate for a return engagement next year!.

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