Nogales Nibbles: You can stay north of the border and get in some pretty entertaining noshing and sloshing, too. The sloshing takes place at Arizona Vineyards, a real hoot. The wine masters here eschew noble grapes like Cabernet, Merlot or Pinot Noir--"too expensive," they say. Instead, they buy table grapes from places like Florence, Chandler and Buckeye. Then they fashion them into about 60,000 bottles of cleverly named wines: Apache Red, Rattlesnake Red and Desert Dust. Wine tasting is accompanied by hilarious marketing patter. "This Rattlesnake Red," our host intoned with a straight face, "reminds us of a good Chianti." The Apache Red, meanwhile, recalls to him the refreshingly fruity bouquet of Beaujolais. Yeah, right, and I'm Baron de Rothschild. Don't look for Arizona Vineyards wines at Sportsman's or the supermarkets. The wines are sold only through the Nogales outlet--$5.50 for whites, $7 for reds. And don't bother building a wine cellar for them. They're drinkable--barely--for only about a year or two. Arizona Vineyards is at 1830 Patagonia Road (State Route 82), about a ten-minute drive from downtown Nogales. It's open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 1-602-287-7972. Chile Reception: That's what you can expect at the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company, a delightful place to pass some southern Arizona time. This 50-year-old operation, founded by a cowboy stunt man who worked in the early days of movies, cooks up some first-rate salsas and chile pastes, which are set out on a chip-laden table for customer munching. By far the most compelling condiment is the Santa Cruz Chili Paste, a sublime blend of mild red chiles that makes a wonderful seasoning for meat and chicken. The other products are also tempting: a chili barbecue sauce, zipped up with jalapeos; two kinds of picante; and a green salsa. Every once in a while, the product shows up in a Phoenix specialty shop, but according to the store manager, you can't count on finding it. Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company is located a quarter of a mile south of the historic Tumacacori Mission, about 20 miles north of Nogales. The store's open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for an hour at noon. Take I-19 to exit 29 and follow the signs. Call 1-602-398-2591 for more info.
Nuts: The Grand Canyon. Majestic saguaros. The world's largest irrigated pecan orchard. Yes, indeed, Arizona has it all. Thirty years ago, the Santa Cruz Pecan Company began planting 6,000 acres of pecans about 45 minutes north of Nogales. Today, they're up to their eyebrows in nuts. You can pick up honey-baked pecans, hot and spicy pecans, roasted and salted pecans, praline pecans, pecan brittle, pecan logs and chocolate-covered pecans. There's pecan meal, and even barbecue briquets made from pecan shells.
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The Pecan Store is in Sahuarita, about two miles off I-19. Take exit 75 and go east until just past the Business 19 intersection. The store's open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Call 1-602-791-2852.--