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Sportsman's, you've come a long way, baby! Of course, the place has long since gone upscale, and in recent years, its empire has expanded to three more locations. Boasting the state's biggest selection of bottles with an astounding variety of vintages from both the world's most established Old World wine producers, as well as up-and-comers like New Zealand, Israel, and South Africa Sportsman's can hook you up with whatever you're looking for. And don't worry if you have no clue what you're looking for the salespeople here are more than happy to share their insights, make recommendations, and guide you to the perfect bottle. Take a seat at the bar for some tastings, and they'll be happy to get you tipsy, too.
That's changed at least at this unexpected little find on the border of Phoenix and Scottsdale. Whoever "Pam" (of wine rack fame) is, she offers a small, but impressive selection of white and red vinos ranging from about $8 to $30, and you can't miss seeing them when you walk into the store. We recently found a nice Pinot Noir from Napa Valley for an eminently reasonable $15 that Miles the memorable Paul Giamatti character from Sideways would have adored. The store also sells wine "accessories," such as corkscrews, glasses, bottle plugs, and other extras. Next thing you know, this joint will be offering sushi along with the pork rinds.
Plus, there's the name of this gas-and-grub joint: It makes us chuckle every time we drop by to, err . . . pump and munch (heh). Our gutter brains go into overdrive with all manner of double-entendre as our inner 13-year-old gets in a good giggle or two. It's almost as fun as visiting Rapid In-and-Out Gas in downtown Phoenix (snicker).
First of all, the inventory is divided by regions and countries, so things are easy to find. The refrigerated section has a sizable selection of cold ones, and the list of kegs is impressive, too. And then there are the obscure brews harder-to-find stuff like Dogfish Head 120-Minute IPA that get the beer geeks riled up. But just because enthusiasts love Tops doesn't mean it's a pretentious place to buy brewski.
In truth, it's so laid-back here that the staff can seem indifferent at times, so you're on your own, buddy. Still, if you know what you're looking for (or are adventurous enough to take a chance on some unusual suds), Tops is the place to come.
But those days are long gone, especially now that Queen Creek Olive Mill's on the scene. Known for its extra-virgin olive oil, made from Spanish and Italian varieties grown in its own groves, the Mill also sells the best variety of olives around plump green ones filled with garlic and soaked in vermouth, marinated in balsamic vinegar and Tuscan spices, or stuffed with different kinds of cheese, including Maytag blue, feta, and Asiago. We're especially keen on the mesquite-smoked, almond-filled olives, which we couldn't get enough of when we visited Queen Creek Olive Mill's facilities. There, visitors can sample everything that's for sale in the on-site retail shop.
If a trip to the far reaches of Maricopa County isn't in the cards for you, don't stress. You can get your fix online, or from gourmet retailers around the Valley.