Best Wine Bar 2018 | Kazimierz World Wine Bar | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar

Kazimierz World Wine Bar is almost as difficult to find as it is to pronounce (Kaz-meer-ehz). Let's just call it Kazbar. It's tucked into a back alley in Old Town Scottsdale near its sister restaurant, Cowboy Ciao. But the search for the nondescript entrance, which took us two trips around the block, is worth it. As you walk in, you feel like you're descending into a very rich friend's intimate, well-stocked wine cellar. Kazimierz and Cowboy Ciao share a 47-page wine list that lists some 2,000 choices. If you're like us, though, and don't have a Ph.D. in oenology (the study of wine), you appreciate Kazbar's offering of five or six wine flights. Our two tastings took us on a vintner's tour from the Loire Valley in France, to Sonoma and Napa in California, to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, to Washington state, and finally a side trip to our own Sonoita-Elgin region. Every stop was appreciated. So was the menu of light bites, which includes one of our and the Valley's favorites, the remarkable Stetson Chopped Salad. And if good food and wine isn't enough, there's also live music every night after 9 p.m. So once you find the place, why would you want to leave? As the Zagat review says, "It's not your average wine bar."

Evie Carpenter

The average markup of a bottle of wine at a restaurant, according to Wine Enthusiast, is two and a half to three times its retail price. Some have found bottles marked up as much as five times what you'd pay for them in a grocery store. And usually, the more popular the label, the bigger the markup. That's why wine lovers come to Tarbell's Tavern, which is connected to The Wine Store, part of owner Mark Tarbell's Camelback Road complex. The Wine Store has a remarkable inventory, ranging from top-shelf California labels like Cakebread and Roederer to bottles you'll find discounted at your local Fry's. There are at least a couple of dozen Arizona wines, too. So if you want a bottle of wine with your meal from the Tavern's reasonably priced menu, you simply walk through a short hallway to the wine store, select a bottle, take it back to your table, and show it to your server, who will add it to your bill at the retail price. There's not even a corkage fee. And if you're not sure which wine would be the best choice when you and your date have ordered green chile pork and salmon, there's a knowledgeable steward to help you; for us, he recommended an excellent Arizona wine, a Del Rio Springs pinot noir for only $19 that paired perfectly with both dinners. One warning: If it's late and you each want just one more glass of wine, you'll be tempted when you see it's cheaper to buy a full bottle of some labels. Our advice? Order the bottle and call Lyft.

We're not Sonoma or Napa, but Arizona is blessed with an abundance of excellent winemakers and road-trip-worthy tasting rooms, which are centered in three major areas: Willcox, Sonoita-Elgin, and the Verde Valley. Any of these is worth a long weekend trip for wine-lovers, but by far our favorite stop is Page Springs Cellars in Cornville, which, at 90 minutes away, is also the shortest drive from Phoenix. Owner and vintner Eric Glomski offers an outstanding roster of wines, many from grapes produced on the property. But it is the ambiance and the food that set Page Springs apart. You can enjoy your wine on the outdoor patios as you watch the grapes grow, indoors at the bar, or in a cozy room set aside for club members. Chef Brian Nowicki's menu is superior to any other tasting room we've visited, with a variety of wood-fired pizzas, salads, cheese boards, and Mason jar rillettes (the smoked salmon spread is our favorite). Page Springs also offers tours and special events, including massage and yoga days. Sounds superfluous to us. If you're enjoying the wines and the food, how much more relaxation do you need?

Maybe you don't have to be a rocket scientist to start a winery, but it couldn't hurt. Mark Beres, co-founder of Flying Leap with his former military pilot buddies Marc Moeller and Rolf-Peter Sasse, still works his day job, an engineer at defense contractor Raytheon. That training helped get the vineyard off to a flying start. "We did a lot of research and data-gathering before we started the company," Beres told Edible Baja Arizona in an interview. "We want to know everything before we make a decision. We're engineers and mathematicians so it's in our DNA. We studied Napa, and I mean we studied Napa. Why are some wineries successful and some not? What are they doing right and wrong? Why do customers go back?" The line of customers on a recent weekend at the tasting room in Sonoita-Elgin and at the adjacent distillery seems proof that they're doing something right. Flying Leap opened in 2010 and already has added tasting rooms in Willcox, Bisbee, and Prescott. The owners told us they've found the desert temperatures combined with the elevation of the vineyards in Willcox and the Sonoita-Elgin region are conducive to growing Spanish-style grapes, which are producing some excellent wines — white blends like a 2015 Trio and a 2016 Fly Girl, and reds like a 2014 Grenache, a 2014 Estate Tempranillo, and a 2014 Mourvedre. And certainly you don't need to be a rocket scientist to appreciate drinking them.

As you pull into the drive at Lightning Ridge Cellars, you are greeted by Monty, a huge Great Dane who can look you in the eye even when you're in an SUV. It can be a bit intimidating at first. Much the same can be said about Americans trying a new varietal of red wine. Think Paul Giamatti in Sideways: "No fucking merlot." He got us to try pinot noirs. Now maybe Monty, who is as gentle as this wine is smooth, can persuade you to try the wine she's named after, Lightning Ridge Cellars' 2013 Montepulciano. The Italian grape is rarely grown in the U.S., but former engineer Ann Rancone is making it work in Elgin. The grapes are 100 percent estate-grown, and aged for 38 months in East European oak barrels. If you have a nose for this sort of thing, you notice aromas and flavors of back cherry, plum, and — ex-smokers will love this — tobacco leaf. The 2013 Montepulciano was named Best in Class at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. And it was among the least expensive at $28. Alas, we would have brought a few bottles back with us, because it's not available in stores yet, but it was sold out. We settled for the latest, a 2016 vintage, but we prefer the full Monty.

Let's face it: White wine doesn't stay in the bottle long during the summertime in Arizona. One cool sip leads to another, then another, and the next thing you know, you've got another dead soldier in your hands. Arizona's growing wine industry produces several good whites, noticeably last year's Best of Phoenix winner Symphony Sweet Lies Reserve and this year's Arizona Growers Cup winner, the 2016 Wild Child White, both made by movie director and actor Sam Pillsbury's Pillsbury Wine Company in Cochise County. But we've developed a fondness for Flying Leap Vineyards' 2015 Trio, a blend of malvasia, grenache blanc, and picpoul grapes. The winery likens it to a classical trio of piano, violin, and cello playing in perfect harmony. Sure. We like Trio because drinking it is like biting into a chilled piece of fruit on a hot summer's day. (Is there any other kind here?) And you want to consume it all before the weather sweats away its crispness. Oops. There goes another empty bottle for the trash.

Lauren Cusimano

So many of the most innovative and headiest beers of the last year were released by this brewery, still in its toddler years. Piloted by Drew Pool and Preston Thoeny, central Phoenix's Wren House, already great, has only been getting greater. This past year, Wren House's Pie Series included an eerily dessert-like pecan pie wheat wine made with pecans smoked by local favorite barbecue joint Little Miss BBQ. Las Frescas, the brewery's fruit-infused sour line, recently debuted, changed weekly, and was the main summer attraction for geeky craft beer drinkers. Thoeny, the head brewer, even released a fruited sour IPA and a s'mores-inspired imperial stout. And here, yes, even a simple lager or kolsch hits the spot.

Chris Malloy

Many craft beer bars carry local just to carry local. The Wandering Tortoise is different, curating a selection with a rigor that shows that the owners, Shay Gau and Justin Evans, have a more complete understanding of beer. The Tortoise's 22 taps flow with some of the best and rarest offerings from top Arizona breweries, including Wren House, Arizona Wilderness, and Pueblo Vida. But the owners go further, procuring treasured kegs and cans from intriguing far-off breweries like Omnipollo (Sweden) and Melvin Brewing (Wyoming). A stunning selection of to-go bottles and cans awaits you as well. The Tortoise also does cider, mead, and rollicking events.

Cider Corps

Josh and Jason Duren usually keep about 15 ciders flowing in their Mesa taproom. They also have cider aging in barrels at one end of the large space, as well as icy cider spinning in a slushy machine. Where most cideries are content with apple-flavored beverages, the Durens shift into new gears. They have apple ciders flavored with mango, black tea, and peach; with bacon and maple syrup; with cascara and pea flowers that turn the cider deeply violet and funky. Not every cider is great, but, thanks to the sheer creativity, every visit to the Cider Corps taproom is.

One of the great jolts to our food scene in recent memory has been the rise of Arizona Sake. Since 2017, Atsuo Sakurai, a native of Yokohama, Japan, has brewed incandescent sake in his Holbrook garage. He makes Junmai ginjo, an old-school sake that allows only rice, water, yeast, and koji (a kind of fungus) in production. Some of the town's most lauded chefs revere Arizona Sake, which changes batch to batch, week to week. Sakurai doesn't pasteurize or filter. He does everything the hard way. What he gets in the end is a beautifully floral sake with distinct Arizona spirit.

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