We love a good buffet. Why commit to just one entree when there's so many different flavors to explore? Same with wine. Which is why we dig what Sorso Wine Room at Scottsdale Quarter does with its vino selection. Sure, Sorso has more than 100 wines by the bottle, so if you're the decisive type, go ahead and order a glass from that list. But we prefer to snag a wine card and help ourselves to one of the 32 wines available in the Sorso dispenser system. Each is available in a sip, taste, or glass size. Insert your card, press a button, and you get your desired portion. The card acts as your running tab. It allows us to try several wines while enjoying an Italian-leaning menu of bruschetta, flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, and more. Cheers to that.

In the age of COVID, one can no longer wander into Chris Lingua's shop inside The Churchill, pepper him with questions, and fantasize about the bottles displayed on the north wall. Instead, his online store awaits. It contains the most thrilling selection of wine and wine-adjacent bottles in town. Lingua sells low-intervention wines, meaning natural-leaning bottles. This is progressive stuff, the opposite of your sleepy industrial cab from Napa. Lingua stocks biodynamic ciders, orange wines from the Puglia avant-garde producer Valentina Passalacqua, and experimental cocktails canned by alums of the groundbreaking Danish restaurant Noma. If you love to drink weird and well, going to Sauvage is like going to church.

FnB Restaurant
Debby Wolvos

Not that it needs the validation, but FnB Restaurant was a semifinalist nominee for outstanding wine program for the James Beard Foundation 2020 awards (2017, too). The individual behind this lauded beverage program is Pavle Milic, who's also been FnB's co-owner since it opened in 2009. Milic curates a varied roster of mostly Arizona wines, a passion he brought home after helping with vintages at a friend's Napa winery. FnB offers Arizona bottles from Callaghan Vineyards in Elgin, Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Laramita Cellars in Willcox, and Dos Cabezas WineWorks out of Sonoita. Any glass here should be enjoyed in the intimate bar area in the restaurant's eastern chamber. There, the dark-wood bar is inviting, and the intricate, colorful tile is fun and pretty iconic to Arizona food fans — it's an often-used and easily recognizable backdrop for food and drink photos. Milic is also in the process of opening his own vineyard, Los Milics, in Elgin, Arizona — one of Arizona's two southern wine regions — at some point in 2020.

Many Arizona wine producers led a different life before turning into vineyard parents in our arid state. Aside from Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, there's also Pillsbury Wine Company's Sam Pillsbury — a famous filmmaker turned winemaker. The New Zealand-to-Arizona journey Pillsbury made is storied, but we're here to talk about his products — Arizona wines, the best in the state. We're not the only ones who think so. Pillsbury continues to score awards from the San Francisco Chronicle American Wine Competition, earning 14 medals for 14 entries three years in a row. Want to try a bottle of WildChild Red, a bottle of WildChild White, or a bottle of One Night Stand rosé? Try spots like Hidden Track Bottleshop, Tracy Dempsey Originals, Sphinx Date Ranch, and the Arcadia Meat Market; big stores like Bashas', AJ's Fine Foods, and Total Wine; or metro Phoenix restaurants like Hearth '61, Persephen, Fabio on Fire, and The Breadfruit & Rum Bar. Or, the Pillsbury team will deliver in the Phoenix and Cottonwood areas with a six-bottle minimum order during the hotter months.

Imagine the taste of an apple. Sweet. Crisp. Sweet some more. You might think appley sugar is a necessary component of hard cider. But Stoic Cider, produced by the Routson clan and led by biologist Kanin Routson, turns out ultra-small-batch apple ciders so bereft of sugar they seem to wick moisture from your mouth. Stoic Cider reimagines what apple cider can be — tamping down sweetness, sharpening carbonation, and multiplying funk. The Routsons have elevated Arizona cider to a new, strange, beautiful, almost Champagne-like plane, and one that's different from bottle to bottle. At their on-farm cidery near Prescott, they ferment using unusual, well-considered apple varieties from across the American West. They also grow arcane apples on their farm, and even make spellbinding micro cider batches from wild fruit.

The Shop Beer Co. keeps things simple but executes well. The tasting room is clean and intimate; the staff is tight-knit and knowledgeable; the patio is a roomy backyard, softly lit. The latter, which separates the taproom from the onsite brewery, is a magnet for craft beer drinkers around Tempe and beyond. But they come for the beer, too. The Church Music is one of The Shop's best brews —a 6.7 percent IPA composed of pineapple juice and a little bit of "loud." Other tasty bevs include the Coffee Brown, an American nut-brown ale, the F.Y.I.T.M. double IPA, and the crispy blonde lager. Around since 2016, The Shop was formerly known as Cartel Brewery, but broke off from the flagship location of Cartel Coffee Lab to do its own thing about a mile north — where we hope they'll remain for years to come.

Little Rituals
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Months before Tales of the Cocktail and the James Beard Association anointed Little Rituals with nominations, the people who are very, very wonky about cocktails were frequenting this new downtown bar. It's the brainchild of Aaron DeFeo and Ross Simon, the latter the man behind Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, just down the street. B&T is famously intense in its approach to mixology, and Little Rituals goes even further. A pink number unites miso-infused genever, lychee, and raspberry falernum. A daiquiri seamlessly integrates curry. An alliance of many amari chills under a frothy peak of salty foam, meant to conjure beachside drinking. If you want a glimpse of the cocktail's potential, post up at Little Rituals.

Ever sat around a campfire with friends, just chilling, melding into the sights and sounds of the woods after a long day hiking? That's the blissful sensation the founders of Adventurous Stills sought to channel into a spirit. Their particular inspirational hike occurred in Fossil Creek, hence the name of their creation, Fossil Creek Whiskey. It begins with a blend of corn, wheat, and rye, all grown by local providers. The distillate is then aged in charred white oak. The final product? It has something of bourbon, a slight sultry sweetness. But it also recalls Scotch, with a wisp of smoke, like the column rising from a campfire, making sips, life, and the universe feel all gravy.

Onetime punk-rock bandmates Randall D. Ordovich Clarkson and Justin Slusher have summoned the green fairy to Phoenix. Since December 2019, the duo have been selling two absinthes macerated in Tempe. Their Gold bottle punches hard. At 140 proof, it'll swirl and sharpen the world in under two glasses. But this lucent, yellow-green nectar offers more than ABV. Clarkson and Slusher built it using the old-school formulation out of Pontarlier, France. You get a hit of anise and fennel, sure, but these big flavors are reasonably soft. They also deploy extra botanicals like juniper berry and star anise. Enjoy it at spots like Zinc Bistro and Adventurous Stills.

Drunken Tiger
Lauren Cusimano

To be fair, this is the only insect-based entree we've been able to find in the Valley, so technically it's the best by default. But it's a culinary experience not to be missed. Silkworms are a delicacy in Korean cuisine, but they don't make it onto the menus of most Korean restaurants, which ... isn't really surprising. If you decide to take the plunge at Drunken Tiger, you'll get a medium-sized bowl of soup. The broth is earthy and a little pungent, with just enough spice to make the mouth tingle. Bobbing around in the broth are shredded carrots, mushrooms, onions — and a lot of silkworm pupae. They have a gentle crunch that gives way to a smooth, creamy texture like a bean. If we're being honest, the next time we're at Drunken Tiger, we'll probably order one of our perennial favorites, like the galbi or the yang nyum chicken (popcorn chicken tossed in Korean red sauce). But we'll always be glad we sampled this one-of-a-kind metro Phoenix dish.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of