Wine educator Andrea Immer once told me that the single best way to learn about wine is to drink it. Seems simple, right? You can read all you want about the subject, sip a glass or two at a restaurant, but nothing takes the place of looking at, swirling, sniffing and tasting many different varieties and styles of wine. Your brain and palate make tiny mental notes of each one.
Well, how can we take this notion a step further? Bingo. Visit a wine bar, of course. My feeling is that visiting any of a dozen reputable wine bars around town represents one of the few great learning opportunities available to those wanting to crack wine’s many mysteries. You can sample small amounts of many different wines in one sitting and make all those mental notes.
Wine bars can be magical places. For starters, those who operate these venues do it because they are passionate about wine. Their interest in the nectar of the gods goes far beyond a casual hobby, since they have made it their profession. I’ve learned more by bellying up, talking with the pro behind the counter and sampling many different wines than I have reading trade journals or sampling at home. Since tasting wine can be very subjective (my passion may be your poison and vice versa), it’s important to receive lots of different input and opinions. It’s the give and take of information that makes sampling at a wine bar so valuable. And if you’re not talking with the staff, you’ll be surrounded by fellow wines fans eager to share ideas.
Places like Fleming’s in Chandler or Scottsdale or House of Tricks in Tempe feature extensive lists of wines by the glass, meaning you don’t have to buy a whole bottle but rather the standard 6-ounce pour. Many of the wines by the glass are already open, and staffs will encourage you to try before you buy, and ask questions about preferences or wines that you recently tried and liked.
Some places even offer wine “flights,” where you receive three or four smaller samples (around 3 ounces each) as part of a themed sampling. Pinot noir is a hot one right now, as are progressive groups made up of lighter to heavier styles. I propose a Central California flight of pinot noir, syrah and zinfandel and serve it with a photo of Sandra Oh for all the “Sideways” fans.
Finally, wine bars are just cool. An important part of the holistic wine experience is the atmosphere. Think about how much better wine tastes when you’re enjoying it with friends or family with a pleasant meal, perhaps outdoors. The same thought is ingrained into the makeup of most wine bars.
You’ll find patios at most. Perhaps a cheese course or other appropriate snacks and live music. At Postino in Phoenix, the staff opens large bay doors (formerly the site of an old post office) and let the light and air of the mature Arcadia neighborhood filter in. At Tricks, you sip under a canopy of massive chinaberry shade trees. The atmosphere rounds out the experience.
Do yourself a favor and seek out a neighborhood wine bar and break out of the same old thing at home. And continue your wine journey.
Top East Valley wine bars
Armitage Wine Lounge and Café:
20751 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, (480) 502-1641
D’Vine Wine Bar and Bistro: 2837 N. Power Road, Suite 101, Mesa, (480) 654-4171
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar: 905 N. 54th St., Chandler, (480) 940-1900; 6333 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, (480) 596-8265; 20753 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, (480) 538-8000.
House of Tricks: 114 E. Seventh St., Tempe, (480) 968-1114
Kazimierz World Wine Bar: 7137 E. Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, (480) 946-3004
South Wine Bar and Kitchen: 98 S. San Marcos Place, Chandler, (480) 814-9800
Postino Wine Bar: 3939 E. Campbell Ave., Phoenix, (602) 852-3939
Terroir Wine Pub: 7001 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, (480) 922-3470
Mark Nothaft will discuss the Valley’s top wine bars on “Sonoran Living Live,” which airs 9 to 10 a.m. today on KNXV-TV (Channel 15).