‘Grape nuts’ can sample Tucson’s bounty
The Old Pueblo may not be the hills of Tuscany or the vineyards of Napa Valley, but Tucson has an assortment of affordable and entertaining wine-tasting options throughout the week.
For a seasoned oenophiles or a new “grape nut”, you can get your vino fix and even learn a bit, thanks to local businesses ranging from a wine shop with a down-home feel, a lounge with a bar atmosphere, and even a national megastore.
CataVinos Wine Shop & Tasting Room
3063 N. Alvernon Way, 323-3063 www.catavinoswines.com
Wine tasting gets personal here.
“We offer a community environment,” says owner Yvonne K. Foucher.
The long dinner-style tables in the shop and on its patio provide an intimate experience that has attracted a steady group of regulars since CataVinos opened in September 2007.
“We encourage people to be friendly and socialize,” Foucher says.
“And even if you didn’t know anyone at the table, you’re meeting people you wouldn’t meet anywhere else,” adds Bonnie Lewis, a regular at the tastings.
From 4 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday through Saturday, Foucher and staff pour samples of as many as six wines for $10. The price is $8 if you buy a bottle of wine.
Each week’s tasting is based on a theme or region.
All of the 300 wines that occupy the modest shop are $15 or less per bottle. Foucher, a former architect, says she couldn’t find a good selection of such affordable wines, so she decided to open a shop focusing on them.
“The concept is that they’re great wines – not just good,” she says, explaining that her wines are seriously critiqued and can’t be found in supermarket liquor departments.
Foucher also takes suggestions and advice from her regulars.
“A lot of the customers are on (our) board of advisers,” she says. “They’re my eyes to the actual buyer.”
Starting this month, CataVinos will host combined tastings and events Saturdays, with a wine tasting and art opening first in the lineup. (See its Web site for details.)
“I don’t know if I would go anywhere else,” says Christopher Pray, who professes to be a longtime wine lover. “CataVinos is about community.”
Armitage Wine Lounge & Café
2905 E. Skyline Drive, 682-9740 www.armitagewine.com
Illuminated by candlelight and furnished with lounge sofas and a long front bar, Armitage may seem ideal for an upscale wine-tasting experience. Patrons say yes and no: yes to the atmosphere; no for putting on airs.
“It’s where people can enjoy wine, it’s not for the wine snob. . . . It’s pretty chill,” customer Jon Hanna says.
From 6 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday, with the help of a wine distributor or winery representative, Armitage offers tastings of four or five wines for $10.
“It’s almost a game trying to figure out what (the wines) are, especially with a quiz,” patron Greta Arendsen says.
She and other guests were working on a recent night’s tasting challenge in “The Color Red” theme. Tasters sample a selection of red wines then try to match them to the names on their list. Anyone who correctly identifies all the wines wins a $50 gift card.
“The idea is to create something different,” Armitage general manager Lisa Hanley says. “We team up with the distributors and we work with the wines that we have in house.”
Since Armitage opened in August 2007, Hanley says the tastings have steadily increased in popularity.
“I’ve been here a few times for wines tastings and I enjoy it,” customer Gregg Lindholm says. “I’m familiar with wines . . . and I really like the concept of the blind tastings.”
(For this month’s tasting schedule, see its Web site.)
Total Wine & More
4370 N. Oracle Road, 887-0174 www.totalwine.com
A penny doesn’t usually go very far, but it does at this new superstore.
“We have a bar license, so you can shop while you taste,” says Jesse Mason, wine manager. “That’s why we charge a penny.”
For that penny, Total Wine offers tastes of about nine wines noon to 6 p.m. every Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. The wines come from the store’s stock of about 8,000 wines (it also sells beers and liquor).
“There are plenty of tastings where you can pay $10 for four to five wines, but you’ll be hard pressed to find eight to nine tastings for a penny,” Mason says.
Total Wine’s staff of sommeliers seeks out customers’ tastes and opinions.
“The person pouring is definitely knowledgeable,” Mason says. “Usually we have winemakers pouring their own wine.”
Sisters Lane and Leigh Beck say they have been coming to Total Wines’ tastings regularly since it opened this fall. This particular Saturday, they were in search of Thanksgiving wines. They joke about trying to restrain themselves from visiting twice a week.
“It’s so wonderful to have a wider selection available that goes beyond some of the smaller specialty stores,” Leigh Beck says. “We do like that it’s a specific selection each time (for the tastings). It’s the learning process that we like.”
The two wine lovers say they are drawn to Total Wine’s large selection and the staff”s expertise.
Mason says that large selection makes the store accessible despite its size – nearly 22,000 square feet. “I think it’s just a great place to try seven to eight wines you’ve never had before.”
Tasting themes this month are:
• Saturday Tour of Bordaeux
• Dec. 13 Great Wines for Holiday Entertaining
• Dec. 20 Give the Gift of Wine
• Dec. 27 Celebrate with Sparkling
MORE REGULAR TASTINGS
58 Degrees & Holding Co. 5340 E. Broadway, 299-5804 www.58degrees.com • 5-7 p.m. ($10 fee)
Every other Thursday
Hotel Congress 311 E. Congress St., 622-8848 hotelcongress.com • 5-7 p.m. ($5)
Pastiche Wine Shop 3025 N. Campbell Ave. 325-3333 www.pasticheme.com • 5:30-6:30 p.m. ($5)
Vila Thai Cuisine 972 E. University Blvd., 903-9777, www.vilathai.com • 5-7 p.m. ($5)
The Beverage House Oracle 6250 N. Oracle Road, 219-6424 www.beveragehouse.net • 4-6 p.m. ($2)
The Beverage House Broadway 8660 E. Broadway, 296-9933 www.beveragehouse.net • 4-6 p.m. ($2)
Vin Tabla 2910 E. Skyline Drive, 577-6210 www.vintabla.com • 5-6:30 p.m. ($10)
RumRunner Wine & Cheese Co. 3131 E. First St., 326-0121 www.rumrunnertucson.com • 2 p.m. Saturday (free)
Primo (at JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa) (class) 3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd., 791-6071 http://primo.jwmarriottstarrpass.com • 3:30-5 p.m. ($25, plus tax and tip) Reservations strongly recommended.