Vintage wine no flight of desert fancy for golfers in Phoenix/Scottsdale

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There are plenty of destinations where wine and golf go together like Oprah and free cars. Places where you can slice balls down the fairway all day and wax poetic about the powerful tannins of a Chateauneuf du Pape into the night.

Wine bar Scottsdale-Phoenix - Uncorked
Wine bars tend to bring out more women than your average 19th hole.
Wine bar Scottsdale-Phoenix - UncorkedRaven at Verrado golf course98 South wine barTapino's lounge
If you go

You just don't expect one of them to be Phoenix-Scottsdale. This is the desert, after all, sprawl or no (just have a look at anyone's lawn of rocks).

Wine and the desert aren't friends. Grapes have this need for water.

Luckily for golfing oenophiles, that's not stopping anyone around here. Wine bars are popping up all over the Phoenix Valley. They're not quite as ubiquitous as Starbucks, but they're infinitely more memorable.

And chances are you'll run into plenty of golfers swilling their pinot noirs. Restaurateurs have discovered that swanky wine bars -- and not-so-swanky ones -- fit right into the area's high-end golf culture.

"The correlation I see is that there are a lot of golf courses in North Scottsdale and that's where a lot of the wine bars are opening up," said Amber Huntley, one of the founders of the Phoenix Corkscrews, a local wine-appreciation club that's gone from 400 to 2,500 members in three years. "The lifestyles really seem to go hand in hand."

Or long-stemmed glass in hand.

"If I just played Troon North with three buddies, do I want to do end up drinking a bunch of crappy $8 beers that should be $3 the rest of the night?" vacationing golfer Aaron Rowe pondered.

"Hell no. I want the $300 bottle of wine. Maybe two or three of them. Life's short, buddy."

There's no need to ruminate on life's deeper mysteries at Scottsdale's hip wine bars - nor much opportunity, with everything else that's going on. Golfers who swing open Kazimierz World Wine Bar's big unmarked door around happy hour are likely to find a bevy of office babes hanging out on the couches in their neatly pressed skirts and blouses.

Of course, they might be golfers themselves. On a sunny fall afternoon, four women in their mid-40s sat at one of the open-air tables in the low-key 5th Ave. Gourmet Wine Cafe in Old Towne Scottsdale, munching fresh sandwiches and raising a glass to their just-finished round.

Wine bars are by no means the province of women. (Sideways got it right -- the most annoying oenophiles tend to be male.) But women golfers do find something in them that's sorely lacking in most clubhouse 19th holes -- a little sophistication.

"Wine's a more social activity," Huntley said. "It tends to bring out people with healthy lifestyles."

In other words, fewer slobs at the end of the bar to fend off. In theory, anyway.

"If I told my wife I wanted us to spend the night going from tavern to tavern throwing back beers, she'd look at me like I'm crazy. And then probably kick me in the shin," a posing "connoisseur" said at Tapino Kitchen & Wine Bar, an enclave in a trendy Scottsdale shopping area.

"But if I tell her we're going to go 'taste' some wines at a bunch of different wine bars, she think it's the greatest thing in the world. I get drunk either way. Why fight it?"

Convinced this explosion of wine bars could nicely complement your Phoenix-Scottsdale golf vacation? Here's your guide. Everyone's heard of wine and food pairings; how about some wine and golf course pairings?

Blue Note Cellars/We-Ko-Pa Golf Club: In a wine scene that seems to have a newcomer every other week, Blue Note stands out as the most happening of the lot - part supper club (live jazz), part romantic scene (cramped candle-lit tables), all wine-serious. There are $1,000 bottles to be had here, and 15 reserved wine lockers for VIPs to keep their own exotic stash.

Similarly, Scott Miller-designed We-Ko-Pa is a relative newbie that's generated the area's most consistent player buzz over the last few years. Set on an Indian reservation, its desert vistas are unspoiled by houses. And after seeing all the red ants scurrying around the rocks, you might be in the mood for a strong red.
Cheuvront Wine & Cheese Cafe/Kierland Golf Club: At this wine bar the vino actually plays second fiddle - the cheese is that good. (The setting in downtown Phoenix's historic district makes a strong case too.)

Cheuvront guarantees at least two dozen cheese choices on its menu every day, and there's a cheese sommelier on staff -- something you rarely see outside of the very best restaurants in Manhattan or France.

Wine is to Cheuvront as golf is to Kierland. Here it's all about the air-conditioned carts, the kilted bagpiper blaring away at dusk, the statue on the pond at No. 9 on the Acacia nine, the Segways the club briefly tried out.

Rare Earth Pizza & Wine Bar/Coyote Lakes Golf Club: It may sit in the Troon North community, but Rare Earth is light years from the feel of Scottsdale's high-end golf king. This is a wine bar that advertises Monday Night Football specials. 'Nuff said -- although you should also check out their this-ain't-no-bar-food gourmet pizzas.

Also delightfully unexpected, Coyote Lakes is a course for the people, with a stone wall guarding one green and a 107-yard par 3 that's turned many a mountain-man hitter into a (warning: inside wine joke) Zinfandel-petering mess.

98 South Wine Bar & Kitchen/Raven Golf Club at Verrado:You have to want to go to 98 South as a vacationing golfer. It's in downtown Chandler, which can be happening - during a few weeks of spring training. Plus, it's only open till "at least 9 p.m." Monday through Thursday (there are longer weekend hours). Yes, it's a bar that often closes at 9.

Yet, some Riesling devotees swear by 98 South and its loft-styled scene. Go figure.

Out in Buckeye, about an hour from Scottsdale, Raven at Verrado also requires a little traveler dedication. But there's no doubt you'll be happy you tripped out to this desert wonder.

Now, if they could only open up a wine bar around here.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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