Scottsdale’s Palm Court Restaurant receives Wine Spectator honors


Wine Spectator’s 2014 dining guide is a list of over 3,700 “restaurants for wine lovers”

I was recently invited to experience the Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center’s Palm Court Restaurant in light of their recent inclusion on the Wine Spectator list.  In addition to receiving the basic award for having a good wine list Palm Court was noted for having a relatively inexpensive pricing structure. I was interested to see this first hand as one of my pet peeves (besides cheap stemware at a nice restaurant) is paying excessive wine markup at a nice restaurant.

scottsdale-palm-court-restaurant-3The first thing you’ll notice about Palm Court, is that it can be a little bit tricky to find.  It’s located on the 3rd floor of the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center, which is itself easy to miss.  After turning down a small unassuming side street in central Scottsdale, suddenly there it is.  This majestic little gem with the circular drive way, with valet service, a big ornamental fountain and palm trees with white Christmas lights.

I wandered around the property for a few minutes before heading to the restaurant.  It felt a little like a time machine taking me back to the late ’70’s early ’80’s when I used to visit my grandparents at McCormick Ranch.  There’s quite a few interesting architectural features to explore, I recommend spending a few minutes doing that before heading up to the restaurant.

The restaurant has a nice traditional feel to it, and open and airy atmosphere with nice big windows that allow diners to look out over the golf course and catch a sunset.

I had a chance to talk quite extensively with Ahdy Youssef, the assistant Maitre’D and Wine Steward.  He’s a very friendly and warm guy who got his start 17 years ago as a bus boy in the restaurant.  He worked his way up over the years and started getting very interested in wine some years back.  He studied through the Society of Wine Educators program and achieved CWE (Certified Wine Educator) status about 5 years ago.  He was hired by Mr Kwan, who has been working at The Palm Court for 21 years.  The two of them together make a great team and compliment each other very well.   Ahdy also studied with The San Francisco Wine school taking their CWAS course (which I completed this past August)

scottsdale-palm-court-restaurant-6I asked Ahdy what his favorite wines were and he thought about it for a few seconds and then came back with a suggestion: Lancaster Estate Cabernet from Alexander Valley.  He brought out the wine popped the cork and decanted it while Mr Kwan wheeled in a portable cooking station and prepared some gigantic prawns in a Reggiano parmesan risotto with parsley and diced tomato and Chardonnay sauce.  Ahdy asked me what my all time favorite wine was and I replied “Chateau d’Yquem”

“We have that, by the glass”  he smiled.

I don’t think I can recall any restaurant in Phoenix service Chateau d’Yquem by the glass.  Priced at $38 a glass, that is very reasonable considering a half bottle (375ml) of the ’02 vintage they serve goes for $162 at Total Wine in Phoenix

scottsdale-palm-court-restaurant-5I quickly looked up Lancaster on my phone and if you can get it, the ’09 cab will run you at least $75 a bottle.  Palm Court price…$110.  This is why they received that award from Wine Spectator.   One of my pet peeves is paying excessive markup for wine in a fancy restaurant.  It utterly ruins the evening for me.  I always feel like I could have just stayed home grilled up a prime steak from Costco and spent the savings on some killer wine.


For dessert: Flourless chocolate cake

For dessert: Flourless chocolate cake

For dinner I chose the lamb, which was done quite well. Not too gamey.  Although I don’t mind gamey lamb either.  One thing to note about the menu:  You’re not going to find the more chef driven style of food here.  You’re going to find more of the French style of cuisine.  The beef tenderloin is carved in half and drizzled with a red wine and béarnaise sauce.  The potatoes are mashed with Gouda.  You’re going to find a more traditional menu.   Appetizers run in the $12-$15 range and main courses are in the $25-$40 range, which is quite reasonable for an establishment with AAA’s four diamond award.


After dinner I indulged in a glass of d’Yquem and I wasn’t disappointed.  There’s a reason why Chateau d’Yqeum is nicknamed “Nectar of the Gods”, and Palm Court is the only place that I know of in the Phoenix area where you can find out why without having to buy a whole bottle.

Palm Court Website

Lancaster Estate website




Restaurant review | Cork! Chandler, Arizona

Restaurant review | Cork! Chandler, Arizona

About 25 miles south-east of downtown Phoenix, lies a hidden gem in the Sun Lakes area of Chandler.
The glass walled wine cellar

The glass walled wine cellar

At first I was a little skeptical of the location, being that it’s not in the CenPho corridor or Old Town.   But I decided to give it a whirl and I’m glad I did.

Immediately upon entering I knew that this was not just a wine place in a strip mall.  The large glass wall featuring a fully functional wine cellar was one clue.  Another was the wine glasses.  I totally judge a restaurant by its wine glasses.  The bigger the better.

Also, the wine list is all on an iPad.  This is quite interesting.  A few years back I would have preferred a book, but now that better interfaces have improved functionality dramatically I quite like the interactive approach.  It probably makes updating the list a lot more efficient than reprinting the wine book.Cork! Chandler

Cork!’s cuisine is can be described as European.  What this means to hungry Americans is that you should order a starter as well as a main dish, because the portions are reasonable, not super sized.

What you will also find is some more unusual but non the less tasty offerings such as Wild Boar, and braised rabbit, and venison.

Wild Boar

Wild Boar

As far as the wine list goes, I found the list to be pleasantly extensive, but not so big that it was hard to decide what to get.  One wine really popped out at an exceptional value:  Beaulieu Vineyards 2004 Georges DeLatour.  This is a $100-$120 bottle in the grocery store.

Flourless chocolate cake

Flourless chocolate cake

I was just in Las Vegas last week and this wine was $350 a bottle at the steak house I was eating at.  At Cork! it is priced at $160.  If you were celebrating a special occasion that would be a deal that’s hard to pass up.

One last interesting thing to note, and this was passed on to me by the waitress is that the sous chef is gluten intolerant (celiac) — allergic to wheat.  So there are quite a few options on the menu sans gluten.  Including a flourless chocolate cake for dessert which was really and I mean really yummy

Tarbell’s wine experience

Most fine dining establishments will have someone on staff to answer specific wine questions.  Some places will even have a Society of Wine Educators (CWE) “Certified Specialist of Wine” or a Court of Master Sommeliers “Level 1” on hand to help customers with their wine choices.  On a recent Wine about Town trip I learned of a Phoenix based restaurant that is sending ALL of its wait staff to the CWE “Certified Specialist of Wine” training.  A couple of years ago I was invited to the CWE exams held  in Phoenix and I got a first hand look at how difficult the certification process is.  Lets just say that if you pass, you’ll know more than enough to get you through dinner rush at most fine dining establishments.

wine decanter photo

Proper decanting is essential to the enjoyment of wine

The restaurant I am talking about is non other than Phoenix acclaimed Tarbell’s.  Located at 32 street and Camelback in the heart of the Biltmore district, Tarbell’s has been serving customers for over 18 years.  Which is quite an achievement in and of itself.
Owner and chef, Mark Tarbell joined us at the dinner table and we seized the opportunity to pick his brain a little.  One of the foundational elements of his restaurant concept is to provide an opportunity to explore wine and food, together.  Tarbell’s wine list is not the biggest in town, its not large magical leather bound book.  Rather, it is an opportunity to excite the palate, without overwhelming the decision making process.
Chef Tarbell pointed out that if you look at the wine list you will see that there are several different styles of the same wine.  There will be a couple of names you recognise and then there are wines that you don’t -but should!  His carefully selected wine list allows you to experience everything that each varietal has to offer.

Tarbell's phoenix

Angus aged 35 days NY Strip with Pommes Frites

To start I decided to try something completely different.  If you’ve read my blog or this column you’ve probably noticed a tendency toward California cabernets (and a soft spot for ARIZONA wines)  So I went with an inexpensive white wine 2008 Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux Du Languedoc.  I have enjoyed reds from Languedoc in the past and thought I’d try a white. It was a nice, light and refreshing wine that went well the starter salad.  And at $7 a glass it was an exceptional value
For the dinner wine, I decided to enlist the help of General Manager, Matt Lockwood.  I explained what I’d been drinking lately, and wanted to try something a little outside the box, yet still have something that was going to pair well with the red meat we were going to order.
After several suggestions that I had already tried, he suddenly remembered something.  “You have to try this, you’ll LOVE it”

arizona wine blog

2009 Arietta “Quartet”

He suggested the 2009 Arietta “Quartet”.  This was a fantastic suggestion. The wine was different enough to be interesting, and yet still within the bounds of what I thought would be palatable with steak.  The wine is a Bordeaux style blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.  Only 1,100 cases of this wine were produced, so it was a real treat to get a chance to try it.
For dessert I had Tarbell’s “Beloved Chocolate Mouse” paired with a Taylor Fladgate port.  This was another amazing pairing, that is impossible to describe in words–you’ll just have to try it for yourself!

North Scottsdale gas station opens wine bar

I was recently invited to attend a wine tasting at a gas station.  I had to re-read the invitation to make sure I had read it right.  Yes, a gas station in North Scottsdale has a wine bar!

north scottsdale wine

It looks like a gas station, but inside its oh so much more!

I arrived at the address I was given (right next to the Ice Den), and yes, it looked like a gas station, albeit a nice clean gas station with a large office type building behind it.  From the outside you would never expect what awaits you on the inside.

Scottsdale wine barOnce inside, I immediately realized that this wine bar thing was the real deal.  I was half expecting large bottles of cheap wine being served in red plastic cups, but that was not the case.

wine shopI was greeted by Chuck Hesson, the market’s on staff Sommelier.  After introductions Chuck took me on a quick tour.  Chuck is a bona fide Som,  Level II WSET.  Chuck is from Texas originally and comes to Arizona by way of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  It was in Texas about 25 years ago that he met chef Tudie Frank-Johnson.  Tudie is the award winning chef and Southern BBQ specialist who runs the Campfire Bistro at Tom’s Thumb.  Tudie recently took home top honors at the ABC channel 15 Sonoran Living BBQ challenge.

scottsdale wine barThere is a wine department in the market with a decent selection of wines.  There is a good mix between big brands and lesser knowns.  There is also a very good Arizona wine selection.  I was quite surprised to see harder to find AZ Wines such as Page Springs Cellars SMGp, Caduceus Anubis and Dos Cabezas “Pink”

toms thumb gas stationOn our way to the wine tasting table we passed by the Gluten Free section.  I know this is a wine blog, but as a gluten free person I am always happy to see the trend gaining popularity.  The wine tasting table, is located in the back of the market, it’s private and quite, and the table offers a nice setting.

After the tour, Chuck treated me to some Southern Style BBQ.  He brought out an assortment of chicken, steak and pulled pork with 4 sauces (all gluten free and made by Tudie)  He poured a couple glasses of wine to sample as well.  First thing I noticed is THE APPROPRIATE STEMWARE!  Even though the glasses were stemless, they were of sufficient size to properly swirl and sniff the wine.  One of my biggest pet peeves is crappy stemware.

I sampled A to Z Pinot Gris from Oregon.  This wine is made by Rex Hill’s William Hatcher and it was a very nice summer wine, and for only $13 a bottle I will have to take a detour off the 101 Pima Freeway and grab a bottle or two.

This summer the market is hosting some wine and craft beer tastings and educating customers on pairings with BBQ food.  Check with them for time and dates.

As I was leaving I thought to myself, they really ought to market this place as a Gourmet bbq and  wine bar with a gas station instead of the other way around!

Have you been to Tom’s Thumb?  Have you found wine bars in any unlikely locations?

See more pictures on the Weekly Wine Journal Facebook Page

Interview | George Miliotes | Seasons 52 Phoenix

Seasons 52 opened in Phoenix opened on October 25th, 2010.  The Weekly Wine Journal was invited to a VIP pre-opening event and managed to get a quick interview with Master Sommelier and director of beverages and hospitality for Seasons52 restaurants across the nation.

Click HERE for directions to this restaurant

The new 100% recyclable wine bottle

I was invited by Rene Moore PR to

recylclable wine bottle

100% recyclable wine bottles

participate in a market research wine tasting for a brand new and as of yet unreleased wine label called “Kind Vines”. The wine tasting was held in the private dining room at the True Food Kitchen located in Phoenix’s upscale Biltmore Fashion Park.

The private dining room at True

glass walled dining room

Tru Foods Kitchen private dining room

Food Kitchen is a room adjacent to the main dining area.  It is separated by glass walls and a large Euro styled glass door, as in a large frameless sliding glass door.  There is a large rectangular wooden table in the center of the room and hanging above the table are some large glass lights.  The lights are in a row and resemble a Newton’s cradle. The room is light and airy with very high ceilings and a large window that looks outside. True Food Kitchen opened in 2008 and is a partnership between Fox Restaurant Concepts and best selling author Dr. Andrew Weil.

Kind Vines is the brainchild of David Williamson.  David has two decades experience working in many of the major liquor distributors.  Part of his job was to always be looking out for ways to save money.  He eventually came to the conclusion that shipping wine in glass bottles is expensive and not very good for the environment.  He noticed that bottles account for 50% of the shipping weight and volume.  Secondly, David sites an EPA MSW report from 2008 which states that nearly 3 billion wine bottles end up in landfills every year.

Kind Vines is a different kind of wine company

wine glasses on table in front of window

Inside the private dining area

with a very different business model.  So far the company only has plans for Arizona, but this idea could be adopted for other states.  The basic idea is that the wine would be shipped in bulk to the Kind Vines facility in Flagstaff.  From there it would be bottled and distributed.  The really exciting part about this company is their wine bottles.  They are 100% recyclable.  How is that??  Well first, the label is not made of paper, its painted on and then baked on.  Secondly, instead of a cork, there is a glass stopper with a rubber gasket.  Thirdly, you pay a $2 or $3 deposit on each bottle and when you return the bottle to the store, you get a $2 or $3 discount off your next bottle of Kind Vines.  With David’s background in liquor distribution he was able to see that using beer distributors to distribute his wine was the way to go.  Why?  Because beer distributors have the network in place to not only deliver product but bring back the empty kegs and wine bottles.  The wine bottles are collected and washed and sanitized and refilled with wine.

So far this company is in the very early stages of planning.

big light bulbs

Those interesting lights

Right now David and his team are determining which wines to buy.  Part one of this selection process involved selecting members of the media and community and having them sit down and taste the wines and give their feed back.  Kind Vines is going to have a two tiered approach to wine.  Tier 1 is what we tasted and would be their more economical line of wines, typically retailing for under $10 including the deposit.  We tasted wines from Red Hills Lake County, Napa Valley and Paso Robles.  I found the wines to be interesting enough for that price point, though some did stand out as a little more exceptional than others.

Part 2, the part where people choose the upscale tier number two wines will be where it gets interesting.  If David can get himself some bulk juice from some premium producers he might just have a winner.

Visit the Kind Vines website here

Visit the True Food Kitchen here

Follow Renee Moore on Twitter here

Tasting Wine at the historic Wrigley Mansion

The Weekly Wine Journal was lucky enough to be invited to a very special wine tasting last week, held at the historic Wrigley Mansion.  I did a quick bit of research before showing up and found out that the mansion was built between 1929 and 1931 by the same Wrigley fellow who made Wrigley’s Gum.  Tragically he died in 1932 right after completion of his mansion.  My initial impression was that the Wrigley Mansion is some kind of exclusive club.  It is not.  It is a club, but merely as a formality due to zoning restrictions.  It costs $10 a year to be a member and you can sign up when you get there.  They don’t check references as far as I know!  What do you get for 10 bucks?  You get a lot.  Discounts on food and drinks, and a truly unique experience.

The mansion is a 16,000 square foot Spanish colonial style building sitting on a 100ft tall “bump” or hill right in the heart of central Phoenix.

Spectacular view!

This slight elevation allows for spectacular views of the valley, and sunsets and other romantic things like summer monsoon storms!  The mansion has 24 rooms and 12 bathrooms, it has a separate bar and lounge called “Gordie’s” which has really interesting peacock feather lampshades.  Gordie’s has a “pay what you think is fair” pricing structure! No kidding!

Peacock feather lampshade!

I will have to try that out soon.  Then there is the piano room and the front banquet area.  The piano is a 1929 Steinway, that you can play, and it also plays itself!  According to the nice young lady giving us the tour, the piano is priceless.  It costs more to insure the piano than it does to insure the whole rest of the mansion!  I overcame a desire to play chopsticks and headed towards the wine…

Tonight we were tasting Arizona Stronghold’s 4 current offerings:  Tazi, a Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling based blend, Dayden a dry rose, Mangus an Italian styled wine and Nachise a Rhone styled wine.  I found all of the wines to be superb examples of the what Arizona is capable of when it comes to wine.  I especially liked the Nachise.

Complete reviews of  the wines here

Short video of the views