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.
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.
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”
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!