Pete and Jeanne Snell offer a unique "Arizona only" tasting opportunity at the Arizona Wine Collective in St. Philips Plaza.

One of my favorite things about being involved in the wine business is the endless varieties and options that are available. Exploring different grapes, regions and even vintages keeps my interest fresh. While I do have certain favorites I cannot imagine opening the same wine night after night. This month’s article offers you two local opportunities to expand your palate and our second of the 12 month wine challenge suggestions.

Exactly one year ago this month Arizona natives Peter and Jeanne Snell opened the doors to the Arizona Wine Collective. Located within the Saint Philips Plaza on N. Campbell at River, the Collective is a tasting room that specializes in wines produced within the state of Arizona. The Snell’s first careers were in the public relations and marketing sector, but for 12 years they owned and operated two running shoe stores here in Tucson. Their interest in wine began as a hobby, expanding as they traveled around the world on wine-centric vacations. The idea of converting their passion into a business germinated as they spent time with veteran Arizona grower and wine maker Kent Callaghan. Pete and Jeanne soon grew to understand that Arizona wines were underappreciated and undervalued and saw this situation as a business opportunity. They wanted to create an environment where people could explore the broad variety of Arizona wines and discover for themselves how amazingly good they can be.

The AZ Wine Collective is situated on the southwest corner of the St. Philips Plaza shopping complex. The environment is attractive and bright, with a rustic contemporary décor. Patrons have an opportunity to sample a flight of five wines for $12 and bottles are available for purchase to take home or enjoy on site. While meals are not served, customers are permitted to bring their own appetizers or they can order from two of the Plaza’s restaurants: Reforma and Union, which will deliver right to the tasting room. The wine list changes frequently as Jeanne and Pete regularly evaluate offerings from wineries statewide. During my visit in November 62 wines from 17 wineries were on their list.

One of the significant advantages of the Collective is the access that customers have to products not broadly distributed, often only available at the winery tasting rooms. Jeanne best describes their business model as “Tucson’s very own chamber of commerce for the Arizona wine industry.” The Collective frequently hosts winemaker tasting receptions and other activities designed to engage their customers, encouraging them to explore what Arizona wines have to offer. A side room is also available for private events such as birthday parties and bridal showers. The Arizona Wine Collective is a quick drive from Saddlebrooke and a wonderful opportunity to discover new wines and winemakers.

The second of this article’s wine related opportunities is the "Off the Vine" Arizona Wine Festival, which is held a short drive down Oracle Road at the Steam Pump Ranch Saturday, Feb. 16 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $20 if you purchase in advance online or $30 at the gate. Attendees receive a commemorate glass and eight tasting tickets with additional tickets available for purchase. More information can be found at azwinefestivals.com. I will be helping out my friends Mark and Rhona at the Zarpara booth that day so stop by and say hi.

Finally, this month’s wine challenge variety is a mainstay of the Iberian Peninsula: Tempranillo. A medium to full bodied red variety that is frequently found in blends from the Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Toro regions of Spain. It is also widely grown in Portugal’s Douro Valley where it is known as Tinto Roriz. Fresh and fruit driven with bright cherry flavors when young, Tempranillo ages well and older examples will display notes of tobacco and leather. Tempranillo has the structure to pair well with grilled meats and hearty stews and bottles from well-regarded producers can be quite affordable. For a value priced and readily accessible example look for Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva. This wine can be found at nearby grocery stores and at Total Wine. An exceptional Tempranillo blend from Rioja that can be had for under $25 is the Bodegas Lan Reserva. A few Arizona winemakers produce varietal Tempranillo as well. Keep an eye out for them at the "Off the Vine" festival or at the AZ Wine Collective.

Salute'

Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England and is available to answer your wine questions at tjo1913@gmail.com