Coming from the northeastern part of the country I discovered, to my dismay, that the Tucson metro area can seem like a desert when it comes to fine wine. There is a scarcity of wine-centric restaurants and boutique stores that carry unique, small production wines. Please don’t get me wrong; it’s perfectly fine to shop the big box chain stores for your weekly wine stash; I do it myself. For me though, I relish the opportunity to check out the small guys; businesses that carefully curate their wine list and stock their shelves with out of the ordinary bottles at reasonable prices. Unfortunately here in the desert, being able to find those few “wine oases” can be a real challenge.
One such garden spot in the region is Feast Restaurant and wine shop. I’ve been meaning to write about Feast for years, but like that last piece of chocolate in the bag I’ve been holding off; savoring the opportunity to unwrap what is a pure gem in Tucson’s wine & dining scene. Established by Chef Doug Levy as a mostly take out restaurant in 2000, it was moved to the current 110-seat location on Speedway by Alvernon in 2010. Chef Levy has been in the restaurant business in one form or another since graduating from the UA, developing a genuine passion for food and wine. Unlike many restaurants where the menus change so infrequently you would think that they are written in sandstone, Feast changes up their offerings on a monthly basis and during the slower summer months Doug actively solicits input from his regulars about which favorites he should bring back.
Doug’s menus are creative and eclectic. You will definitely not find the standard bill of fare at this restaurant. Features last month included flatiron steak on sugar cane skewers with basil pesto, tomatoes, and peaches, as well as Seared sea scallops, served in a chili-honey red ale reduction with sautéed brassicas, mustard seeds and potato-sunchoke purée.
On the wine side of the house, the list is curated by Megan Nelson, a certified Sommelier who has developed her expertise through working in several wine-centric restaurants in Arizona and California. Megan describes her time at Feast as an “extraordinary experience.” Every Thursday Megan and Doug meet with wine distributors & producers to sample potential additions to the wine list. They arrive at a joint decision on each wine – making a determination whether the product is the right fit for the list. Megan is assisted by fellow wine enthusiast Kevin Anderson, who has more than 30 years in the wholesale and retail side of the industry. The wine list is extensive, well laid out and the bottles quite reasonably priced. The selection is composed of mostly smaller producers with a great selection of European offerings. They also have a healthy selection of wines by the glass as well. Feast has been recognized by Wine Spectator numerous times as one of the best wine restaurants in Arizona.
Each Saturday afternoon the restaurant offers thematic wine tastings hosted by Kevin. These tastings are by reservation only, inexpensive to attend and that day’s wines can be purchased at a discount. Kevin does a great job during the tastings, sharing his knowledge on the wines and their producers. These tastings are attended by a number of regulars, who recognize the value and enjoyment that the events hold. A more expansive tasting is held the last Sunday of the month and the restaurant hosts wine dinners with guest producers and distributors on a regular basis.
While a 40-minute drive away, Feast is most definitely worth the effort. The Saturday tastings are usually conducted at 2 p.m., which allows the attendees to arrive at 1 p.m. for lunch or stay for an early dinner. The tasting themes and wines are advertised on their website (eatatfeast.com) or you can sign up for weekly emails from Doug, informing his patrons about changes in the menu and upcoming events.
On a recent visit I selected one of their wine by the glass options - a Soave Classico by Suavia. This was a near perfectly balanced white and I was compelled to pick one up from the store ($16) even though my cooler is quite full. Like a kid in a candy store I always enjoy my trips to Feast. Knowing ahead of time that I’m going to find something remarkable, each visit is always an exercise in self-control.
Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England and is available to answer your wine questions at email@example.com