Dos Cabezas Wineworks in Sonoita recently made a small release of sparkling Rosé bottled in a tall aluminum can. The Garnacha/Monastrell/Syrah blend is sourced from Cimarron Vineyard in Cochise County and drinks perfectly for a Baja Arizona summer. This sparkling Rosé is the same as their still Rosé wine, but dosed intensely with carbon dioxide (think Topo Chico). The label on the can is a reprinting of a tarnished painting that the father of Chris Bianco (of Bianco Pizzeria fame) painted for his mother on their wedding day. In the glass, the wine has a mandarin orange nose followed by kiwi, ripe honeydew, and some lychee flavors on the palate. The production run was fairly small this vintage, but a few cans may still be available around Tucson at Blu: A Wine & Cheese Shop, Bianco Pizzeria, and Tap & Bottle. 3248 Arizona Highway 82, Sonoita. 520.455-5141. DosCabezasWineworks.com.
Kalina Russian Cuisine and Tea House at Tanque Verde and Bear Canyon offers a complete Russian dining experience with its caviar and vodka pairings. Despite ubiquitous marketing for premium vodka brands, it is important to remember that vodka does hold a traditional dining and pairing tradition in Russian cuisine. Kalina’s pairs bowfin caviar with Russian standard, paddlefish caviar with Russian platinum, and hackleback caviar with Russian Imperial. These are usually presented atop blini, but on a recent visit they were substituting bread and butter under the caviar (a more traditional service). I am not a caviar expert but the staff was extremely helpful in explaining the proper traditional way to eat and drink through the pairings. Tasting the caviars side to side helps to drive home the point that caviar is every bit the delicacy it is made out to be: fragile, subtle, with intense differences in flavor. After you’ve finished the vodka and caviar, Kalina’s also has a great choice of Russian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian beers to drink alongside a charcuterie board covered in hard-to-identify pickles. 8963 E. Tanque Verde Road. 520.360.4040. KalinaRestaurant.com.
When I started working in the Tucson service industry there were tons of new people to meet. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, but husband-and-wife Churchill Brauninger and Elizabeth Menke went out of their way to be the most welcoming and lovable characters around. For years they have been part of the dynamic team behind the bar La Cocina and The Dusty Monk Pub at Old Town Artisans. La Cocina was among the first wave of Tucson’s bars taking their craft seriously with fresh juices, countless infusions, extensive beer and wine lists, and all the Underberg (a bitter German digestif) a person could ever want. Finally, after years in the industry, both in San Francisco and Tucson, Brauninger and Menke will be opening their own bar. The demolition and construction is underway for St. Charles Tavern at the building that most recently housed Barrio’s Pizza on South Fourth Avenue—although it more famously housed The Paddock, a local legend of drunken debauchery, in the ’90s. St. Charles will offer live music, pool tables, a garden to provide cocktail ingredients, and some of my favorite bartenders in town. Brauninger and Menke hope to open St. Charles Tavern by the end of summer.
Some friends and I traveled to visit Abe’s Old Tumacacori Bar, located outside of Tubac, after hearing multiple stories from friends about the bar’s incredible jukebox, wild crowds, and long history as the go-to dive bar on the I-19 corridor. We arrived around noon and saw no signs of life other than some men with leaf blowers at the house next door. They told me to come back at 3. After a few drinks at Tubac Jack’s and some idle conversation with snowbirds wearing Harley-Davidson shirts, we tried to return and were met with a locked door again. After further investigation, we learned that the bar is being passed down to the next generation of the family and, for the moment, has irregular hours.With no more time to waste, we moved on to another storied watering hole: La Gitana Cantina, located less than 15 miles from the border in Arivaca. Originally built in 1880, La Gitana is filled with that favorite southern Arizona character: burnt out, artistic, chain-smoking, hippy cowboy. We ordered cheap beers, talked to some man in dirty jeans about cars, and I had my intelligence questioned when I didn’t laugh at someone’s dirty joke quickly enough. Anytime you walk into a tavern on a Tuesday afternoon and have trouble finding a seat on the patio, you know you’ve found somewhere important. Abe’s Old Tumacacori Bar. 1900 E. Frontage Road, Tumacacori. 520.398.1227. La Gitana Cantina. 17205 W. Fifth St., Arivaca. 520.398.0810.