Grape Time

This midtown wine shop offers great prices and a personal touch

As far as wine goes, the Old Pueblo has arrived.

Barely a night goes by when there isn't a wine-tasting happening somewhere in town. Big outlet stores, neighborhood wine shops, all sorts of restaurants, resorts and even markets are all getting in the act.

Some wine-tasting experiences are better than others, of course; preferences depend on an individual's expectations and experience with wine. I prefer low-key and cozy, where I can learn a little something as I sip.

CataVinos fits that niche. There seems to be a good-sized following at this midtown wine shop, which means I'm not alone.

Yvonne Foucher, a former architect, opened her shop in 2007. Her business plan? To offer good wines at reasonable prices. She has succeeded: The wine labels here are not always the most well-known, but Foucher has expanded the choices from 157 varietals to more than 300 since CataVinos opened--and every wine is less than $15.

The store itself is spare but homey. All the wines are displayed in rustic wooden shelves, with certain wines chilled for ready drinking. Cheese, crackers, chocolate and other wine accompaniments are also available. Little gifts are on hand if you want to put together a basket.

And then there are the wine-tastings. Held Thursday, Friday, Saturday and every other Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m., the tastings offer a great way to sample wines you may never have heard of, but certainly should know.

There is always a theme of sorts. For example, on the night of our visit, we drank "Valentine Wines"; another recent tasting was called "Red Carpet Wines," in honor of the Oscars. A cheeky theme was "Take Away Anything but My Wine," where the wines featured would pair nicely with big holiday dining. White wines are featured on those designated Wednesdays, and all tastings are $10--or $8 if you buy a bottle.

If you've never been to a wine-tasting, have no fear of drinking too much. Each pour is barely an ounce, and should you dislike one or two wines, you can pour it out. No one will think it's rude.

Tables are somewhat limited. There are a few out back on the charming little patio, and inside is a communal table, perfect for larger groups or meeting new friends. The posters on the walls are all wine-related, of course; one features the colors of wines displayed in glasses.

On our visit, the flight progressed through six wines ranging from a bubbly Brut from France ($9.99) to a tawny port from Portugal ($12.99). The servers handed out a list of the wines, each with pithy descriptions, the varietal, the winery name and the country of origin; they even leave space for your own notes. Three types of crackers and some manchego cheese were set on the table. Chocolate bites were served with the port, which tempered the sweetness of this "dessert" wine. The glassware is all Riedel.

There was a party of about 10 from Raytheon there that night, and another good-size party was expected. The women pouring the wine were unfazed and kept pouring at a nice pace, adding comments as needed and even leaving one bottle on the table, the Mi Amore malbec ($10.99), so we could read more about it.

Other wines that night included a Raboso Frizzante, red sparkling wine from Italy ($8.99), and a cabernet sauvignon ($10.99) from Cycles Gladiator Winery in Paso Robles, Calif. Our mutual favorite was a Portuguese Grão Vasco ($7.99). We found it to be plummy and bright with a nice finish. (That sounds a little "winey," but it's true.)

And that's one of the nicest parts about CataVinos tastings: No matter your level of wine knowledge, you will feel comfortable. You don't hear all that wine chatter that can be so intimidating, yet the conversation can't help but include some discussion of what you're drinking. And that's half the fun.

CataVinos is a perfect place to gather with a group of friends or start a date. Even if you're on your own, you can spend an hour and make some new friends--or at least pick up some great deals on a variety of wines.

The Association of Alternative Newsweeklies cites a Civic Economics survey stating that for every dollar spent at a locally owned business, 68 cents stays in the community, compared to 43 cents if it is spent at a national chain. Local First Arizona puts the numbers at 45 cents for local shopping compared to 13 cents at a national chain. Whatever the exact numbers, it behooves us to shop, eat and drink locally. As one of a handful of locally owned places that hold regular wine-tastings, CataVinos needs us locals in order to keep up the fun. Stop by, take a sip and enjoy.

Enjoy wine-tastings at these and other locally owned businesses (call for information on times and cost): Pastiche (3025 N. Campbell Ave., 325-3333); VinTabla (2890 E. Skyline Drive, 577-6210); RumRunner (3131 E. First St., 326-0121); V-Bar at Belushe's (1118 E. Sixth St., 903-9039) and Zona 78 (7301 E. Tanque Verde Road, 296-7878, and 78 W. River Road, 888-7878).