In mid-March, owner and head winemaker Maynard James Keenan of Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars opened Merkin Vineyards Old Town Scottsdale, a farm-to-table, vine-to-glass tasting room in downtown Scottsdale. Most of the featured wines are produced by Keenan and his team in the Verde Valley. But Keenan has talents far beyond winemaking – he’s also a Grammy award-winning vocalist for the bands Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer.
Executive chef Dirk Flanigan curates the tasting room’s vegetable-driven tapas menu. Most of the menu’s produce is grown in the Verde Valley by Randee Larremore and Keenan’s father, Mike Keenan, and everything else is sourced from Arizona farmers and purveyors, including McClendon’s Select Organic Farm and Hayden Flour Mills.
Flanigan’s locally-grown vegetable menu includes a bold vindaloo-spiced cauliflower with raisins and quinoa; beet “tartare,” a hearty combo of roasted beets, shallots, capers, parsley and chilies; and roasted mushrooms with onions, smoked ricotta cheese and herbs. “We’re trying to create an experience that’s close to 100 percent Arizona,” Flanigan says.
For something a little more substantial, Flanigan suggests the smoked trout salad with pickle aioli or Berkshire pork belly with smoked ricotta and apricots. He also serves a variety of charcuterie and cheese selections that pair well with Keenan’s Arizona wines. “I’ve got goat cheese with Arizona honey-crusted pistachios and smoky blue cheese with candied bacon. They’re very simple pairings.”
To top off your wine and tapas tasting, Flanigan recommends a piece of olive oil cake with house-made gelati and sorbetti fashioned from fruit grown in Merkin orchards and vineyards.
So far, the mix of customers has included folks who really know Keenan’s wine and ask for it by name (“I want a glass of Tarzan”); and Tool fans who are just curious about Maynard James Keenan’s other life (“Dude, we’re here. Oh my God”).
“People are so excited and the feedback has been great,” Flanigan says. “When you walk into a tasting room, the expectation is a cheese plate, salami and some crackers. The approach here is for guests to have their senses come alive with an Arizona experience.”