Your food expectations are probably minimal at most wine bars – maybe crackers and some chunks of cheese.
Merkin Vineyards Old Town Scottsdale is not most wine bars. Winemaker and idiosyncratic Tool rocker Maynard James Keenan opened the tasting room in March as a big-city outpost for his Verde Valley winery, placing an unusual emphasis on locally sourced vegetable dishes. From the roasted small potatoes perfumed with garlic to the cucumbers laced with hot chiles and fresh mint, the menu is memorable, but the cauliflower vindaloo ($9) stands out. Sourcing white, purple, cheddar and Romanesco cauliflower from the Merkin greenhouse up north, chef Chris Smith roasts the florets in olive oil with a dash of salt and pepper. He then drapes the florets with a bold cardamom- and cumin-heavy vindaloo sauce, and scatters the cauliflower with golden raisins poached in Merkin Chupacabra Red that burst with sweet, wine-soaked goodness. A final sprinkle of toasted black and white quinoa helps the earthy cauliflower sing an exciting new tune.
Since this is a tasting room, the server will be happy to suggest an appropriate wine pairing, but Smith suggests the Chupacabra Blanca or the Malvasia, both robust enough “to cut through the spices and different layers of the dish.”