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Five State Store Wine Picks from a.kitchen + bar’s Sommelier Mariel Wega

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The official Eater guide to wine-buying in Philadelphia

Mariel Wega/Facebook

With the exception of a few premium collection flagships, venturing into a state-run Fine Wine and Good Spirits store is a daunting endeavor. The decor scheme brings to mind neon-lit K-Mart on its last legs, employees oftentimes don't know their syrah from Ciroc and the wine selection would surely get a failing grade from Robert Parker. In a town that's known for its award-winning BYOs, the state of wine in Philadelphia is a conundrum.

In order to find the best bottles that the state store has to offer, we're tapping some of the city's wine pros to walk us through the aisle, uncovering vintages and values from the mass market inventory that the PLCB is so very fond of.

Fresh off a Best Sommeliers of 2016 win from Wine & Spirits magazine, a.kitchen + bar somm Mariel Wega was understandably a bit out of her element at the bare bones location of Fine Wine and Good Spirits at the corner of 43rd and Chestnut Streets. While Wega lives within walking distance of this strip mall liquor store, she's not a frequent customer, preferring to stock up across the bridge at Moore Brothers, a venerable boutique seller specializing in biodynamic and artisan selection where she honed her wine knowledge before taking over the cellars at 18th and Walnut. 

"I should come in here and shop more often, I feel like just to put myself in touch with what people are drinking," she says eying an aisle of moscatos and sweet selections that are really having a moment, at least according to the PLCB's numbers. Regardless of the store's foreboding signage and scant selection, Wega was able to come up with a line-up of BYO-worthy bottles on the shelves store number 5150.

1

Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut - $42.99

"This is catching my eye," Wega says of a familiar, gold foil topped bottle situated behind a plastic vitrine. "I like grower Champagne, that’s what I go for," she says. "But this is going to have a nice brand behind it, so you know what you’re getting." Coming from a house that was founded in 1811, this well known grower is one the biggest guns in the Champagne region and has a history that ensures that popping this bottle isn’t going to disappoint.

2

The Négociant Wines

  • M. Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhone - $12.99
  • Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Village - $16.99
  • Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay - $17.99

    Wega refers to her next trio of picks as Négociant wines. These are wines that come from big houses that bring in grapes grown by independent farmers to supplement fruit grown on their own estates. Outsourcing grape production within their own DOCs means that they can up production and make bottles at a lower price point like these less than $20 picks. The Cotes-du-Rhone gets points for approachability and a nice spiciness and braille labels on all of Chapoutier. And even with a large scale operation, Jadot’s farming practices lean towards biodynamic, something that Wega can get behind. And that Beaujolais? "Really, I drink more Beaujolais than anything," she says.

3

Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc - $18.99

Wega’s last pick is a fascinating nod to American winemaking history. "Mondavi, he’s huge, he really got so much going in terms of California wine making and he was really inventive." This innovation can be seen in his invention of this particular wine. "He pretty much made up fume blanc," she explains of this oaked iteration of Sauvignon Blanc. "In French fume means smoked, it’s just a play on that idea, now it’s its own style of wine in California that he just created. It’s definitely not my style, but interesting and it has its fans."

Four State Store Wine Picks from Vedge Sommelier Ross Maloof

Heading up the beverage programs at Vedge and V Street, Ross Maloof's list is a strictly natural affair. Just like the two restaurants' vehemently vegetable focused menus, the wine list is all about bottles made with minimal intervention coming from producers that forgo industrial methodology for tried and true winemaking techniques that date back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Working with a list of esoteric picks means that Maloof has the privilege of introducing guests to bottles of sparkling Pet Nat Primitivo from Oregon and Georgian orange wines i.e. not the kind of stuff that stocks state store shelves.

Living in Old City, Maloof's neighborhood branch of Fine Wine and Good Spirits is situated on Second Street, just south of Market, on a block with plenty of Philadelphia history. Happily, this outpost underwent a recent makeover and is stocking some worthy bottles for Maloof to sniff out.

1

Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris - $21.99

Maloof’s first pick is one with plenty of historical significance, a Pinot Gris coming from a family that’s been in the Alsatian wine game for nearly 400 years. Coming from the same varietal that makes for mundane bottles of Pinot Grigio, Maloof is a big fan of how France treats this noble grape. "It picks up these spicy characteristics and is a lot more full than its counterparts in Italy," he explains.

2

The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira - $135.99

Seeing this box set of four Madeiras stops Maloof in his tracks. "The Rare Wine Company is really cool, they’ve championed the resurgence of Madeira wines into our culture. Madeira was obviously hugely popular during Colonial times, especially in East Coast cities," a sentiment that makes perfect sense being that we’re standing just a few blocks from Independence Mall. This particular set of four half bottles recreates sweeter blends that were popular in New York and Boston, and crisper offerings that folks in Savannah and Charleston went for. Although the price point might be a little high, Maloof notes that Madeira is indestructible. "You can keep it in the fridge, you can keep it on your counter, you can keep it in a hot cellar, and it can stay in great shape for a decade or more."

3

Ridge Three Valleys Sonoma County - $26.99

This California collective has been on the scene since 1962 but most folks don’t associate their minimalist labels with natural wine practices. "It’s the kind of stuff that would fall right into Vedge’s program," Maloof says. "On the mission statement they use the term preindustrial." This particular bottle is a big blend of Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet that comes in at a powerful 14.4%. "It still falls into the like category of what you would expect from California wines, the nice thing is that without all of the manipulation you still get a really wonderful sense of the land that they work here."

4

Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Village - $13.99

Maloof’s next pick is something of a daily driver. "I really love cotes du rhone village," he says noting that this family run operation is using the same vinification methods since the vineyard’s beginnings in 1909. "This is a house that I would put trust in and know that they’re making a pretty quality product and Cotes du Rhone, the villages level, is always fun and fresh, exciting while still being hot."

Four State Store Wine Picks From Kensington Quarters Sommelier

Tim Kweeder has been championing good wines in Philadelphia beginning at his days in Mémé, James and Fish. Since then, he's gone on to push for wholesale wine reform in Harrisburg and taken over as GM at Kensington Quarters, where he's created a short and sweet list that always includes finds that manage to be conversation worthy and approachable all at once.

Kweeder's closest-to-home branch of the PLCB is on the corner of 11th and Wharton Streets, a particularly joyless location that just happens to sit on some prime Passyunk Square real estate.

Upon first glance of the store's selection, Kweeder was quick to point out a round bottle of Mateus. Apparently the Portuguese wine was a favorite of Saddam Hussein who liked it enough to keep his bunker stocked with the semi-sweet sparkler. Luckily, Kweeder was able to uncover a line up of worthwhile bottles all available at the 1237 S. 11th Street store.

1

Travaglini Gattinara - $29.99

Tucked between the Dolcettos, Amarones and Valpolicellas, Kweeder comes across a solid bottle from Piedmonte. "Definitely a higher price point but it’ll beat the hell out of these guys any day." For those in the market for a lighter red, Kweeder has these magic words: "It’s like Barolo meets Burgundy in a good way."

2

Cantine Colosi Nero - $14.99

Nothing but kind words for this southern Itlian winery that specializes in smaller production wines made with Sicilian vartiertals like Frappato, Inzolia and Catarratto. Their single varietal Nero D’Avola isn’t going to disappoint. "If I was looking at this whole wall of Italian, this is the go-to one," says Kweeder.

3

Hugel Gentile - $15.99

It's all about family history for Kweeder who noted that the Hugel family's winemaking chops date back to the 1600s. This Alsatian blend goes heavy on the Gewurtztraminer and incorporates a handful of floral varietals making for a dry, summertime sipper. "Tria refers to this as a porch pounder," Kweeder says.

4

Zazaou Corbieres - $12.99

History plays a part in this selection as well with the wine’s name coming from a group of post World War II bohemians who had a thing for jazz and long hair as well as an aversion to conservatism. Story aside, Kweeder is familiar with the importer, Boutique Wine Collection, and notes that this Languedoc-made bottle works well with grilled lamb and big, Mediterranean flavors.


Four State Store Wine Picks From Townsend's Sommelier

First up: Lauren Harris, the sparkling sommelier that lines up beautiful bottles at Townsend on Passyunk and keeps glasses full at A Mano, the Italian Fairmount BYO from chefs Townsend Wentz and Michael Millon.

Although Harris lives in Fairmount, a full home cellar means that she's not a frequent customer of the 20th and Fairmount state store, and frankly, didn't have high hopes for the store's selection. Lo and behold, here are four options to choose from on your next wine/liquor run — all of which can be found at the 1935 Fairmount Avenue location.


1

Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir - $27.99

Harris explains that this Pacific Northwestern producer speaks to her methodology. "They're pretty uninterventionist," she says. "They practice sustainable farming if not biodynamic." The label talks about which clones were used to produce this light bodied, juicy vintage, when the grapes were harvested and how many barrels were produced.

2

Willamette Valley Vineyards Reisling - $10.99

The same producer makes a Reisling worth your while. "There's a lot of information on the back of bottle. This describes it as fruity clean and crisp which in hot weather sounds appealing to me," she explains. "Because of all of the other technical information [mentioned above], I trust them."

3

Paul Jaboulet’s Parallele 45 Côtes du Rhône - $15.99

<a href="http://www.jaboulet.com/Website/site/eng_lesgammes_lesgrandsclassiques_parallele45rouge_description.htm">Jaboulet/Official</a>

"I would probably buy this if I was coming in here," she says of the infinitely food-friendly blend of Grenache and Syrah. While Jaboulet might be a "huge house", it’s one that has centuries of French winemaking history behind it. "Typically big name houses aren't my jam, but that's who I would trust when I don't see little boutique-y finds. That's what's in here a lot, big-name houses."

4

Lillet Aperol Spritz

<a href="https://www.facebook.com/aperolspritz.usa/photos/a.383414778405.162942.259636158405/10153735314668406/?type=3&theater">Aperol/Facebook</a>

It's Harris's state store secret weapon: a DIY cocktail that can be mixed table-side at A Mano, and one that pairs with the menu’s elegantly executed Italian plates perfectly. "If you have to buy something at this store, my recommendation would be to grab a bottle of Lillet, a bottle of sparkling wine and a bottle of Aperol and make it super fun at the restaurant with a round of Aperol Spritzes." The Lillet is Harris’s secret ingredient to this classic Venetian refresher and it adds lovely floral note to the effervescent aperitivo. It’s also a great way to kick off a meal at A Mano and something of a power move. "After all, you’re probably meeting friends that are definitely bringing wine," says Harris.

V Street

124-126 South 19th Street, , PA 19103 (215) 278-7943 Visit Website

Kensington Quarters

1310 Frankford Avenue, , PA 19125 (267) 314-5086 Visit Website

Townsend

77-82 Whitechapel High Street, , England E1 7QX 020 7522 7896 Visit Website

Vedge

1221 Locust Street, , PA 19107 (215) 320-7500 Visit Website

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