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.
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.
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.
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.