—Philly Wine Week – March 2017—
Andrew Crowley of Tria Wine Bars & Arron Gordon of 13th Street Cocktails
Yay, it’s Philly wine week again! I’ve been looking forward to this all year.
Started in 2014 by Bill Eccleston, Sommelier at Panorama, and Kate Moroney, Director of Vintage Syndicate Restaurant Group, Philly Wine Week was designed to enhance awareness and appreciation of the then-burgeoning wine scene in Philly. Participating restaurants now number over 75, an amazing growth spurt considering it started with just 22 three short years ago.
This year’s sold out opening party, Opening Corks, was held Sunday March 19th at the Academy of Natural Sciences. And it was truly fabulous! Riedel sponsored the glassware; after checking in, I grabbed a lovely, long-stemmed crystal glass and dove into tasting. With over 150 wines from all around the world offered for sampling I was in wine geek heaven.
My first stop was the Rioja table. My ‘epiphany’ wine, the one that made me realize wine was a passion I was going to pursue as far as it would take me, was a 2005 Muga Gran Reserva (aged 2 years in oak and 3 in the bottle). Lots of balanced fruit, and so textured and elegant; one taste and I was immediately transported to the vineyard with the family at the end of their work day, seated at a long, plank table covered with bowls of steaming foods and jugs of wine, the fruits of their labor. I am not completely crazy- most wine geeks can tell you about their epiphany wine, the one that made them go down the rabbit hole and start taking these insanely difficult certification tests.
Anyway! Back to Philly and the Rioja table: Arron Gordon, owner of www.13thstreetcocktails.com was pouring. Formally an Ambassador of the Rioja region, he’s as passionate about Riojas as I, so of course I shared my Muga story! He chose to first pour me a 2016 Muga Rose, a blend of Viruva and Grenacha grapes. This would be referred to as a Jovan, which means ‘drink young’; it has not seen oak. Light pink, it was very smooth, light bodied and easy to drink, with a nose of white flowers. We went on to a Crianza, aged 12 months in American oak with another 12 months in the bottle. Tempranillo is the main grape of the Rioja and it does very well in American oak. Then out came the big guns; a couple of very nice Reservas, aged at least 3 years, one in the bottle; a Vina Pomal 2012, 100% Tempranillo (referred to as a single varietal) and a Taron 2006, a blend of Tempranillo and Mazuelo. Both were delish, with the blend being my preference.
While Reservas do not pack the full punch a Gran Reserva does, they can be easier to drink and I would recommend beginning your Rioja journey by decanting one for at least an hour and then enjoying it with a hearty meal. Expect to pay $18-$30 a bottle.
I was off to find Andrew Crowley, my close friend and wine partner in crime who is the manager of Tria Washington Square, one of four Tria wine bars around Center City. (NOTE: Andrew will be opening the 150 seat Tria Wine Garden and Event Center at 18th and Market sometime this summer!)
Our first stop was at the Descheres.com table, a distributor of Dependable, Delicious and Different wines and spirits! Zach Carey, sales consultant, was pouring a variety of goodies; my favorite was a single varietal Tannat from Uruguay. The Tannat grape is originally from SW France. It performs exceptionally well in the cool, mountainous region of Uruguay. Dry, earthy, with great fruit and a clean, sumptuous finish…an unusual wine which is very easy to drink, with or without food. Tria Washington Square usually has a Tannat on the menu for around $10.
The table next to Descheres was lined with unidentifiable snacks provided by American Sardine Bar. Humm. I was told they were pickled deviled eggs. Now that’s a Philly snack for you! The chef sensed my reluctance.
“Just take a bite,” she said. “You will fall in love.” It was an OMG moment! Absolutely unique and delish!
In front of the animated dinosaur, Vine Street Imports were pouring wines from Australia and England (yes, really!). I started with an amazing Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley, went on to a high acid Riesling from Eden Valley and then a Bordeaux blend from the Margaret River region. I was thrilled I was able to identify the grapes and the regions; all that studying is paying off!
Now for the English sparklers, a first for me. Not that far north of France’s Champagne region, England is producing some decent sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. (FYI-only wines produced in the region of Champagne have the legal right to call themselves Champagne, even when made in the same ‘traditional method’). While very good, I did not find the yeastiness/biscuit taste of a good champagne, and at PA retail price points of $35-$50 I thought they were over-priced, especially when you can buy a good Cava (from Spain) or Prosecco (Northern Italy) for $10-$20. When I do want that Champagne flavor I find quality and value from California producers Schramsberg ($35 at the State Store) and Gloria Ferrer ($22).
The Farm at Doe Run offered three fresh and tasty cheeses produced on their farm in Chester County, PA. These cheeses can be found at DiBruno Bros. and pair well with ciders, white wines and light beers.
The Artisan’s Cellar was pouring both French and Spanish wines. Andrew and I both gave a big thumbs up to another of my favorite Spanish wines, the minerally Albarino, grown in the Ria Baxias region, in the North West. A fantastic summer white, plan to spend around $15.
I wish I had taken more notes for you, as well as photos, but honestly, with so many amazing wines and such a party atmosphere, I took off my writer’s hat and simply indulged. I can testify that a great time was had by all and that Andrew got me home safely. I can’t wait until next year’s party and I hope to see you there!