April 30, 2006

Striking Developments

At the beginning of April, the drivers who deliver alcohol to a PLCB warehouse near the Philadelphia International Airport and then to local stores went on strike. You may not have noticed this because it didn’t get much press and because the PLCB had its stores stock up to six-week supply levels in anticipation of the strike. Notwithstanding these efforts, the specialty store on Chestnut was running out of certain types of wine only two weeks into the strike.

The good news, I understand, is that the strike ended last week. The bad news, however, is that it may be déjà vu all over again. Word on the street was that the folks who load the trucks may strike this week. If this is true, hopefully everything will be resolved with little or no interruption in distribution. Keep an eye on your local PLCB store's shelves.

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April 23, 2006

Chef Vetri to Open L'Osteria in North Philly

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today that Chef Marc Vetri of Vetri Ristorante will be opening a second restaurant around Thanksgiving; it will be located at 640 N. Broad St. This “upper end casual” restaurant will be called L’Osteria and will feature a wine bar and a wood-burning oven.

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April 22, 2006

W.H. Smith - Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2003

On the nose: This wine is a lesson on why it’s important to use the proper glass for the wine you are tasting. This wine has a high alcohol content—14.5%. I made the mistake of using a Bordeaux glass for this wine (hey, we all cut corners on occasion). The narrower opening of the Bordeaux glass apparently stove-piped the alcohol and all I smelled at first without any swirl was nail polish remover. I take full blame for this; this was my fault, not the wine's fault. After this wine was placed in the proper glass, a gentle swirl exposed a wonderful aroma of warm plum, cherry and slightly peppery notes. Respect your wine; put it in the proper glass and give it a swirl.

On the palate: This is a well-made, mid to full-bodied wine. You’re greeted with a huge, creamy mouthful of plum, cherry, a bit of raspberry. A small hint of licorice echoes in the background as the wine decants. The wine has a welcomingly dry and somewhat short finish. Toward the end, the back of your tongue will be tickled by its refreshingly crisp acidity. But the long-lasting tannins are slightly harsh for a pinot noir, which distances this wine from the sensual experience you expect from this delicate variety. Under California law, a producer can add up to 25 percent of another variety to a pinot noir without revealing it’s a blend. So, it’s possible that this may be a blend (possibly with cabernet sauvignon, if I had to guess), which would explain the strong tannins. But I could be wrong.

On the wallet: W.H. Smith is a small California winery. I have read that this particular wine is both W.B. Smith’s largest production (fueling my suspicion that it’s a blend) and its least expensive offering ($23.99), which appears to be the type of wine the PLCB concentrates on in its specialty stores. Truthfully, this wine is a great deal; I’ve seen it listed on the Internet for as high as $37.99. But the bargain only serves to remind you that the Sonoma Coast pinot noir is the only W.H. Smith wine the PLCB will allow you to sample.

On the table: This wine is not fruity enough for lighter fare. And although it’s tannic structure is not delicate enough for salmon, pork or veal, this wine should stand nicely with beef and game.

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April 18, 2006

Brasserie Perrier Hosts May 3, 2006 Wine Dinner

May is shaping up to be another great month for foodies in Philadelphia. In addition to the Philadelphia Wine Festival on May 2, Braserie Perrier is hosting a special wine dinner on May 3, 2006 with Chef Chris Scaraduzio and winemaker Jeffrey Stambor featuring wines from Beaulieu Vineyard. Five courses with wine parings at $135 per person.

Brasserie Perrier
1619 Walnut Street
(215) 568-3000

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April 13, 2006

Wine Drinkers Have Lower Risk of Lung Cancer; Beer Drinkers...Not So Much

The studies were done by Canadians, eh. Wait...Canadians dissing beer? Slate’s Human Nature column breaks it down:

Beer may increase your risk of lung cancer—but wine may lower it. In one study, "after smoking was discounted, drinking up to six beers per week increased the risk of lung cancer by 20 percent, and by 50 percent for seven or more beers consumed in the same period." In another study, "beer appeared harmful to men who did not eat fruit and vegetables regularly while men who drank wine saw their lung cancer risk drop by 40 percent, and women by 70 percent." Interpretations: 1) Beer causes cancer; wine prevents cancer. 2) Beer drinkers eat fried food, which causes cancer; wine drinkers eat vegetables, which prevent cancer. 3) Wine drinkers, being richer and better educated than beer drinkers, take better care of their bodies in lots of ways.

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April 11, 2006

I'm Famous!

Well, they say you always remember your first. So, my sincere thanks to Philadelphia Will Do for linking to my April 10 Wine Spectator post.

Philadelphia Will Do honed in on what I believe is the primary drawback of the PLCB’s distribution system—limitations on our choice of wine.

To be fair to the PLCB, though, in the instance of the 2002 Mark West Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, it IS possible that the PLCB did have some at one time and wines from the Russian River Valley ARE produced in limited quantities. But that only serves to illustrate the criticism that Philly Will Do and I share—the PLCB’s bulk “buying power” model often doesn’t give you the opportunity to experience some of the smaller, more popular productions, and the PLCB’s draconian limitations on direct shipment prevent you from getting them on your own.

Thanks again to Philadelphia Will Do. Also, thanks to Philly Future for listing me on their blog roll.

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April 10, 2006

Philadelphia Restaurants Featured in Wine Spectator

This month’s issue of Wine Spectator features an article by John Mariani entitled “Old Meets New in Philadelphia.” According to the article, Philadelphia’s diverse neighborhoods are giving rise to some very personalized restaurants. Here are a few highlights:

  • Mariani focuses on four of Philadelphia’s finest: Barclay Prime, Bliss, Gayle and Striped Bass. And yes, he mentions BP’s infamous $100 American Wagyu cheese steak, which comes with (as he says) a “slab” of foie gras and a half-bottle of Veuve Clicot.

  • Mariani also gives a shout out to Farmicia, Estia, El Vez and Amada (an authentic tapas bar I’m looking forward to trying).

  • The article laments the cost of wine in some of the profiled restaurants. Mariani lays most of the blame for this on Pennsylvania’s restrictive state-controlled wine distribution system. I am glad Mariani gave the cost issue some attention. However, I think it needs to be put into context, which will do in a later post.

  • Mariani mentions having a glass of 2002 Mark West Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($13) at Striped Bass, though it’s not clear whether he liked it. I recently had this wine (for less than $13 a glass, I believe) at two other Stephen Starr restaurants—Washington Square and The Continental at 2nd and Market—and I enjoyed it. I haven’t had enough of this wine to be able to write anything thoughtful about it; the PLCB will not be getting any more in (though it’s not clear that they ever really had any available for consumers) and the winery told me it’s all gone. I recommend hitting one of these Stephen Starr restaurants and trying a glass while they still have some left. My only advice is to ask them to put it in the proper glass. The Continental, unfortunately, served this wine in a chardonnay glass and it never had a chance to open up.

In addition, Wine Spectator’s feature article, “The New Italian Cuisine,” profiles, among others, Philadelphia’s chef Marc Vetri of Vetri Ristorante for his innovative approach to Italian food. Also, Chef Vetri shares his recipe for Asparagus Crespelle with Balsamella Sauce.

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April 09, 2006

Feudo Arancio – Nero d’Avola 2003

On the nose: At first, it’s mostly licorice and anise. With patience and a lot of swirling, you can coax a little fruit into making an appearance.

On the palate: This is a full-bodied and relatively one-dimensional wine. I’m used to licorice and anise being faint, background notes that add layer of complexity. Here, however, it takes up the entire stage. At first, the licorice / anise flavor bullies its way out of the bottle. It is dominant and overwhelming. If you allow the wine to breathe, the licorice and anise will spread out enough to allow some of the fruit to be noticed. However, the flavors are so densely packed together and the finish is so abrupt that the fruit does not have much of a chance to say anything meaningful. A licorice aftertaste seems to ghost around long after you’re ready to move on.

On the wallet: This wine was on sale for $8.99. If you really, really like licorice and anise, this wine is a steal. It’s unlikely that I’ll buy another bottle.

On the table: The bottle recommends pairing this wine with risotto, pasta, red meats, game, lamb and seasoned cheese. I don’t think the wine is that versatile, however. Because the licorice and anise is as heavy as it is, I would not recommend experimenting with anything other than red meat or pizza. And even then, you’ll need to decant for quite some time to give this wine a chance.

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April 08, 2006

David Bruce - Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains 2002

On the nose: This wine has red berry, floral and faint earthy scents.

On the palate: This is a complex, medium to full-bodied pinot noir. In addition to the forward red berry flavor, you can taste notes of vanilla and mineral. On the finish, an unexpected and exciting hot pepperiness emerges and lingers long on the tongue. Very bold.

On the wallet: The PLCB charges $30.99. The complexity of this wine makes it worth the price, although a quick Internet search revealed that this wine can be found for as much as $3.00 less in New Jersey. The PLCB offers this as a specialty wine, which means that the wine has a limited availability and usually can be found only in the PLCB’s Premium Collection Stores. You may have a rough time finding this wine—I just bought the last two bottles at the Wine and Spirits Store on Chestnut Street, and according to the PLCB’s Product Catalog database, there are no stores in Philadelphia County that have any bottles left.

On the table: This pinot noir is elegant enough to be paired with pork and veal. Given this wine’s intensity, however, I’d also feel comfortable drinking this along side red meat.

N.B.: This is NOT David Bruce’s Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Bottled 2002, which Wine Spectator rated 92 and listed in its January 2006 Ultimate Buying Guide issue. The PLCB, apparently, does not carry the “Estate Bottled” version. This illustrates how important it is to pay attention to the label.

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April 07, 2006

Philadelphia Wine Festival 2006

The 5th Annual Philadelphia Wine Festival will be held on May 2, 2006 at The Cruise Terminal at Pier 1. VIP Tasting ($200) starts at 5:00 p.m. The Grand Tasting, i.e., general admission ($95), takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The list of participants is long and impressive; over 100 wineries are scheduled to attend, including notables such as Joseph Phelps, Silver Oak and Chateau Palmer.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board will operate an on-site store specifically featuring wines sampled at the event. A silent auction will benefit the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click below:

Philadelphia Wine Festival 2006
The Cruise Terminal at Pier 1
(at The Navy Yard)
5100 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19002

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April 06, 2006

Bistro D'Oc (Washington, D.C.)

I was in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago for a conference and I got the chance to have dinner with a couple who are among my and my wife’s closest friends. They are fellow foodies who recently moved to D.C. They recommended that we eat at a French restaurant they found that had quickly become one of their favorites—Bistro D’Oc.

The restaurant is casual, unpretentious and has the atmosphere of an authentic Bistro. The daily specials are written on a large chalk board that the server walked over to our table. The simple wood furniture and worn hardwood floor give it a comfortable, Old-World feel. Importantly, there was no rush to finish the meal. My understanding is that the restaurant occasionally draws in international students from a nearby youth hostel, which certainly would add even more authenticity to the experience.

The first thing to hit our table was a bottle of the house cabernet sauvignon, a 2003 Domaine la Rosiere. This wine comes from a small winery in the Languedoc region and it was amazing. This wine was robust. It had a solid, well-balanced tannic structure with a red berry flavor and just a hint of spice.

I started off with the Chevre Chaud, a salad with beets and hot Vermont goat cheese and olive oil. The dressing had a note of lemon and, although it made the salad light and refreshing, the citrus seemed to overpower the beets.

For the main course, I had the Cassoulet Maison. Cassoulet is a controversial dish. In certain circles, the mere mention of this peasant stew is more likely to trigger a broken bottle fight than a Pavlovian response. Strong opinions are held on almost every aspect of this casserole, including the origins of the dish, whether the beans should be presoaked, the types of beans and sausage that should be used, and whether lamb should be included. The one cassoulet issue that might inspire me to swing a broken bottle or two is the issue of time—regardless of how the beans and the meat have been separately pre-cooked, they have to be cooked together long enough to allow the beans to absorb the flavors of the meat. Otherwise, the ingredients will not be able to achieve the necessary balance. In other words, you have to show cassoulet a little love and a little patience. Ultimately, this is what makes cassoulet cassoulet. Often times, however, this critical step is sacrificed, and when that happens, it is obvious and disappointing.

From the very first bite of Bistro D’Oc’s cassoulet, you can taste the love and patience; the ingredients were given ample time to become acquainted. This version of the rustic staple is teeming with meat—duck, lamb, pork and Toulouse sausage. The duck makes this dish sinfully rich. Cassoulet is THE dish to get at this restaurant and it is, by far, the best cassoulet I’ve ever enjoyed.

For dessert, we shared the Fondant au cholocat. Another rich dish. A deep, satisfying end to a perfect meal with the best of friends.

Bistro D’Oc
518 Tenth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.
(202) 393-5444

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