May 31, 2007

The Status of Direct Wine Shipping in Pennsylvania

In November 2005, the Pennsylvania law that allowed in-state wineries to ship wine to Pennsylvania residents but prohibited out-of-state wineries from doing so was declared unconstitutional. Last June, Governor Rendell proposed legislation that would allow Pennsylvania consumers to have wine shipped directly to their doors from out-of-state wineries (which I blogged about here). As part of Rendell’s proposal, the wineries would be required collect PA’s 18% Emergency Tax (a/k/a/ the “Johnstown Flood Tax”).

Ever wonder what happened to Rendell’s proposal? The PA legislature put it on the back burner. An article in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains why:

Because the buyers of Pennsylvania wines make up such a minority of overall wine consumers, and account for such a small percentage of the state’s wine and spirits business, the issue isn't on the front burner in Harrisburg.

Instead, the respective House and Senate committees -- the Liquor Control Committee in the House, and the Law and Justice Committee in the Senate -- are dealing with beer-related issues: whether Sheetz and other convenience stores and supermarkets can sell beer to go, and whether distributors can sell 18-packs.

The PA legislature is clearly a few bottles shy of a case on the direct shipping issue. This proposed law isn’t about Pennsylvania wines or those who buy them. It’s about making sure the state can collect the 18% Johnstown Flood Tax on non-Pennsylvania wine that is purchased through the Internet and shipped into PA. What’s even more bizarre is that the legislature appears to be oblivious to the fact that these Internet wine sales are happening right now. That’s right—currently, there are Internet sites out there that will sell you wine and ship it directly to your door in PA. So, while the legislators wrestle with the heady issue of whether PA’s archaic liquor laws will allow WaWa to sell a six of Bud, the state is hemorrhaging money in lost taxes as its residents take advantage of wine deals on the Internet.

Not having to pay the Johnstown Flood Tax when they order wine over the Internet sounds like great deal for PA consumers. But if getting burned on lost revenue isn’t enough to convince the legislature to move this issue to the “front burner,” perhaps they should no longer be allowed to operate the stove.

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Pocket Sommelier - Mercato

Short Rib Gnocchi

In today’s City Paper you’ll find the latest edition of Pocket Sommelier. I pair wine with two dishes at Mercato: the Ricotta Gnocchi in a Short Rib Ragu; and the intense, flavorful and organic Braised Jamison Farm Lamb Shank that was recently added to the menu.

Most people bring one bottle of wine to a BYOB. But more often than not, that one wine will not match every course. It may seem silly to bring two or even three bottles of wine to a restaurant, but the wrong wine could ruin a dish. For example, two of the Chiantis we brought went well with the gnocchi, but they were a complete mismatch for the lamb.

However, the Cab I alluded to at the end of my post about the Philly Wine Festival—the Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Wetzel Family Estate 2004—paired amazingly well with the lamb. What’s exciting about this wine is that it has the same type of rich, spicy profile found in some of the more celebrated California Cabs, but it’s one third the price.

Braised Jamison Farm Lamb Shank

Carnivores with a conscience will not want to miss the chance to savor Mercato's new lamb dish. The meat was so tender it spilled off the bone before my fork even touched it. And Jamison Farm, located in Latrobe, PA, is known far and wide for raising its lambs on a diet that is 100% natural and free of hormones, antibiotics, herbicides and insecticides. I tasted a slight hint of anise in this dish, a flavor I could not attribute to any of the ingredients. Not knowing what it was drove me mad. When I later asked Chef de Cuisine Mackenzie Hilton what it could be, she posited that it might have something to do with what the lamb had eaten. Now, that’s organic.

For more pics, check out my Mercato set on Flickr.

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May 21, 2007

The 2007 Philadelphia Wine Festival Wrap-Up

Chateau Margaux 2001

Belated congratulations to the PLCB and Philadelphia Magazine for successfully hosting the 2007 Philadelphia Wine Festival. This year’s festival had around 40 fewer vendors and was a little more expensive than last year. However, the festival’s central location at the Mariott Hotel in Center City, the food provided by DiBruno’s (including the quince paste covered cheese and the bruschetta with freshly-cut prosciutto) and the never-ending courtesy cups of spring water provided by Panna were all improvements that helped to make this year’s festival better than the last.

Here are some of the notable wines at the festival, with a few thoughts and surprises along the way.

The First Growth Bordeaux

This year there were three Bordeaux at the festival, all of which were First Growths: Chateau Haut Brion 2001, Chateau Margaux 2001 and Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2003. First Growths are considered to be among the best wines in the world. If you’re a wine enthusiast, it’s important to taste First Growths because they are the wines that Cabernet Sauvignon producers all around the world look to as their benchmark. Though young, these three wines drank like heaven and were not to be missed.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2003

--Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2003 (PLCB No. 20296, $312.39): Aggressive, enamel-stripping tannins, but powerful, rich blackberry and cherry flavors lie underneath waiting to emerge; too young to be approachable now, but a treat to preview nonetheless.

--Chateau Margaux 2001 (PLCB No. 19342, $169.29): Flowery nose; softer and inviting; complex and nuanced structure of cassis, plum and dark berries systematically unfolding through a long finish.

--Chateau Haut Brion 2001 (PLCB No. 20098, $170.19): Grand and opulent; signature dark berries, cherries and spice; calculated and balanced structure with an endless finish.

Chateau Haut Brion 2001

The First Growths, though, highlight an important issue about the festival’s pricing structure. Like past years, this year’s festival employed a two-tiered pricing system: the VIP Tasting, which cost $225 and began at 6:00 p.m.; and the Grand Tasting, which cost $125 and began at 7:30 p.m. In addition to getting an hour and a half head start, the VIPs also got to experience special Showcase wines at most of the tables, including all of the First Growth Bordeaux. The Grand Tasters, however, did not.

The two-tiered system is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it opens the event up to more people than festivals with one-tiered pricing systems such as this year’s Wine Spectator’s festival, which charged a flat $200 for everyone. On the other hand, one of the main reasons to go a wine festival (if not the main reason) is to taste the cream of the crop, wines you normally wouldn’t buy. That means the First Growths. To be fair, there were plenty of exciting wines at Philly’s festival for the Grand Tasters to enjoy. But it’s unfortunate that these three important wines were not poured for the Grand Tasters.

The Italian Wines

Italian wine lovers flocked to the Gaja table, which featured two wines: the Gaja Barbaresco 2001; and a Super Tuscan, the Ca’ Marcanda Magari 2004. The full-bodied Barbaresco had wonderfully soft tannins with notes of lilacs, strawberry and blackberry, while the Super Tuscan presented rich black currants, spice and a silky, round finish.

Pio Cesare

Directly adjacent to the Gaja table was Pio Cesare, which featured a Barolo D.O.C.G. 2001 (PLCB No. 4958, $49.99); and a Barbaresco D.O.C.G. 2000 (PLCB No. 23912, price not available), among others. The Barolo, while still a little closed off, was rich, silky and lingered for minutes. The Barbaresco had smooth tannins and revealed dried plum, earth and spice.

The Pennsylvania Wines

The Philly Wine Festival is always a great opportunity to check in with two local wineries, Blue Mountain and Chaddsford. Each winery produces a Meritage (sounds like heritage), an American version of a Bordeaux, both of which I’ve always found to be somewhat challenging. However, Blue Mountain and Chaddsford presented wines at this year’s festival that were exciting and surprising.

Blue Mountain Merlot 2005

The wine Blue Mountain presented that piqued my interest was its 2005 Merlot. What’s exciting about this wine is that it is varietally correct. Don’t dismiss all Merlot because of one line of dialogue in Sideways, folks. If Merlot is not overly corrupted by the winemaker, it can taste and smell similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, which includes having Cab’s signature fingerprint of green peppers on the nose and palate. And Blue Mountain’s 2005 Merlot has that classic green pepper aroma and taste. It’s refreshing to see that Blue Mountain has the courage and skill to allow Merlot to be itself. Blue Mountain’s 2005 Merlot has not yet been formally released, but if you’re interested, you may still be able to snare a bottle of it at the Blue Mountain store in Reading Terminal Market. It has an $18 dollar price point.

The two Chaddsford wines that were the most interesting were the 2004 Due Rossi and the 2005 Pinot Noir. The Due Rossi is a 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Barbera. This wine showed surprising structure and complexity with layers of wet earth, red berries, tobacco and coffee. The Due Rossi’s price point is in the $25 range. Chaddsford takes a subdued Old World approach in crafting its 2005 Pinot Noir. The nose did not have the intense fragrance of unswept barn and dried rose petals that is characteristic of Old World style Pinot Noirs, but the wine did have a welcomingly delicate and subtle palate.

The California Wines

PLCB Chairman Patrick J. Stapleton III may not have been a wine enthusiast prior to becoming Chairman earlier this year, but he apparently knows his stuff now. Shortly after arriving at the festival, Chairman Stapleton made his way to the Silver Oak table, where he enjoyed the Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 (PLCB No. 011663, $99.99).

PLCB Chairman Patrick J. Stapleton III

The nose on this wine was intense and evoked a very specific smell I experienced every August in my youth when my family and I would go camping in Bedford County—dense bramble and meadow after an early evening rain. But the palate—while full of the Silver Oak's familiar rich oak and dense, dark fruit—lacked some of the nuances of the 2001.

Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

It’s hard to find a California Cab as plush and as fat as a Cakebread. Its 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (PLCB No. 11705, $55.99) is no exception. A blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, this soft and chewy wine was bursting with rich dark fruit, spice and caramely oak. It’s not the shyest of pours, to be sure, but that’s part of the fun.

There was another enjoyable Cab at the festival that had an impressive flavor profile for its price point. But because I have other plans for this wine, I’ll save the discussion for another day, closer to the end of the month.

Again, cheers to the PLCB and Philadelphia Magazine for hosting a successful event. For more pics, go to the 2007 Philly Wine Festival set on my Flickr page.

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May 15, 2007

The Truth About Foie Gras

Rubber Ducky

My most recent WineCHOW column over at is called “The Truth About Foie Gras,” and it highlights the scientific studies by Dr. Daniel Guémené and others that debunk many of the claims activists use to argue for a ban on the sale and/or production of foie gras.

I expect some fallout over the column, especially from my vegan and vegetarian friends. But one of the themes of the article that even those who enjoy a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle should be able to appreciate is this: Personal beliefs are one thing, but when it comes to legislating those choices on others, the science should support the claims being made.

The part of the article that may be harder for some to swallow, though, is that many of the claims used to justify foie gras bans simply are not all they're quacked up to be.

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May 13, 2007

Philly Restaurants Are Going to the Dogs

I’ve been looking for an excuse to post a picture of our dog on this blog for quite some time (his name is Max and he’s a Norwegian Elkhound, in case you were wondering). And thanks to Joe Sixpack and his Daily News article about bars that allow dogs in their outside seating areas, I finally have that excuse. (h/t to FooBooz and MenuPages Blog)

Joe Sixpack found eight Philly-area restaurants with outdoor seating that allow you to enjoy a brew with Man’s best friend:

• Le Bus, 4266 Main St., Manayunk.
• London Grill, 2301 Fairmount Ave., Fairmount.
• White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., University City.
• Bliss, 224 S. Broad St., Center City.
• Caribou Cafe, 1126 Walnut St., Washington Square West.
• Newportville Inn, 4120 Lower Road, Newportville, Bucks County.
• Triumph Brewing, 400 Union Square, New Hope, Bucks County.
• Four Dogs Tavern, 1300 Strasburg Road, West Chester, Chester County.

A newly-opened restaurant in Rittenhouse Square, Tavern 17, takes it one step further. In addition to offering dog-friendly outdoor dining, Tavern 17 has unveiled a special menu of Canine Delights for your pooch.

Sadly, because our dog is a teetotaler and can be a handful when there’s food around, it’s unlikely that I’ll allow him to join us at any of these places.


However, if you know of any restaurants that allow cats, please let me know—my cat is a well-behaved lush with an affinity for Chardonnay. (Don’t worry folks. I’m just kidding; the little snob refuses to drink anything but CATeauneuf-du-Pape.)

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Plate Profile – The 707 Burger at Restaurant 707

Restaurant 707
It takes a lot for a burger to impress me. I’ve eaten more than my fair share of them over the years, and many of Philly’s celebrated burgers haven’t really lived up to the hype. But the 707 Burger at 707 Restaurant & Bar ($10) is one of the more distinctive burgers to come around in quite some time.

The 707 Burger

A lot of places build burgers from the top down, trying to dazzle you with toppings and treating the burger itself merely as any other ingredient. 707, on the other hand, starts from the inside out, working a little onion powder, some finely-chopped shallots and a hint of hot sauce into its hulking 10 oz patty. When cooked, these delicate flavors combine to create a stylishly upscale version of the burger your mom used to make.

707 also knows how to cook it. Ordering a burger less than well-done can be risky, but most folks roll the dice in order to get a juicy patty. So when my well-done 707 Burger arrived teeming with juicy goodness, I was pleasantly surprised. And if you opt for a side salad instead of the fries, you may not feel too guilty once you realize you just ate the entire thing.

707 Restaurant & Bar
707 Chestnut Street
(215) 922-7770

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Plate Profile - A New Feature

I’m adding a new feature here on PhilaFoodie called the “Plate Profile.”

In these posts I will highlight one dish from a Philadelphia restaurant. Full reviews will continue to be the stock and trade of this site. But, hopefully, with the addition of these shorter posts I’ll have greater flexibility to write more quickly about a dish that impresses me without having to visit the restaurant multiple times and craft a full, formal review.

The first Plate Profile will be posted momentarily. Any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated. Enjoy.

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May 03, 2007

Bathrooms, Basque and Bistros

If I told you that my posting has been sparse lately because I’ve been hanging out in women’s restrooms across Center City, would that sound weird? Well, weird or not, it’s partially true.

I wrote a Top 5 for the City Paper, which appears in this week’s issue—Top 5 Brilliant Bathrooms. There will be disagreement over the selections, no doubt. But each entry is principled. Plus, I put a lot of work into the project, and I somehow managed to do so without getting arrested.

I also worked with City Paper to come up with a semi-regular feature called Pocket Sommelier. The one thing you give up at a BYOB is the wine service. So we thought it would be cool to take some of the guesswork out of your BYOB experience by pairing a wine with a dish or two from an area BYOB. The first installment of Pocket Sommelier features two dishes from Bisto 7 and the Franciscan Chardonnay Napa Valley 2005 (PLCB No. 16506, $11.99), which is a Chairman’s Selection. For example, this Chardonnay works well with that gnocchi dish because the Royal Trumpet mushrooms are rich and delicate. Earthier mushrooms, though, may not work as well.

I also signed on to do the Wine Chow column over at In this week’s column I talk about how the small plates phenomenon has changed how we drink wine. To illustrate this point, I discuss Tinto’s Basque cuisine and its regionally-focused wine list.

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