March 16, 2017
Drinking wine in Philly has never been better.
What was once a simple cabernet and chardonnay town, the city has fostered a healthy wine-drinking climate making for killer lists and a crop of wine pros that smash stodgy notions of suited-up sommeliers.
Between backwards state liquor laws – compared to most other states – and an ages-old predilection for beer, the city's wine scene wasn’t built overnight, and it was hardly smooth sailing. And while wine is historically a male-dominated field, Philly’s scene thrives, in large part, thanks to a group of women working passionately to keep glasses filled with the good stuff.
Just a year earlier, the first Philly Beer Week was celebrated, cementing the city’s longstanding love for craft brewing. The ongoing growth of Beer Week proved that Philly is a town that’s serious about the fine art of fermentables. Over the past decade plus, the city’s passion for quality drinking evolved into a three-part movement.
“When college kids would come in, at first they’d order beer. Then, it was cocktails, and now, it’s wine," she said.
Jill Weber was an unlikely forerunner of Philly’s wine boom. An archeologist by trade, Weber worked in Turkey, Syria and Iraq – all countries with lesser-known but vibrant winegrowing regions. In 2010, Weber opened Jet Wine Bar at 15th and South streets, hoping to share these undiscovered gems with the people of Philadelphia.
“We opened with Moroccan and Greek wines on the menu,” Weber remembers. Her mission at Jet was – and continues to be – to open guests’ eyes to the world of wines beyond Italy and France.
“No one wants to be intimidated when having fun,” she said.
Shaking the intimidation factor is huge for Chloe Grigri, owner of The Good King Tavern, at the corner of 7th and Kater streets, just south of South Street. Growing up with French parents, wine was a part of everyday life, so much so that at age six, her aspiration was becoming a professional wine taster. As it turns out, childhood wine dreams do come true. At The Good King, Grigri has a by-the-glass program that encourages exploration. Wines are available by the glass or bottle and guests can choose from whites and reds designated as "good," "better" and "best." Selections change with frequency, but savvy staff members are always there to welcome guests to a new pour. This model also makes for an inclusive drinking vibe, no matter what kind of experience you’re going for. As Grigri eloquently puts it, “There’s wine for drinking, and there’s wine for thinking.”
Philly Wine Week Runs from Sunday, March 19 to Sunday, March 26.