December 14, 2015
’Tis the season for caroling, yule logs, and frantic trips to the PLCB Wine & Spirits store to grab an acceptable, but not an overpriced, bottle of wine on your way to a party.
If you’re like most people and don’t plan your wine buying in advance, the limited selection and uneven customer service at some area state stores can leave you wishing you had a mini sommelier in your pocket.
For the next best thing, PhillyVoice asked Justin Timsit, wine director at The Rittenhouse Hotel, for his advice. At two Center City stores, he plucked 20 bottles from the shelves—whites, reds and sparklers that offer great value for their price, from a $12.99 steal all the way to a $74.99 splurge.
Timsit is a Los Angeles native (fun fact: as a child actor, he played the blue Power Ranger on the 1990s TV series) and a walking wine encyclopedia. He recently earned the prestigious rank of Advanced Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. When he’s not perfecting the wine list at Lacroix and other Hersha Hospitality–owned hotel restaurants, he’s studying for the notoriously grueling Master Sommelier exam this spring.
Note: These wines are currently in stock at several PLCB stores in the Philly area, but the 1218 Chestnut St. and 2040 Market St. locations generally have the best selection in Center City. Search here by wine code for store availability.
“I’m really fond of this Austrian producer; even their entry-level wines are spectacular. This is a really crisp, mineral white wine with mouth-watering acidity that has a similar character to Sauvignon Blanc.”
“This Sauvignon Blanc comes from a single vineyard in Martinborough, on the north island of New Zealand. It’s delicious—really pungent and highly aromatic. It jumps right out of the glass."
“Pinot Gris from Oregon is a great alternative to Pinot Grigio, which can be uninteresting a lot of the time. This delicious Pinot Gris is made in the Willamette Valley and it’s an excellent value.”
“This is probably the best value-driven Chardonnay in the new world, and it’s made by one of the most brilliant winemakers on the planet [Jim Clendenen]. If you brought it to my party, I’d be very happy.”
“Moscofilero is a really brilliant grape—highly aromatic. This is a really affordable and well-made Greek white. Great as an aperitif.”
“From an iconic Greek producer on the island of Santorini, this is a brilliant white wine for someone who wants to branch out from Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. It’s very crisp and has a salty finish, great for fish and bitter vegetable courses. Really an intriguing wine.”
“For $17 and from an iconic producer in Piedmont, this wine is incredible—a crowd-pleaser. Dolcetto is similar to Barbera or a bolder style Grenache; it’s definitely got that Italian thumbprint. This wine is juicy with moderate tannins, and really perfumed aromas of blueberry, violets and black pepper.”
“This Mendoza producer makes really intense and structured wines. A fantastic example of Malbec in that classic Mendoza style.”
“This wine has the body of a Pinot Noir but the spice character of Syrah. It comes from Mount Vesuvius, from an indigenous Italian varietal called Piedirosso. It’s a really interesting red from a legendary producer that’s been making wine in Campania since the late 1800s.”
“This is an incredible wine from Saumur-Champigny, a village in Anjou in France’s Loire Valley. The quality you get from this Cabernet Franc compared to what you’d pay in Bordeaux for Cabernet Franc is night and day. It’s really a game-changer—comparable to wines at four or five times the price.”
“Syrah is one of those grapes that is very food-friendly, and Qupé is a winery I really admire. This single-vineyard Syrah comes from a cooler site in Santa Barbara’s Santa Maria Valley. It’s a magnificent bottle of wine for $35.”
“Cristom wines out of Oregon have a rustic and more European profile. This is a vibrant style wine that really makes you want to have a second glass. It doesn’t tire your palate out and has lower alcohol and higher acidity so it’s very food friendly. Burgundy without the price tag.”
“This is insane for $12.99. For the value, it’s probably one of the best bottles of sparkling wine in the store. It’s a brilliant, award-winning Lambrusco rosé; bone dry. You’re really getting a phenomenal value here, and not in the style that most people have come to know as Lambrusco. A real surprise.”
“For a budget Prosecco, go with Zardetto. It comes from Treviso and is in the classic Prosecco style —straightforward and to the point."
“Try this Lambrusco in place of a Prosecco; it can be a little bit more interesting. If you need to do an inexpensive sparkling wine, this pairs well with a wide variety of foods, especially cured meats and briny flavors.”
“This is a really delicious Crémant from the Jura region of France, and an incredible value for $17. It’s made from 100 percent Chardonnay, and it will drink similar to a Champagne because it’s made the same way—it just has a slightly different nuance.”
“A great example of a world-class sparkling wine from outside of Champagne. Franciacorta is Italy’s highest quality region for traditional-method sparkling wine that can stand toe-to-toe with many of Champagne’s well-known houses. This is from one of the best producers in that region.”
“If this wine had the label of a big Champagne house, it would be triple the price. This producer is based in Ambonnay, a grand cru village in Champagne. Billiot takes their best grapes to make this Champagne, which they farm themselves. It’s a brilliant wine and very small production. Really, really well-priced.”
“The quality you’re getting for the price is pretty incredible because it’s a ‘grower Champagne’ from a small family, without the branding markups of the bigger houses. It’s made from 100 percent Chardonnay, and it comes from biodynamic-farmed vineyards and minimal intervention winemaking. The wine is bone dry and has an intensity of flavor that is hard to find—one of my personal favorites.”
“For a really great splurge, this is one of my favorite Champagne rosés in the world. It’s probably one of the most iconic rosés out there, and you’ll recognize it by the bottle’s unique shape. Try pairing this with richer courses throughout a meal that would normally take a red wine, and not just as an aperitif.”