As some of you know, I am a certified Spinning Instructor and I have been teaching at our neighborhood gym for a good ten years or so now.and during the winter months I organize wine tastings at the gym following a Spinning class. They are called ‘Sip and Spins’ a name that I did not chose, nor do I particularly like, but I have been doing them for at least six years now, so it does not look like I am going to get around to changing the name.
I usually try to have a theme for the tastings: sparkling wines (just before New Year’s), Thanksgiving wines, bold reds, patio wines, etc. I usually go across a border to buy the wine (which is technically illegal) since the selection is much greater and the prices are generally lower than the state controlled monopoly, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB, aka BOME–the bane of my existence).
This week, however, I was short on time and I went to one of the two stores in Center City Philadelphia that are worth perusing. Imagine that for a moment: the third largest downtown area in the country, with approximately 100,000 residents has exactly two places to buy wine. The two stores are by no means ‘good’ but they do not suck as bad as the others (the other stores are at best horrible and at worst down right scary). Knowing that I was going to have to shop at the PLCB, I did not go in with any preconceived ‘themes’ in mind for the tasting–I figured I would make it up on the fly.
A couple quick facts about the PLCB:
- The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a liquor control state, and our laws concerning booze are most closely associated with those of Utah. In fact, they are often cited as being more oppressive than Utah’s.
- The Commonwealth is the largest single purchaser of wine in the country, and second in the world to Ontario.
This means, though, that the Commonwealth has enormous buying power and often will buy up the entire stock of a wine at a discount. In the abstract, this is a promising idea–wineries need cash flow and the state’s wine consumers benefit. In practice, however, the wines that are offered to the PLCB at these discounts tend to be those wines that are not selling all that well at the winery (why would you discount something that you were going to sell out of anyway?). These could be wines from off vintages or wines that have received low scores from the critics–in other words, wines that tend to suck for whatever reason. Regardless, there are occasionally good deals to be had with the Chairman’s Selections and I have certainly taken advantage of a few.
Usually, the store is littered with countess boxes on the floor of the latest ‘Chairman’s Selections’–the PLCB does not seem to believe in ‘merchandizing’ at all. This time, when I entered the store, there were essentially none–only a few that same close to fitting in my budget. It was a pathetic site and I immediately panicked since I needed to come up with something for the tasting. I wandered around for close to 45 minutes trying to cobble together 5 wines that would not bust the budget or cause me to hurl when I tasted them.
So here are the five wines. The theme?
“Wines that I could find at the PLCB that were under $20, that it took me 45 minutes to find and I pray don’t completely suck.”
I should be in marketing.
2011 A to Z Pinot Gris: Retail ~$20. PLCB Price $15. This was actually a very pleasant surprise. I have had some of A to Z’s Pinots and while not overly complex, they are also not overly pricey. This Pinot Gris was tart and lively with very good fruit and a solid finish. Many in the crowd selected this as their wine of the night, and I could not argue the point. A solid patio or apéritif wine. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2010 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel: Retail $13. PLCB Price $10. I saw this right when I walked in to the store and grabbed it, figuring I would put it back once I found a better option/value. I never did. For me, it is tough to beat Bogle in the price range–sure, they are a huge producer and their wines might lack the character of the more expensive single vineyard or boutique wines. But for the buck? These, along with the Cline portfolio of wines are solid options for every day drinking. Good fruit and balance if lacking a bit of complexity. Good. 85-87 Points.
2010 Bonny Doon Rousanne My Favorite: Retail ~$25? PLCB Price $14. I previously reviewed this wine for the Pennsylvania Vine Company website and it stays pretty true a few months later. In fact, I would bump it up a bit in score (but that might have been due to the dearth of other choices). My wine of the night along with the A to Z.
N.V. Dubakella Six and Eleven: Retail $30. PLCB Price $15. I was surprised by this wine. First, the label is completely tacky and would normally cause me to recoil in horror, but I was desperate and this fit the price point. It also had a curious blend: 68% Grenache and 32% Pinot Noir–I can count on one hand the number of times that I have seen Pinot as part of a blend, so I decided to grab it (it helped that it was the wine at the checkout counter). The problem was that I was afraid to drink it–Grenache and Pinot? Seriously? Well, it was fruity. Black Cherry Kool-Aid fruity. It could work as a pizza or patio wine, but as a serious food wine? Not so much. $30? Nope. $15? Meh. Average to Good. 83-85 Points.
Domaine de la Soléiade Vacqueyras: Retail ~$22. PLCB Price $15. This was a solid effort, but really needed some food to offset the earthy astringency that some in the class found off-putting. I really enjoyed the wine and even considered getting some more, but that would require a return trip to the PLCB and there was no way I wanted to do that again anytime soon. Very Good. 86-88 Points.