As my family contemplates a potential move, I have realized that I really enjoy living in Philadelphia. Compared to other larger cities (believe it or not, Philadelphia is once again the fifth largest city in the country–can you name the top four?), Philly is very livable–real estate is relatively inexpensive, it has a vibrant “foodie” scene, there are a plethora of museums, a team in every major sport (they might not be currently any good but that is not the point), and history out the wazoo.
On the flip side (for those contemplating a move to the best city on the East Coast), it can be rather humid and hot in the summer, spring, and fall (I turned on the air conditioning today despite sub-80º temperature), parking downtown can be a chore, and as I have lamented here countless times, the state has a violent disdain for wine consumers.
When compared to the larger cities just to the south (Washington D.C.) and the north (New Amsterdam), Philadelphia not only pales in comparison when it comes to wine-friendliness, it is the pasty runt of the all-albino litter.
Just a couple of “highlights” (I will be skipping the beer and spirits portion of the nightmare in the sake of brevity):
- Consumers can only (legally) buy wine from stores owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). Technically, there are 53 wine stores in this city of 5 million people, but only nine that any serious wine consumer would contemplate patronizing. Think about that.
- There is no wine available in any other store. No Kroger, no Safeway, no Giant, no Whole Foods, no Trader Joe’s, no Costco, no Piggly Wiggly. No. Where. Else.
- Restaurants have to buy their wine at retail prices and pay tax. In almost every other state in the Union, a restaurant gets a price break on the cost of the wine (usually 40-50% off retail). Not in good ole PA! Nope. Restaurants are treated just as awfully as the consumer, which is why many restaurants will charge $50-65 (or more) for a $15 retail bottle of wine and then tax the consumer as well (so in case you missed it, consumers are being taxed twice).
And I am just getting started.
But there is a bright spot: as I mentioned, Philly is a pretty good town for the foodie out there. So much so that there are incrementally more wineries and distributors taking notice of the Philadelphia market, despite the PLCB (well, actually, the PLCB is the single largest purchaser of wine in the country, despite their ineptitude, so that might be part of it).
What does that mean for me?
Well, recently a few wine producers have actually come to my fair city and hosted a few wine writers for lunch (usually I have to go to New Amsterdam for such treatment). Back in June, I was asked to join Jesús Martínez Bujanda of Bodegas Valdemar and his two children, Ana and Jesús Jr. at Estia Restaurant here in Philadelphia.
Seeing as this type of invitation does not come along all that often, I rearranged my schedule to make it happen (actually, unlike at my last “real job” I now have a very understanding boss and it was no trouble at all).
Sitting down in the basement wine room, Jesús Jr. began by giving some background on the family and their wines. Jesús Jr. and his father represent the 5th and 4th generations of winemakers at Bodegas Valdemar where all their fruit is estate grown. In 1983 they were the first European winery to ferment wines in temperature controlled conditions , they were the first in Rioja to make a white Tempranillo, and the first to barrel ferment a Viura, which is what we tasted first.
2014 Conde De Valdemar Finca Alto Cantabria Blanco, Rioja: Retail $18. 100% Viura. Bodegas Valdemar started barrel aging Viura back in the early 1980’s as Jesús Sr. wanted a Viura with more complexity than the un-oaked style without needing to age it for long periods of time. Initially a bit closed, but as it warmed, quite nice. This was the first time this wine was tasted in the US. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
We then moved on to the reds, which in Rioja means Tempranillo, and a seemingly complex appellation system. It really is rather straight forward, however, as it depends largely on the amount of time the wine is aged in barrel. Rioja, interestingly, is one of the few European wine regions that uses American oak barrels extensively, since as Jesús Jr. put it, the American oak provides a richness and texture to Tempranillo that is hard to match with French oak.
2010 Conde de Valdemar Rioja Crianza: Retail $16. 90% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo. 16 months in American oak barrels. A bit of funk but very much in the background. On the palate fruit but restrained and truly wonderful–for $16? This is a great entry point for Rioja. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2007 Conde de Valdemar Rioja Réserva: Retail $20. 90% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano. 22 months in American and French oak casks. Rounder and richer than the Crianza, but there is still a bit of funk (which never hurt anyone). On the palate wonderful. Clearly a step above the Crianza. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2010 Inspiración Valdemar Selección Rioja: Retail $25. 80% Tempranillo, 10% Maturana, 10% Graciano. 10 months in French (80%) and American (20%) barrels. An impressively perfumed nose with a fruit forward style and much more “Western” according to Jesús Sr. Certainly a different style than the others, but this would definitely appeal to those that prefer fruit driven wines (also a Wine Spectator top 100 wine in 2013 for those that are into that kind of thing). Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2005 Conde de Valdemar Rioja Gran Réserva: Retail $35. 85% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano. 28 months in American and French oak barrels. this wine is only produced in the best years (in 2014 the winery sold off 70% of its red grapes due to poor quality), and it shows with this bottle. Yet another step up from the Réserva with less funk and whole lot more Whoa. Wine of the day. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.