The State of Pennsylvania controls liquor sales and distribution, bringing a whole host of hurdles for importers, wine reps, restaurants and sommeliers.
The process can be a headache for wine directors like Patrick Cappiello, one of the New Yorkers behind the gorgeous Walnut Street Café on the ground floor of the FMC tower near 30th Street Station.
“It’s been challenging understanding all the ins and outs,” said Cappiello, who helped Rebelle in Manhattan earn a Michelin star.
The good news? The situation is better than it’s been in over a century, thanks to dogged industry pros working to improve access to interesting wines from small, independent and low-intervention producers from the new and old worlds. Thanks to Philly-based contacts, Cappiello and his Walnut Street sommelier, Kaitlyn Caruke, have curated a 130-label list loaded with interesting producers from the Finger Lakes to Mosel. At Walnut, Caruke offers 50 selections by the glass, but these days, she’s drinking Buddha’s Dharma Chenin Blanc from Pax Mahle, who “has been making compelling and delicious wines in Northern California since 1997.”
With so many top-notch spots, here’s where to go and what to sip.
Named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants in America earlier this year, Townsend leans on the grape smarts of general manager and certified sommelier, Lauren Harris, who leads weekly tastings with the front-of-house staff. A sense of joy and discovery focuses the list here on the lesser-known wines, like Gruner Silvaner from Germany’s Swabian Jura and Listan Negro from the Canary Islands, which the excellent servers and bartenders at Townsend pour with exactly zero pretense.
Drink This: Division Winemaking Co.’s “quenching and exciting” Chenin Blanc
Bill Eccleston, general manager and sommelier of the stalwart 27-year-old Panorama, offers all 150 of his wines by the glass.
“Though the focus is on Italy, we want to shine the light on a range of grape varieties from classic to obscure and regions from traditional to emerging—all while looking to offer excellent value in every category,” he said.
So you’ll find the three Bs—Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello—but also Aglianico, Dolcetto, Verdicchio and Vermentino.
Drink This: Sparkling Malvasia Nero Rosato from Marche’s Cantina Fontezoppa
A.Kitchen and A.Bar
“Unfortunately, drinking wine in a restaurant can be intimidating, especially if it’s known as a ‘wine restaurant,’” said Joey Campanella, general manager and wine director of A.Kitchen and A.Bar. “Our approach is to make it fun.”
They do that by focusing the list on small, independent producers and farmers, like third-generation winemaker Johannes Weber, who has a background that staff and guests can relate to.
Drink This: A Palomino by Laura Lorenzo for her Da Terra Viticultores label in the Ribeira Sacra. “This rich white is a little bit funky but super food-friendly and a surprising twist on a grape used primarily for sherry,” said Campanella.