Recently there’s been a lot of talk about the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s planned collaboration with über-chef Jose Garces in a Center City deal that would put a small wine shop inside a Garces prepared-food/takeout project. Predictably, many restaurateurs have voiced strong opposition: Is it fair for a governing agency to be in bed with someone it’s supposed to regulate? And importantly: Would there be preferential wine pricing?
The initiative brings up a long-debated problem for Pennsylvania’s restaurants: How can they create high-quality yet affordable wine programs when they’re forced to buy wines at nearly retail prices? Answer: By having passionate buyers who seeks out smaller producers from lesser-known regions.
To be sure, some well-known dining spots — Fork, Tinto, Panorama — should be noted for their carefully curated selections. But we were pleasantly surprised to come across some unexpected restaurants that have managed to craft lists with delicious wines at gentle prices.
Beer and burgers are South Philly gastropub Royal Tavern’s cash cow. But the by-the-glass list assembled by Tiare Farris has some small gems to hold our interest. Drink aligoté from Marcel Giraudon, a lemony white from Burgundy ($8), or a sangiovese from Di Majo Norante in southern Italy ($7.50), which has leather and spice.
Montgomeryville’s Ooka Sushi is the fourth venture from the Huang brothers, who have been quietly resetting the standard for suburban sushi. They’ve brought on two Center City wine veterans — Michael Wirzberger and Sky Strouth — to develop a sushi-friendly list. A Spanish white made of three varietals — parallada, macabeo and xarel-lo — from producer Pares Balta in northeastern Spain ($9 a glass), has a floral nose, while a chenin blanc from Ken Forrester in South Africa ($8 a glass) doesn’t overwhelm a delicate sashimi selection.
Perhaps the most remarkable program of all is at stalwart Friday Saturday Sunday, where all bottles are priced at just $10 over cost. Owner Weaver Lilley works with, among others, one of PA’s best importers, Peter Weygandt, to offer an outstanding list. Among our favorites: a minerally Domaine des Aubuisieres vouvray ($29), an Albert Mann gewürztraminer ($48), an ’06 Châteauneuf du Pape from Usseglio ($54), and an ’06 Bandol from Domaine de la Bastide Blanche, Cuvée Estagnol ($37).