In these days of small kids and early mornings, it takes live jazz or a special occasion to get me out to a bar purely for drinking. Which is why my name is absent from Foobooz ‘s annual round-up of Philly’s 50 Best Bars. But even beaten-down parents have birthdays, which is how I found myself at A.Bar this week.
My wife took me out for cocktails, which we dutifully imbibed—the Rule of Thumb was my favorite, with its spike of rye whiskey driven through the sweet combo of off-dry amontillado sherry and honey, plus walnut bitters to accentuate the sherry’s nuttiness. But the unexpected fun was in the lineup of red wines by the glass. There were five to choose from, and as Henry Ford might have put it, you could have any varietal you wanted as long as it was Gamay.
Gamay is the grape from which Beaujolais is made. And Beaujolais, of course, is the wine that most people drink once a year, in November, when the wave of Beaujolais Nouveau washes over a few thousand tongues that promptly seek more lasting pleasures.
But Gamay belongs in that more refined category, too, as fans of cru Beaujolais know. I count myself one of them, and am happy enough that it’s a small club, since that helps to keep prices down. But Tim Kweeder, who’s in charge of drinking at A.Bar, has a more evangelical mindset. So this November, he’s highlighting the finer side of the Gamay grape.
Right now he’s got three wines from Beaujolais—packaged in three formats: magnum bottles of Barbet’s 2005 Moulin-a-Vent, regular bottles of Michel Guignier’s 2011 Beaujolais-Villages, and a boxed wine without added sulfites from “hipster negociant” Maison P-U-R. There’s also a Gamay from the Loire Valley, and one from Berkeley, California-based Edmunds St. John.
I tried three, and was delighted by how different they were from one another. The range may not represent something for everyone—Gamay is never going to scratch an itch for hyper-extracted, oaky Napa Cabernet—but Kweeder has assembled an admirably diverse spread. For me, it was Goldilocks story. The Barbet magnum was a little too austere, the Bone Jolly from Edmunds St. John was jammier than I fancied, but the slightly funky, mineral-laced, but still fruit-forward 2011 Guignier (a year I’ve had nothing but good luck with, for what it’s worth) was just right.
They come in 3- and 5-ounce pours. Better yet, our bartender was quick to offer samples.
Whether you’re a Gamay lover, a Gamay hater, or—hopefully—simply a drinker with an open mind and no toddlers to rouse you at 6am sharp, it’s worth checking out.