Taste: Spirits: Only in Pennsylvania

Luxe $85 reserve cabernets for $24.99? Thirty-dollar boutique chardonnays for $9.99?

Five years ago, the idea that out-of-state wine collectors might drive into Pennsylvania for deals on fine wines was unthinkable. But much has changed in that short time. Wine-savvy business travelers are stuffing carry-ons with boutique bottlings before heading home. A recent San Francisco Chronicle feature showed a hint of pique that Pennsylvanians are getting better prices on some California wines than they do in wine country.

The two-year-old Chairman’s Selection program brings prestige wines into select state stores at prices that are the lowest in the country.  Emphasis is firmly on reserve-level California red wines, but the percentage of imports and specialty styles is growing.

Deep discounts from 30 percent to 80 percent off recommended retail are achieved by purchasing in volume, in some cases buying a winery’s entire vintage lot of a particular wine. Since the PLCB’s markups are uniform, all price concessions must come from suppliers.

Chairman’s Selections are sold only in the state’s Premium Collection Stores, with about 20 new bargains arriving every month. More than 30 of these premium stores are scattered throughout the Philadelphia area, but some get a better crop of Chairman’s wines. For Center City shoppers, the 1218 Chestnut Street store has the widest selection. The Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Exton and Newtown stores are regional meccas.

The best way to scope out the bargains is to visit the PLCB’s website at lcb.state.pa.us. Both current and upcoming Chairman’s Selections are featured, and a quick click can identify which stores near you carry these items.