Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve been writing a restaurant review column for my Philadelphia neighborhood weekly newspaper, the Chestnut Hill Local. The MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin), as Alfred Hitchcock used to say, is that all the restaurants are BYO (or BYOB), meaning they don’t have liquor licenses. BYO restaurants are as plentiful as crooked politicians in Philadelphia, one of the very few benefits of Pennsylvania’s antiquated state-run liquor system.
The other half of the MacGuffin is that all the wines I recommend can be found in Pennsylvania, which is why you’ll see a code for each wine. It helps you to navigate the bureaucracy.
The wines below were recommendations for food at restaurants that didn’t get particularly good reviews. So, I won’t mention the restaurants. But the wines are fine. Drink up!
Chile and Argentina
For the most part, Mexico’s climate isn’t conducive to wine grape production. Thus, if you want to keep with the Latin American theme at a Mexican restaurant, you have to head further south to Chile or Argentina. (I’ve had some outstanding wines from Uruguay. But they aren’t widely available in the United States.)
Chile does a fine job with Sauvignon Blanc. Leyda, Leyda Valley 2014 (Code 33913, $9.99) is crisp, with good varietal character including classic grapefruit notes. Also try Cono Sur San Antonio Valley Organic 2015 (Code: 47194, $11.99). Torontes, an obscure grape from Galicia in Spain, has become Argentina’s signature white wine. Gouguenheim Momentos del Valle La Rioja 2014 (Code: 72624, $8.99) is good producer. Also try Zolo Argentina 2014 (Code: 72596: $13.99). But don’t overchill or you’ll mute the lovely floral aromas.
Malbec, once popular in Bordeaux, has become the red wine for which Argentina is known. While there are a number of good ones available, consider instead Tikal Patriota Red Blend Mendoza 2013 (Code: 49555, $19.99) a mix of Malbec and Bonarda, the latter a seldom-made wine in its native Northwest Italy. The Tikal is smooth and rich with a good acid balance.
Carmenere, another old Bordeaux varietal, has found a home in Chile. Koyle Colchagua Valley Gran Reserva 2012 (Code: 33972, $10.99) is somewhat lighter and crisper than most versions, though quite delightful. For a bigger Carmenere, try the Casas del Bosque Rapel Reserva 2013 (Code: 72427, $11.99)
Under otherwise positive circumstances, a restaurant specializing in tapas offers a great opportunity to explore sherry, Jerez in Spanish. Tapas were created in Andalucía, Spain, where all sherry is made, because sherry drinkers needed some nibbles to tide them over until dinner, especially since sherry is higher in alcohol (generally 18 to 20%) than table wine. So sip, don’t slurp. Leftovers can be refrigerated for several weeks.
Speaking of leftovers, sherry is a tough sell in the United States. As a result, it doesn’t turn over as often as it should, which can be a problem for dry sherry, which should be consumed as fresh as possible. A layer of dust on the bottle in your local state store is a good indication that you should buy your sherry elsewhere.
Fino sherry like Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Extra Dry (Code: 38137, $17.99) is the lightest and driest sherry—some might even call it austere. Serve it well chilled (never over ice) with salty dishes like deep-fried foods.
Manzanilla is like a fino but with a salty tang because it is made near the sea. I found the Emilio Lustau Manzanilla Papirusa (Code: 10220, $15.99) somewhat more full-bodied and more complex than the Gonzalez Byass. Try it (also well chilled) with seafood dishes like steamed clams or grilled shrimp.
Amontillado (Lustau Los Arcos Dry Amontillado, Code: 25961, $15.99) is an aged fino with a beautiful amber color. It is slightly more alcoholic and has a nutty, vanilla flavor. It’s more appropriate for richer dishes, particularly with nuts. Serve at room temperature, meaning the low to mid 60s.
Oloroso (Lustau Almacenista Oloroso Pata de Gallina Juan Garcia Jarana, Code: 25960, $30.99) is silky and rich with a full-bodied flavor and deep color. This one is dry and appropriate for meatier entrees, though Oloroso is also off dry, which pairs favorably with robust cheeses. Serve both at room temperature.