“It smells a little…catpissy.”
That unpretentious assessment of a Sauvignon Blanc, nonchalantly offered by a wine expert leading a tasting, was just the thing the room needed to unwind and uncork.
Like vino being swirled in a glass — which is totally useful and not actually pretentious, apparently — guests at Billy Penn’s members-only Philly Wine Week preview were given the space to lose their inhibitions about wine.
Anyone who’s ever struggled to compose themselves and not roll their eyes after listening to a sommelier (or worse, a bonafide wine hipster) describe a sniff with 20 or more superfluous adjectives can appreciate the sentiment. Wine snobbery sucks the fun out of the experience.
For the past five years, Philly Wine Week has tried to combat that reputation. The coalition of wine pros behind the nonprofit organization are committed to making its namesake drink “approachable, cool, and casual,” explained Sande Friedman, PWW board member and marketing director at Di Bruno Bros.
At Billy Penn HQ, Friedman and and Jim Nolan of Vine Street Imports took invitees through a flight that went from a “gulpable” (and not very catpissy) Sauv to a more robust and heavy Pinot Noir.
As at many PWW events, lessons were balanced with laughter. Proclamations like “This tastes like a Sharpie!” were welcomed after sipping a Gamay. By the end of the night, silliness had been accepted, curiosity had been encouraged, and strangers had been acquainted.
And wine — almost ten bottles of it — had been drunk.
Philadelphians can continue diving headfirst into big-boy grape juice over the course of the coming week.
Things kick off with Opening Corks at 23rd Street Armory on March 22 (all-inclusive $48 tickets here), and then Philly Wine Week continues through March 29 in over 60 participating restaurants, with a range of budget-friendly events to choose from.
Can’t decide what’s worth hitting up? Here are our top picks for the fest.
Maison 208 — “The Natty Experience”
5 to 10 p.m. March 22-29
All natural wine flights for $15, available anytime at the downstairs bar, are a great excuse to peep the cool decor at this newish Midtown Village spot.
208 S. 13th St.
5 to 11 p.m. March 22-29
The $55 price might not look like a steal, but when you consider you’re getting chef Jason Cichonski’s famous scallop noodles (the pasta is actually made of scallop!), plus four other courses and five pours of wine, it’s a deal.
627 S. Third St.
High Street on Market — “Pennsylvania Underdog Winery Series”
5:30 to 10 p.m. March 22-29
All week long, Ellen Yin’s Old City destination is hosting blind tastings that pit Pa. wines against other domestics, to prove how good they are ($20).
308 Market St.
Osteria — “Opening of the Cellar”
5 to 11 p.m. March 23-24
If you’re a legit wine snob, or want to be, $45 is a solid solid price for a flight of rare finds plus chance to speak with the sommelier at the 10-year-old Jeff Michaud Italian trattoria on North Broad.
640 N. Broad St.
Cooperage Wine & Whiskey — “Chocolates + Wine”
5 to 11 p.m. March 23
Hell yeah, chocolate goes with wine. Prove it at this Washington Square wine bar with three sweets from Philly confectioner Lore’s, each paired with a different California vintage for $20.
123 S. Seventh St.
ITV Philly — “The Versatile Chenin”
5 to 11 p.m. March 23
What is Chenin all about? You’re gonna want to find out — because this sampling of three expressions of the high-acid grape at Nick Elmi’s East Passyunk bar is entirely FREE.
1615 E. Passyunk Ave.
5 p.m. to close March 25-29
These are regions with some fantastic wine, and with glass prices ranging from $7.50 to $12 on the pay-as-you-go menu, this underrated Fishtown spot is where to try them.
1206 Frankford Ave.
Barbuzzo — “Rosé Wine Sunday Brunch”
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 25
Yes, dammit, it is spring, which means it’s the perfect time for a three-course brunch at Marcie Turney’s Midtown Village Mediterranean featuring rosé, sparkling and a wine-enhanced cocktail, all included in the $35 price.
110 S. 13th St.
American Sardine Bar — “Wine Week BBQ”
3 to 10 p.m. March 25
Who says wine doesn’t work at BBQs? Not this Point Breeze tavern, which is hosting its fourth annual vino-cue-down. Fire pits and a chill atmostphere included.
1800 Federal St.
Plenty — “Make Your Own Vermouth”
6 to 9 p.m. March 25
Prove how amazing vermouth can be by learning how to craft your own at this class with Plenty owner Anthony Mascieri. Your $35 ticket includes all of the barks, botanicals, herbs and step by step guidance it takes.
1602 Spruce St.
Jet Wine Bar — “Wine and Jerky”
4 to 11:30 p.m.
Don’t sleep on the ultra savory, superumami combination that is dried meat paired with great and unusual wines at this South Street West wine haven.
1525 South St.
The Good King Tavern — “Buck A Shuck + Bubbles”
5 to 8 p.m. March 26
For those who appreciate a good raw bar, the only thing better than dollar oysters is when they come with great bubbly, and that’s a sure thing at this French bistro in Bella Vista.
614 S. 7th St.
Barcelona Wine Bar — “A Night in the Canary Islands”
6 to 9 p.m. March 26
Head to East Passyunk to weave your way through the products of a Spanish archipelago during this guided tasting with beverage manager Abbie Bintliff, featuring five wines and five cheeses for $40.
1709 E. Passyunk Ave.
Kensington Quarters — “Fried Chicken + Sparkling Wine + The Rolling Stones”
5 to 10 p.m.
Six rarely seen sparkling wines will be pouring by the glass at this sustainable-focused Fishtown restaurant, each chosen to pair perfectly with crispy buttermilk fried chicken. Sides included in the $20 price.
1310 Frankford Ave.
Bistro Romano — “Corks & Consequences”
6 to 8 p.m. March 27
A good chance to check out this longtime hidden trattoria behind Headhouse Square, this sampling includes tastes of eight wines, plus appetizers, plus a wine glass to take hom for the $35 price.
120 Lombard St.
Royal Boucherie – “Les Femmes Du Vin”
6 to 8 p.m. March 27
Six Philly women sommeliers will host a special tasting in the upstairs parlor at this French pub in Old City, with plenty of charcuterie and snacks to pair with. Ten percent of proceeds will benefit nonprofits.
52 S. Second St.
Noon to 11:30 p.m. March 28
This Rittenhouse draft specialist is celebrating natural wines of Oregon by going full Portlandia and putting a bird on it — specifically, wings with two kinds of sauces to pair with. Everything is pay as you go.
2005 Walnut St.
London Grill and Paris Wine Bar — “Flights of Dessert & Wine”
5 to 10 p.m. March 29
Pastry chef Lindsay Meehan has whipped up several special desserts at these sister bars in Fairmount, each designed to go with a certain wine. Flights are available for $24.
2301 Fairmount Ave.