It wasn’t long ago that the wine selection in Philadelphia was uninspired at best and non-existent at worst. In a city full of notable chefs, craft beer, and outstanding places to eat, interesting wine has often been a state-hampered afterthought. But over the past few years, more exciting wine styles have begun to step into the spotlight in Philly, and finally, our city is having its much-deserved wine renaissance.
It all started around the summer of 2015 when rosé was rising in popularity.
Not only had rosé proven itself as a legitimate style of high-quality wine, but its beauty was also Instagram-worthy, and lots of millennials were turning 21. The seemingly sudden embrace by producers, sommeliers, and consumers of a style that had largely been viewed as less-than-serious was the first step away from more traditional, perfunctory wine lists. Skin contact wine, pèt-nat, and other varieties of natural wine followed rosé onto wine lists.
Each of these styles dates back to the very origins of winemaking. Skin contact wine, pét-nat, and many whites, reds, and rosés often fall under the broader category of natural wine, which is not a legally defined term. However, the implied definition is that natural wine is made with organic or biodynamic grapes and without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or other additives such as sulfites. Natural wines tend only to be lightly filtered, less oaked, and have a lower alcohol content. All of this results in a less manipulated, more environmentally aware product.
While curiosity, appreciation, and a new generation of drinkers with an open attitude propelled consumer exploration of these styles, politics in Pennsylvania played a role as well. Changes to Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board laws in 2016 permitted hotels and grocery stores to sell wine for off-premise consumption and offered “wine expanded permits” to restaurants and hotels, which in turn made it possible for restaurants to sell bottles. Bottle shops tend to stock smaller-batch, more specialized styles than what is found in state-run Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores, giving real marketing power to the phrase, “This wine cannot be found in state stores.”
Now that certain exciting styles have claimed their places on wine lists in Philly, what’s next? Many wine pros agree that wine will become more accessible and approachable as the intimidation factor falls and the curiosity factor rises. Here are five other trends they see coming.
East Coast and local wine and, by extension, hybrid grapes
Sommelier Etinosa Emokpae, former wine director of Friday Saturday Sunday, says, “The one trend I see taking off is hybrid wines. Hybrid grapes have gotten a bad rap, but there are a few local wineries such as Camuna Cellars and Mural City Cellars that are making great wines from hybrid grapes like Chambourcin and vidal blanc.” Likewise, Zach Morris, owner and sommelier of Bloomsday, says that he actively seeks local wine to feature.
Ancient area wine
Jill Weber, owner of Jet Wine Bar, Cafe Ynez, Sor Ynez, and Rex 1516, sees awareness continuing to guide lists. “I remain hopeful that people will drink in a more thoughtful manner and suggest that this might be the year. People still often prioritize wines from countries whose dominance emerged as an artifact of the Roman Empire,” she says. “But that ignores scores of wonderful wines from areas with equal and longer histories of wine production. Many techniques that are prized as trends today have ancient origins and long-standing traditions in Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey. These wines are ready and waiting.”
Higher value, lower-priced wine
Vanessa Wong, owner of Fishtown Social, anticipates that wine from regions with COVID-interrupted tourism will begin making their way onto Philadelphia’s lists. She cites wine from travel destinations such as Croatia and Portugal as becoming more prevalent since these products generally offer high quality at lower price points.
Women and minority-owned wineries and winemakers
In addition to awareness of local economies, the environment as a whole, and longstanding histories, Michelle Boury, buyer for Vino Volo PHL, predicts demographic shifts. “It’s extremely exciting to see natural wines finally become known outside of the wine community, but another trend I see coming is female and minority winemakers and owners receiving more recognition, which hopefully paves the path for the future.”
Vermouth is fortified wine, meaning that spirit is added to raise the alcohol level. The wine is infused with botanicals and can be made from red or white grapes in sweet or dry styles. Formulas are carefully guarded, and Zach Morris is “brash” in his belief in the product. Rightfully so: Each of Bloomsday’s new releases of its small-batch, house-made “Dumpster Juice Vermut” sell out within hours, and vermouth as its own category is being featured in more and more bottle shops across the city.