Chairman's Selection Wine Tasting: 5 New Options to Try
Whatever gripes Pennsylvania dwellers may have about our state-run liquor system, most agree that the Chairman’s Selection program is one of the PLCB’s great successes. Steve Pollack is the current head wine buyer, meaning he’s the one that chooses which vintages you’ll find at your local Wine & Spirits Shoppe. He also negotiates the prices, so it’s him you can thank for the discount deals on great labels the program is known for (the Commonwealth is the largest wine and spirits buyer in the country).
Since taking over the position in January 2009, Pollack (who has worked for the PLCB for over 25 years) has led Chairman’s Selection choices away from low-priced but run-of-the-mill offerings, instead spending time and effort to seek out really great finds. A typical week might include attendance at an industry event where he tastes 540 different wines over the course of three days. And these are no junkets, either. If Pollack wants to maintain the relationships he’s built with vintners over the years, he visits them on his own dime.
We recently had the opportunity to meet Steve at new Rittenhouse wine bar Urban Enoteca, where he led us through a tasting of five of the most recent additions to the PA wine roster.
Enrico Serafino Moscato d’Asti
Piedmont, Italy 2009
$9.99 (quoted at $18.99)
If you happen to be doing a tasting of multiple wines, start with the sweetest ones. “Sugar livens the palate,” Pollack notes, “while bitterness leadens it.” Certainly sweet, this lightly sparkling Moscato has flavors of peach and rose. On a hot sunny afternoon, this is the wine to pair with nibbles of Gorgonzola out on the lawn.
Percheron Chenin Blanc/Viognier
Western Cape, South Africa 2011
$7.99 (quoted at $13.99)
“Frisky” is one of the tasting notes from the winemakers, and this white is definitely not as syrupy as the previous contender. Green apple freshness and good acidity come through, but the finish does not linger — unlike California varieties, the South African Viogniers are unoaked.
Fog Head Pinot Noir
$10.99 (quoted at $17.99)
A value option, this red is full of fruit with very little sweetness. In Pollack’s words, “It’s not trying to be anything other than pinot.” The plum and cherry nose will equally complement a peppery steak or a full-bodied fish like seabass.
Henry’s Drive Dead Letter Office Shiraz
$14.99 (quoted at $20)
“Shiraz is back!” is the introduction to this multi-layered and full bodied sip. Tasting notes range from mint to pepper to cola and vanilla, with a long finish that is tinged with oak. The rich body calls for some hearty meat or sharp cheese to tone it down, so the multiple flavors can be appreciated.
Napa Valley 2009
$17.99 (quoted at $30)
This is one of those labels — and it happens not too infrequently — that is exclusive to Pennsylvania. The vintner made just 1500 cases, and Pollack has the option to snag all of them. 2011 was a rough year for California cabernet growers, and though prices are going up, he was able to strike a good deal on these American flag-bedecked bottles. Not usually a fan of “novelty” wines, Pollack went for this deal because of the great reputation of the vineyard.
Photos by Danya Henninger
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