Stop and Taste the Vino

Pouring Wine

While most of us can’t brag seasoned wine connoisseur status or sport punch-packing resumes that rival the city’s top sommeliers, it helps for a self-proclaimed foodie to know a thing or two about the wonderful world of wine, which, in all of its worldliness, has the capacity to make or break a good meal. Pairing the right bottle with the right cuisine is a pivotal element in transforming a decent dining experience into an optimal one. Lucky for us, Philadelphia offers an eclectic and exciting landscape of opportunity for those who want to either learn about wine or simply delve into a decent sampling. Chances to educate yourself or simply awaken your palate come a dime a dozen around here. Needless to say, it can be a bit hard, even overwhelming, to figure out where to get a taste of quality wine while picking up a fe w pointers on how to make educated selections yourself. To make the entire process less intimidating, here are a few upcoming events at some of the city’s most renowned restaurants and wine stops that are prime destinations for exploring the endless possibilities that the varietal world of vino offers.

Old City’s charming and adorable wine boutique, Pinot, offers a treasure trove of gifts and accessories sure to dazzle the wine lovers in your life. From heavy-duty corkscrews to funky glasses to holiday-themed bottle stoppers, Pinot offers something for the most finicky and casual drinker alike. Surprisingly, while the selection of accessories is extensive, Pinot doesn’t sell one thing: wine.  What they do, however, is bring in representatives from local wineries at least once a month for a sampling of locally grown and produced varieties. They also hold the occasional wine class to help both the novice and the most advanced palate stay educated and up to speed on advances in the wine world. 

This Valentine’s Day, for instance, Pinot invites couples to come in for a chance to pick up some pairing pointers for wines and chocolates. The event is actually scheduled the day before Valentine’s Day, on Feb. 13, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.  For $75 per person, those who attend will join sommelier and wine author Marnie Old as they indulge their senses during a guided tasting. Not only will participants learn which luxurious wines go with what decedent chocolates, they’ll also get a glimpse into why the pairings work so the next time they’re out shopping for dessert, they’ll learn how to find a good match. Pinot regulars should also look out for monthly events like “Warm-up Saturdays” at the boutique, which offer complimentary glasses of wine, complimentary tastings, demonstrations of the latest and greatest in wine gadgets, as well as exclusive savings on products.  There is also the opportunity to book wine tasting parties and events of your own.  While they can’t supply the wine for your party, they’ll gladly make the recommendations.

Philadelphia is home to The Wine School of Philadelphia where aspiring oenophiles can educate themselves university-style through the Foundation Program and the curious, casual diner can buy tickets for a wide array of tastings, lectures, and introductory classes. Through several city and suburban outposts, The Wine School offers a wide variety of opportunities throughout the year to get to know all aspects of the wine world. Wine gets competitive during the school’s “Sommelier Smackdown,” a monthly competition between the city’s top wine professionals that is judged by the audience. Sommeliers compete against wine educators to see who is best at picking and pairing wine with food. For $62 to $78 per person, audience members not only get to taste each pairing, but they also get to decide who the winner is. Interested in increasing your knowledge about a specific topic?  Reserve a spot for the lecture, “The Wines of France,” on March 13; it is just one of many upcoming lecture topics at The Wine School where you’ll taste wine from major regions of France, discuss trends, and learn how to pair certain French wines with food.

From the lobby level of Old City’s Penn’s View Hotel, Ristorante Panorama draws in a crowd that appreciates contemporary, Northern Italian cuisine and an extensive selection of worldly wines.  Through specially priced and themed wine tasting flights, a constantly evolving list of wines available by the glass or the bottle, special wine tasting dinners, and a large selection of vintages on the Proprietor’s Reserve List, Panorama offers a premiere dining and tasting experience. Friday nights you can catch a special wine happy hour from 6 to 8 p.m. where you’ll enjoy special wine tasting flights that offer about six to eight wines each. Each week presents a different theme having to do with wine. Each happy hour is complete with cheese, hors d’oeuvres, and a discussion with Panorama’s sommelier, William Eccleston, and a guest who can offer more information about each theme.

Another Italian restaurant in University City, Penne Restaurant and Wine Bar, prides itself in its authentic menu and exceptional wine selection. In a warm and modern setting, Penne brings diners the opportunity to sample over 100 regional Italian wines and a few chances to get a glimpse in how the premiere bottles are selected. Until May 31, the restaurant is holding “Alto Palato Wine School,” a monthly course that teaches participants about the wine making process. Lead by Master Sommelier, Marco Avigo, participants brace several topics including the different grapes and grape regions of Italy and around the world, how to buy wine, and how to match wine with food; they learn all of this while discussing Italy’s culture, history, traditions, and cuisine. For $35 per person, each class includes three different wines for tasting and complimentary hors d’oeuvres. Penne also offers a series of cooking classes throughout the year that teach participants how to prepare a great meal and how to find the perfect wine to compliment each course.

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