Is it possible to get a decent cheap wine in PA?
I'm getting married in two months, and I just discovered the full horror of the PLCB (I like drinking wine at other people's houses, but my fiance and I are really devoted beer drinkers at heart).
Our wedding is a graduate student wedding: casual and low-budget (think picnic in the park). But I would like to have some wine there, since it is a festive occasion, and since there are several guests who strongly prefer wine to beer. All in all, I need probably two cases of red and one case of white. I can only afford to spend about $8/bottle, because that's how much money I have. I didn't think, in my naivete and my accustomedness to not living in PA, that this would be a big issue. Apparently it is. I have learned that I can't trust the recommendations of the liquor store people: I have been given wine that tastes like Communion wine, wine that tastes like hobos smell, and wine that tastes like a juice box from my preschool. They were so incredibly awful that I couldn't even use them for cooking wine. Basically I spent like $80 that I can't afford on terrible, terrible crap, and I'm burned out on the whole experience.
Are there any wines that I can buy from the PLCB that are drinkable and not twice my budget or something? I'm not looking for anything show-stopping, obviously, just something cheerful and honest :) I really don't know anything about wine, neither does my fiance, but I know that I can't serve my guests something that smells like grape juice with a yeast infection, or like the byproduct of an experiment about making meth out of fruit. I also know that I am afraid of getting busted with illegally-snuck-in wine and spending my wedding night fighting over who gets the bottom bunk in the holding cell.
Or should I just tell the wine drinkers they're SOL and spend the whole liquor budget on beer instead?
If you live in Philadelphia, simply drive across the Ben Franklin bridge to Moore Brothers in Pennsauken, NJ.
If you're anywhere else in the state, look over the Chairman's Selections on the PLCB website.
Sometimes you find good deals (though storage conditions are iffy at best, so I usually avoid more delicate wines like pinot noir, etc). You can have the wines shipped to your local PLCB.
Kat, a little more info on your locale will help. As chefdilettante advises, if you're in Philly do as Philadelphians do and simply head to NJ or Delaware.
In Pittsburgh, where I live, things are a bit more complicated. Your closest over-the-border options (Wheeling, WV and Youngstown, OH) aren't exactly boomtowns for wine shops, or much of anything else. I know some who make the 2-hour drive to Cleveland, but any savings margin will be more than eaten up by the expense of fuel. Plus tolls.
The premium collection LCB stores at Waterworks and Robinson Town Center are generally well-stocked, and the latter location boasts a very rare thing indeed — a wine specialist who's both helpful and knowledgeable (apparently, he didn't get the memo).
Mike Gonze at Palate Partners in the Strip is a distributor who has figured out a way to sell to the public outside the LCB system, and who is in general a terrific resource. Don't know what he could deliver within your budget, but I would start by having a conversation with him.
Hope this helps, and congrats.
Another argument against going through the PLCB: no price break on case purchases. What an embarrassment this organization is to the state of Pennsylvania.
However, I was at my local state store last night and found a couple options that might suit you well, both from the Iberian peninsula:
2007 Arca Nova Vinho Verde (LCB code 026180), $7.49 — light, crisp, low-alcohol white that will pair well with just about anything (exception, red meats) that you serve. Not terribly complex, but certainly "honest and cheerful."
2006 Luzon Jumilla Tinto (PLCB code 026460), $8.99 — Monastrell (mourvédre)-dominant blend, maybe a little more brooding than cheerful, but definitely honest and a good QPR (quality-price-ratio). This is well-described as a "baby Bandol."
if you must go wine (i really think nice beers would be just as lovely), look for the following labels, which are widely available, inexpensive (many growing regions around $8), and decent:
jacob's creek (recentish vintages of shiraz, shiraz cabernet blend, and cabernet all seem ok)
penfolds (esp. shiraz, but also passable chardonnay)
veramonte cabernet sauvignon reserva 2006 goes for about $10 a bottle, seems pretty easy to find, and is actually good.
in general look for wines from australia, chile and argentina, where you can still find good value buys, from the good years listed on this chart:
The LCB is a horror show for selection, but they do buy in quantity and sometimes have great deals. At the superstore in Bethel Park (Pittsburgh), I just picked up Stormhoek Sauv Blanc for 4.99/bottle. It usually retails close to 10. It's a very drinkable wine from a good So. African producer. Pounce on it if you can.
For a red, I might stay with So. Africa and go the Pinotage route (usually a Cab/Shiraz/other blend). There are some decent bottles for around 7 bucks. Sebeka is one we've served at events that people seem to enjoy a lot.
Hope that helps. And congratulations!