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Any GOOD wine shops in Philly/PA?

I just moved to Philly for 6 months on a work assignment from Houston, and am really chafing under PA's oddball liquor laws! I am definitely a wine lover - have a fairly sophisticated knowledge/palate - and although I've certainly been impressed with the city's beer offerings, I've had a difficult time finding good spots for wine. I live in the Rittenhouse Square area, and have so far only gone to the state-run "wine & spirit" stores for bottles... They're okay for everyday stuff (though I haven't been too impressed with the selection at the 19th & Chestnut store), but are there any "better" wine shops with knowledgable sales staff? If I'm looking for something specific to pair I really like to be able to have a conversation with someone who knows something about wine... Thanks locals!

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  1. Many of our archaic state stores have specialty shops featuring some impressive wines. You might also call the Ardmore store and ask for Mr. Peters who is about the most knowledgable state store consultant I've ever encountered.

    If not to your liking, head to over the bridge to NJ or down I-95 to Delaware. However, private wine shops as you describe are not available under our system.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Chefpaulo

      Thanks, I will give the Ardmore store a try... I wonder if anyone knows the origins of this funny system?

      1. re: kcadams1980

        I believe it's Quaker. But it's been here forever. Your only other option is to visit another state.

        1. re: saturninus

          In 1933, at the repeal of prohibition, all states that chose to allow alcohol to be sold had to come up with a system. Ours is a control system (we aren't the only ones) where the state is the seller of alcohol. Quakers don't have anything to do with it, but in 1933, and now, we still have a strong religious conservative element in this state and I think it is hard to deny that that is part of the reason we became a "control state." However, in more recent years, the blame for this system staying in place can be placed on the huge union of state workers that would lose their jobs if the state store system were changed. This is a big lobby, and the PLCB have been against the few changes that legislation has tried to move through recently.

        2. re: kcadams1980

          it was quaker in nation and i think there might even be a wikipedia page on it....i may be wrong. the plcb is one of the largest wine buyers in the country so it will be very hard to oust them when the time finally comes.....

          you can search their website though for which wines are (theoretically) in each store. if you have a car, a trip over the bridge to moore brothers in jersey will be helpful.

          i am glad that you like the beer selection, we are very proud of it. i was recently in houston for a conference and i miss the house of pies!

          1. re: mazza3

            Sometimes I wonder if we have the PLCB to 'thank' (in part) for this city's love of beer. They make wine and booze such a chore to buy. Beer is also subject to some ridiculous laws, but at least the people who sell it are interested in it, unlike the PLCB's state employees who could care less about the product they're selling (with a few exceptions).

            1. re: Buckethead

              But in some ways, buying beer here is even worse.

              Whose idea is it that you have to buy a case ?!?!?

              And then when you do find 6-packs available somewhere (in restaurants/bars of all places), the price is outrageous. Insane.

      2. I agree that the Ardmore wine shop is about the best - they also get the best stock - at least of what I've seen. However, if one were to be drinking wine in DE or NJ (because one can not bring wine purchased in other states into PA) one would do well to shop at Moore Brothers - One in Wilmington DE ( 25 m drive from CC, no sales tax) and one in NJ (closer, 5-10 mins from CC, bridge toll coming back). Mr Moore was the sommalier at Le Bec Fin prior to this venture 15 years ago or so.
        http://www.wineaccess.com/store/moore...

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bigley9

          Once, when I was living downtown, I walked by the state store on 5th st.
          The guys were unloading the trucks, and throwing the wine around like any other kind of box of stuff, probably worse than the average ups driver would.

          to be honest, i wasn't super-thrilled with some of the wines i got at moore bros, but if i was going to spend some $$$, no way it's at PLCB. just wouldn't trust the transit it'd been through.

          1. re: Bob Loblaw

            My taste occassionally differs from the staff at Moore Bros, but the wines are well tended and the staff knowledgeable.

        2. RIght past the PA border in DE is Total Wine & Spirits. It's a supermarket-sized store with big selection of wine. The staff, at least for me, have been helpful anytime I've visited.

          A caveat: transporting alcohol across state lines is illegal. So if you're going to stockpile and buy cases, loading up and heading straight toward 95N may be a bit unwise.

          11 Replies
          1. re: lawgirl3278

            You're right that it's illegal to transport alcohol across the state line, but from everything I've read, those laws are not enforced. I would much rather take the risk than shop for wine in any PA state store.

            1. re: CindyJ

              I've never actually heard of anyone getting ticketed for transporting alcohol across state lines. I suspect the law is intended to stop people who may try buying in bulk and reselling wine purchased in DE in PA, not individuals buying it for their own personal use. That's just my opinion.

              1. re: Buckethead

                Oh it's worth the risk, no doubt! I've just read stories in my local paper how the police (when they have nothing better to do I'm sure), will stop a person in a DE or NJ parking lot coming out of the store with a couple cases of wine/spirits loading it into a PA tagged car.

                Which is why I said, if it's a casual amount, go crazy and enjoy. But if you're stockpiling with cases, as some of PA friends do, keep an eye out. The last thing you want is all of your wonderful wine to be confiscated!

                1. re: lawgirl3278

                  It's a bitof a tricky thing. The DE police and the NJ police aren't interested in nabbing the perps. It's the PA state police whose job it is to haul them in. That means they've got to be pretty darned close to the state line to catch them. Now, Total Wine in Claymont, DE sits just a few feet from the PA state line. Moore Bros. stores, OTOH, are miles from where any PA police are likely to be staked out.

                  1. re: lawgirl3278

                    This is a very tricky area. Several years ago, the PA State Police tried this in Maryland, where they had no jurisdiction, and were not invited to be there, and were arrested by the MD State Police. As someone already pointed out, they have, or should have, a lot more important things on their agenda than chasing small-time "rum runners"!

                    1. re: lawgirl3278

                      I suspect that the PA police have to actually follow you across the state line and catch you after you have crossed it. To my knowledge it is not illegal to buy liquor in another state if you consume it there so they have to actually catch you transporting across the line. I have never heard of anyone being ticketed for that.

                      1. re: joluvscards

                        People get ticketed. A friend's grandfather was pulled over, wine confiscated, and fine issued, on the Ben Franklin bridge about 2 years ago.

                        This gets discussed much on this board. It should almost just be in a FAQ for the entire board. Moore Bros, Total Wine, some of the Canal's, best in the region. Transport across state lines at your own risk.

                        1. re: urbanfabric

                          I remember Georges Perrier getting nailed a few years ago for transporting over state lines, but then he was bringing in cases for his restaurant(s) and probably attracted much attention. A few bottles have never been a problem.

                          One thing I must say in defense of the State store system is that returns are completely no-hassle. If you drop $600 on a bottle of Pomerol and it was cooked or had a bad cork, you fill out a little slip for reason for return and get your money back. I've just put down "undrinkable" and no questions were asked. Private sellers are much less likely to be as accommodating.

                          1. re: Chefpaulo

                            Well, considering that wine at the PA state stores are not cellared at adequately low temps, many could well spoil right on the shelves. The bottles aren't even kept in a horizontal position on the shelves. No attention is paid to wine storage, therefore it's likely the fault of the woefully inadequate state system that wines spoil. They SHOULD accept the responsibility.

                            1. re: Chefpaulo

                              They busted George AT THE RESTAURANT! I remember the article, they confiscated the wine - I think they said he could have it back if he paid the taxes - sadly they would have kept it for so long it would have been ruined - it wasn't the whole cellar, just a prime selection (of course, because you can't buy the best wines in PA)

                              1. re: Bigley9

                                Well, you CAN, theoretically, get any wine you want in PA. But it has to be ordered and shipped via the LCB to a local wine store. That way PA gets their outrageous Johnstown Flood Tax, and all the other fees and taxes they add in.

                2. Fortunately my fiance works in NJ. We order wine from various on-line sources (wine shops and various importers, sometimes even direct from our favorite wine shops in Italy) and have it shipped to his office.

                  The only thing I'll say in defense of the PA state system is spirits tend to be MUCH less expensive here than in other states, even if the selection is a bit more limited. But the same bottle of Wild Turkey 101 I can get here for $21.99 can be upwards of $35 in New York State, even some places in Jersey. Seems like the spirits I buy are regularly $5-10 a bottle cheaper here in the state stores, so I don't complain too much about the inferior wine selection and handling.

                  1. Total Wine has another store near the Cherry Hill mall yet I drive from NJ to the Delaware store a few times a year and stock up on liquor, beer and wine. It is generally cheaper and has no sales tax making it totally worth the time while saving money.

                    1. I second (or third I guess) Moore Brothers. I just heard of the place, had been going to Total Wine before that. This place has better wines, fewer wines, staff that know what they're talking about, and best of all, the wine bottles come with little print outs about the region that the wine is from, what they eat there, and what the wines are like. Lovely for a young wine lover like myself trying to build up knowledge.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: hollyd

                        I learned much about wine with the mixed cases they sell at Moore Bros with the info sheets!

                        1. re: hollyd

                          The other thing about Moore Bros is that they keep a list of what you've bought on their computer. So they look up something you've bought (and if you're like me, can't quite remember the name of) and liked to help figure out what else you might go for. The only problem with this is that the computer systems aren't shared between the NJ and DE locations.

                          1. re: Carole

                            AND you can access the lists from home from their website!

                            1. re: Carole

                              Also, they have weekly internet specials, often on limited production wines. If you're on their email list, they'll notify you of these discounts. Many of them sell out in just a couple of hours.