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Grocery-store wine options need room to improve

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, 7:11 p.m.

In signing Act 39 this past June, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, accomplished something previous Republican governors attempted without success. The law approved private sales of wine on a carry-out basis in grocery stores. The much ballyhooed first private sale occurred Aug. 19 inside the Settlers Ridge Market District in Robinson. So happy days are here again for commonwealth wine consumers, right?

Not so much, based on a recent visit to the wine shop within the Market District's licensed cafe area. Because the law strictly limits the total area for licensed beer and wine sales, the retailer carved out limited space for wines.

Only about 65 wines line retail shelves, compared to hundreds of craft beer selections in surrounding shelves. According to published reports, Market District management will increase the wines offered over time in response to consumer demand. But for now, the store's pedestrian selections leave much to be desired.

Mass-produced, California wines constitute almost the entire inventory. Only a couple of New Zealand bottles, a couple of Italian wines and one Australian wine add diversity. The glaring omission of wines from outstanding regions in France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Austria speaks volumes.

As for value, none of the prices of wines at Settlers Ridge Market District are lower than the same items at Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stores. So much for predictions of private wine sales ushering in a glorious new day with prices significantly lower than the PLCB.

On the positive side, the Settlers Ridge retail space provides a clean and welcoming environment with a friendly, if not particularly wine-savvy, staff. But clearly the retailer's primary retail focus remains on craft beer sales with wine as an afterthought, at least for now.

Until more positive changes take place in private “cash and carry” retail wine sales, PLCB Premium Collection stores remain the best choice in Pennsylvania for diverse offerings of delicious wines. Try:

The delightful 2014 Eugenio Collavini “Pucino” Refosco Dal Peduncolo Rosso, Fruili Colli Orientali, Italy (Luxury 21599; $11.99) comes from northeastern Italy along the border with Slovenia. In the wine business since 1896, the Collavini family uses native red-skinned refosco grapes grown in clay and limestone soils.

The hand-picked, destemmed grapes macerate on skins for a week for an intense neon ruby color. Fermentation and aging in stainless steel capture fruity raspberry and light briary aromas. Fresh red fruit flavors, zesty, fresh acidity, and integrated tannins balance the dry finish with only 12.5 percent alcohol by volume. Pair this fruity, easy-drinking gem with burgers. Highly recommended.

From across the Italian peninsula in the picturesque Piedmont region, the 2014 Cantine Valpane Barbera Del Monferrato “Rosso Pietro,” Italy (Luxury 49157; $11.99) offers the latest vintage of a perennial favorite from winemaker Pietro Arditi. He plies his capable touch with Piedmont's native Barbera grapes to deliver an elegant, delicious red.

The grapes ferment with native yeasts in cement tanks to allow natural fruity traits to shine without oak barrel influences. The wine's light ruby color delivers red-fruit and black licorice aromas. Similar juicy flavors unfold on the palate with smoky, earthy hints. Fresh, bright acidity and firm but elegant tannins balance the dry finish. Pair it with pasta with garlic, mushrooms and olive oil. Highly recommended.

Situated in the town of Ampius nestled along the majestic Rhône River, the firm of E. Guigal produces an amazing range from some of most expensive wines to some of best quality, low-cost wines. The2011 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge, France (8132; $12.99) falls into the latter category with an annual production of 3.5 million bottles. Each vintage, the wine delivers consistent value with focused terroir identity.

The classic blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre comes from grapes grown in sandy soils rich in granite and limestone. Long fermentation at low temperatures creates deep color and complex aromas. Aging for a year and half in large, previously used oak foudres imparts depth and complexity without intrusive woody notes.

The ruby color unfolds dark-fruit, black-pepper and smoky aromas. Ripe black-fruit and spice flavors balance with fresh acidity and smooth tannins lingering pleasantly. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for the Tribune-Review. Reach him at tribliving@tribweb.com.

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