If you don’t know a pinot gris from a pinot noir, resolve this year to become a wine pro.
With the popularity of movies like “Sideways,” a film about love and marriage set in southern California’s Santa Barbara County wine district, as well as increased interest among young professionals who are starting wine clubs and going to tastings, there’s no better time to sip and learn.
It is a case of vintage revenge. Wine merchants in Delaware and South Jersey are now clearing shelf space for their old nemesis: Jonathan Newman, former chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
The “xChairman Selections,” as one shop calls them, are the discounted wines that Newman’s new company will introduce in Pennsylvania border states this month.
Newman had risen to the unlikely status of folk hero among Pennsylvania wine lovers, partly because of his celebrated Chairman’s Selection specials. But one year ago, he resigned in protest after Gov. Rendell’s controversial appointment of Joe Conti as chief executive officer of the LCB.
While Newman’s entry into the private sector is intriguing the sip-and-swirl crowd, it also casts a spotlight back on the LCB. The $1.69 billion-a-year agency has been the subject of skepticism and upheaval since Newman left.
Local wine aficionados love to grouse, often with good reason, about how state regulations can sometimes stand between them and that coveted vintage.
But they are divided over whether a favorable decision in a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court would do much to make more varieties available, or cheaper, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The court is being asked to decide whether states can limit direct, winery-to-wine-lover sales.
Keith Wallace, president of the Wine School in Philadelphia, had 53 phone messages the day after the Supreme Court heard arguments, and knows that oenophiles are watching the case.
Wallace spends $30,000 a year on wine. He said that recent innovations by the Liquor Control Board mean that “you have an enormous selection available.
“The problem is that the price point is often 10 to 30 percent higher than anywhere else,” he said.
The best-case scenario, he said, would be a Supreme Court decision that dealt a mortal blow to the state-store system.
But the odds are that Pennsylvania’s unique system, criticized for decades but politically resilient, will survive relatively unchanged.