Tastings: Her wine friends will help you


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Getting help shopping for good values in wine is more difficult in Pennsylvania, where the state runs the wine and liquor stores. I like to read the international wine press for reports on just-released wines and on winning wines at large tastings. I have some favorite blogs that offer great wine advice, as well. But too frequently those wines are not available in our local market.

Walking the aisles of a Wine & Spirits store in Pittsburgh and facing thousands of labels produces sweaty palms in many shoppers. It is a good idea to narrow the field by having an idea how much you want to spend and then selecting just a few grape varieties that you tend to prefer. I'm also a believer in using all the help I can get from my friends. And some of my friends are there to help you, too. Fortunately, three local wine lovers regularly post their wine notes on the Web.

There's also this statewide coterie of tasters who rate wines sold in Pennsylvania. I have frequently recommended to my readers the website PAWineTalk.com. The brainchild of Mark Wilkins, a professional information technology practitioner, this site began in 2006 to offer an independent forum for sharing opinions on wines available in the state. In addition to the useful forum discussions and ratings of wines, PAWineTalk's wine availability map offers a great way to find which stores have stocks of a particular wine. Type in the PLCB code number and then choose to search either the entire state or individual counties to determine where the wine can be found. The users who rate wines on the forum appear to be serious and to have reliable palates.

Another friend I'd like to share with you is Dr. Robert Arffa, ophthalmologist and wine lover who writes a monthly wine newsletter discussing what he is drinking and giving detailed tasting notes, both his own and those of such publications as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Dr. Arffa began his newsletter to help other wine lovers who find the knowledge of some state-store personnel to be sketchy. He has pointed me to some interesting wines and good values and I rely on his judgment and recommendations when looking for something new to try. His newsletter is at aneyeforwine.com. You will find the current newsletter there as well as archives and a place to register to receive his newsletter by email.

Jack Brice has carved a special place in the hearts of Pittsburgh wine lovers with his tasting group, Grapenuts, which puts on interesting tastings open to anyone interested in broadening their tasting experiences. He hosts them in local bars and restaurants and participants purchase the wines he selects by the glass. His most recent Grapenut event was a tasting of only French wines held at Dave Desimone's Bridge Ten Brasserie. There were seven white and red wines priced at $5 and $10 a pour. Jack and his wife, Kate, also host, in different restaurants, a popular monthly wine dinner with the menu and wines focusing on a different part of the world each time. Jack has a great nose for unearthing little-known wines that are good values. Check out his blog to see what he is drinking: jackbricewine.wordpress.com.

I recently happened upon a post from a wine lover in Philly who offers some interesting wine advice and opinions. His name is Jeff Alexander and you will find him and others sharing their wine thoughts at pavineco.com.

Armed with advice from your neighbors, friends and online helpers, your next trip to your local Wine & Spirits store should be considerably less stressful.

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Elizabeth Downer: elizabethdowner@gmail.com. First Published August 8, 2013 4:00 AM


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