Sip Code

A new shop caters to classy wine drinkers.

By Mara Zepeda
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 24, 2007

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Glass discrimination: Soskin was unimpressed by Philly's wine offerings.

In 2005 the Sideways effect overtook the wine industry (and countless cocktail conversations). The popular film was credited with increasing California pinot noir sales by 70 percent, and disparaging merlot such that chuckles abound when it's ordered.

Wine Spectator reported how the film created entirely new industries. Area tour companies pitch Sideways travel packages. The Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau has distributed more than 120,000 copies of "Sideways, the Map," a self-guided driving tour through the movie's highlighted destinations. And then there's the Sideways Wine Tasting Survival Package, which includes stain remover, aspirin, Alka-Seltzer, a corkscrew and a bottle of local wine. Tourists eat at the same restaurants, enjoy the same food and request to be seated at the same tables seen in the movie. They even request room 234 at the Days Inn in Buellton--where the main characters slept off their hangovers.

Two and a half years after the movie's release and more than 2,800 miles from Santa Barbara County, we Philadelphians continue to feel the reverberations with the opening of Pinot, a new shop at Second and Market in Old City that offers oenophiles "everything but the grape."

Owner Dan Soskin says he was historically a beer guy until he traversed the well-trodden Sideways byways with a friend and became smitten with wine. He returned to Philly to discover a woefully inadequate supply of wine gifts and accoutrements. (Nary a red wine glass is to be found in many of the state liquor stores.) Soskin says the items he did find were mass-produced and not aesthetically pleasing.

Once the owner of a craft gallery retail shop, Soskin began calling vendors and researching products. He opened Pinot just two months after coming up with the idea, and has been advising novices and connoisseurs alike ever since.

"Good wine glasses are definitely a must," Soskin says, nervously handing me the upper end of "good"--an oversized, perfectly balanced, mouth-blown Riedel burgundy glass ($95) so delicate it causes heart palpitations.

Corkscrews range from $7 to $150 (the latter being a simple, heirloom-quality handheld device by the French manufacturer Chateau Laguiole). Novelty accoutrements (read: items that bewilder me) include a leather-sheathed travel flask with golf-T fasteners ($49.95); an afterglow wick and globe set which turns a wine bottle into an oil lamp of sorts ($14.95); and kitschy wine caddies handmade from scrap metal and garden tools that envelop an angled wine bottle like a torture device, turning it into a sculpture of a cat playing a saxophone or a sunglassed dog playing the drums ($69--and they're going like hotcakes ... really).

For every expensive wine glass and lighthearted gag gift, there are other practical items worth coveting. At the top of the list is Georgia-based 2-Day Designs' striking, hand-hewn and reasonably priced furniture crafted from used white oak wine barrels ($149 to $725). The tables, chairs and storage chests have a rich brown patina, sumptuous leather and in some cases are embossed with the winery's logo. The Clip de Vine, which resembles a monstrous paperclip that holds and steadies a wine glass, fastening it to an hors d'oeuvres plate, is a handy accessory when inhaling canapes and longing for a sip of merlot (oh, wait ... ). Finally, for those who've long admired beautiful wine labels and tried in vain to remove them with soapy water, suicidal sliding razors and sheer determination, the Label Lift ($12.95) will become indispensable, if not life-saving.

One block from Pinot's doors and two centuries ago, Ben Franklin wrote in a letter that "wine is a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy." And with Soskin's offerings, we'll look classier as we get happier.

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