A recent Sunday afternoon gave me a chance to spend some time in a neighborhood I generally tend to circumvent. Home to the wealthy and fabulous (and haunt of those aspiring to be), Rittenhouse Square’s energy, for me, tends to be driven more by style than by substance. The park itself, nonetheless, is the most popular and bustling of our fine city’s many public squares. On a pretty day, it can be a great place, in spite of – or for some, because of – the crowds, to take in a dose of Philadelphia’s natural beauty. And like any of Philly’s neighborhoods, it’s not without its gems, both subtle and shiny.
On this particular late October day, strolling somewhat aimlessly through the east side streets of Rittenhouse, I was pleasantly surprised to find the doors swung wide at Tria. They’d opened earlier than usual at their 18th & Sansom outpost in hopes of recouping some of the cash flow lost as their usual crowds emigrated elsewhere over the previous nights in search of screens on which to catch the Phillies’ post-season run. I teach wine classes on a regular basis at Tria’s Fermentation School and stop into both of their wine bar locations as often as I can, whether for a late night nibble (their truffled egg toast makes my short list of best bar snacks in town) or an early evening taste. This was the first time, though, that I’d made it in for Sunday School, their special offering of one wine, one cheese and one beer at half-price, with a new line-up every Sunday. Call this a shill if you’re feeling cynical, but I was digging the opportunity to taste a few new things without breaking the bank.
As good as was the locally produced pairing of Otterbein Acres Cheddar and Victory Brewing Company’s wet hopped “Harvest Ale,” it was the wine that stood out from the trio. Friulian producer Valter Scarbolo makes an expression of Pinot Grigio he calls “Ramato,” where half of the fruit macerates on its skins for four days followed by completion of fermentation in a mixture of oak tonneaux and steel. After fermentation, the 2006 spent nine months resting on its lees followed by a further six months of bottle aging prior to release. The resulting wine is a true “gris de gris,” more rosé than white but not entirely either. While it lacks the wild character and orange, oxidative style of the more intensive skin contact whites from Scarbolo neighbors such as Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon, like them it benefits from being served at cellar temperature. Starting out cold, it offered up ripe, sweet-fruited raspberry and kiwi sensations – pleasant but simple. With time to open and, more importantly, warm up a bit, its aromas became more compelling – wild strawberries and dried herbs came to mind. And the tannins extracted during that four-day maceration became more apparent, lending the wine a textural component and refreshingly bitter flavor stamp that helped it to rise above typical Pinot Grigio expectations.
The mid-day sun streaming in through Tria’s Sansom Street windows lent an air of relaxed conviviality that’s all too rare in Rittenhouse haunts. The peace it offered made for a perfect prelude to further exploration of the neighborhood. More on that to come soon….
Rittenhouse Square location
123 S. 18th Street (at Sansom)
Philadelphia, PA 19103 [map]