Tim Kweeder has been manning the cellars of some of Philadelphia’s more progressive dining establishments for the past seven years. Now the wine director and general manager of Kensington Quarters—a whole-animal-butchery-cum-restaurant in Fishtown, he’s part of a buzzing local wine scene where an influx of new importers and distributors has inspired sommeliers to get creative with their lists. “This is a very liberal-minded part of town that’s full of people who like to dine out,” he says. “They’re moving in from places like New York and bringing their wine habits with them.”
Here, Kweeder speaks to W&S about his own success building that culture within his restaurant, and why Lambrusco and Beaujolais are wines of the moment.
We introduced a series of wine bar pop-ups in our second floor event space, focusing on different topics. Most recently, we did the wines of southwest France—the whole region south of Bordeaux and the forgotten or lesser-appreciated appellations like Irouleguy, Jurançon and Madiran. We’re going to do one on Swabia—the area that includes parts of Franken, Baden and southern Germany. A lot of cool wines are coming out of there. I also have one planned that I’m calling Exile on Main Street, which will be wines from Provence and Liguria, since that’s where The Rolling Stones spent their time while recording that album.
How to go off the beaten path with success:
I always try to keep unique things on the list, and I instruct our employees to offer the guests tastes to highlight those pours. It’s definitely cool when someone comes in and says, “Oh my god, wines from Jurançon… Nobody has wines from Jurançon around here.” I love that. We just made that guy’s day, you know? But some people will just tell us what they usually like to drink and ask for some guidance. It’s a good mix. I do keep one Argentine malbec on the list, which is in that category of popular, well-known wines that are easy for people to order, but it’s a really interesting one.
Lambrusco is oddly big in Philadelphia. It could be that it’s a sort of gateway wine for beer drinkers, but I also find that it’s so food-friendly and unpretentious. The city does this thing called Wine Week every year, and I had a really successful Lambrusco event at the restaurant this last time around. We opened on a day we’re normally closed—Monday—and had a guest chefs and artists exhibit, decking out the whole restaurant in pretty funky art, with five different chefs doing small plates, and we had about twelve Lambruscos that we sold by the glass. It was pretty wild, and we had a packed house. The bottle that’s selling so well now—the Vezzelli Lambrusco di Sorbara—I like because the Sorbara clone is a little bit higher in acid, a little bit drier, and has a cool white cherry–strawberry note to it. It’s lively and so great with charcuterie. People are also ordering it to start their meals, as an aperitif.
Beaujolais, and Lapierre Morgon by the glass:
We finished the year off with that Lapierre Morgon. We bought what was left in the state, and it went over pretty well. I was a little nervous being not in center city and pouring a glass of wine that was, like, $16, but people totally got it. And what’s not to like about Beaujolais?