The Philadelphia Diet

Jonathan Newman Finds Having a Banana or Two Makes Tasting 70 Wines a Little Easier

Even the former chairman of the PLCB goes to Jersey for his wine
Even the former chairman of the PLCB goes to Jersey for his wine Photo: Michael Persico

He’s the CEO and chairman of Newman Wine and Spirits, but you may know Jonathan Newman better as the former chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board who made significant strides in modernizing the state’s draconian liquor laws and dreadful liquor stores. Newman, who resigned in 2007 after Governor Rendell created a new CEO position on the Board and handed it over to a political pal, now sells wine to retailers and restaurants and is on the board of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation. In the latest installment of The Philadelphia Diet, wherein a local food fanatic documents his dining experiences for a week, Newman fills us in on the palate-cleansing power of bananas, the challenges of trying to start his own vineyard and his favorite vintage for Napa wines.

Friday, November 20

At 9 a.m. I had a Power C Vitamin Water. I’m a pretty high-strung person to begin with and I’m not a caffeine person and I don’t drink coffee. In the morning I don’t have an appetite for breakfast, but I want something refreshing and energizing. I’d say half of my weekdays I just drink a Vitamin Water and that’s my breakfast. Usually a Power C.

At 12:15 p.m., I had a meeting at Roger Wilco in Pennsauken, NJ. We had three slices of take-out pizza from DeAngelo’s with some Mug Root Beer. It was a working meeting and we didn’t have time to go out for lunch. I usually pour a lot of hot peppers on pizza, but there were no hot peppers handy.

My wife Nancy made dinner. Because of my schedule, we try and have home dinners two or three nights a week. I’ll make meal on the weekend and she’ll make the meals two or three times a week. We had arugula and fennel salad with pine nuts, shaved Parmesan cheese and vinaigrette dressing, homemade popovers with strawberry butter and a filet roast with gravy and glazed carrots and homemade sweet potato fries.

I was out sampling retailers on Crauford 2005 Maroon Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet that day - a beautiful, single vineyard Napa cab that’s been a hot, exciting wine for us - I had a half a bottle left and so I had a glass with dinner. The guy who owns the winery is a Scranton native who made his money in the biomedical business. We have a famous adage in the wine business: “How do you make a small fortune in the wine industry? Start with a large fortune!” It’s very hard to make money with a vineyard.

At 10 p.m. I had two glasses of 1983 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port. I was reading a book and it was kind of a cool fall night. Port is one of my favorites. I have a pretty nice collection of older vintage ports in my cellar and that one was just one I decided to pop open and enjoy. It’s beautiful— and will be drinking fine in five to seven years.

Saturday, November 21

11 a.m.: a XXX Vitamin Water. At 1:30 p.m. I had some veggie flaxseed tortilla chips. The best were red beet and onions, but they were really bland.

My 20-year-old son was going to be 21 this week. He’s a vegetarian and I wanted to do something special for him; I asked him where he wanted to go and he said Horizons, a vegan restaurant on 7th and South. My five-year-old daughter, my wife and my 16-year-old son all went. The food was pretty good and very well presented - they did a lot with vegetarian food. My appetizer was salt-roasted golden beets with house-smoked tofu, avocado, red onion and capers, cucumber dill sauce, a nice dish. I had a bite of my wife’s jerk seitan and my son’s tempeh taco.

For an entree I had grilled seitan with Yukon mashed potatoes, spinach, horseradish soy cream and roasted pepper tapenade. The seitan was delicious - with barbecued edges sort of roasted, really classy and well done. I don’t think it works with the mashed potatoes- seitan, by its nature, is kind of soft and I thought it needed something to hold up to it. I would have done veggies that would have held up well. We shared sides of roasted bok choy and baby brussels sprouts in sage mustard with smoked shitakes. I had a big glass at the restaurant of Chadd’s Ford 2007 pinot noir. It made me think of Eric Miller the owner/winemaker. It was neat to see his wine on the wine list - you rarely see PA wines on a wine list.

A lot of drinking wine to me is the personalities and the people involved - what do I associate the wine with? It brings back a lot of memories - enjoying a glass gave me fond feelings about the Millers. I’ve known Eric for over 10 years - he and his wife Lee have become friends and he’s a great guy. I have a little tiny vineyard at my house with 12 vines. Eric set up the vines for me and comes over once or twice a year to get it managed. I’ve been growing grapes for three years, but I’ve never had enough patience or time to go through whole vinification process - I have such a busy schedule. This year we had some fungus and an attack of Japanese beetles. It took more tender loving care than I could give it.

We didn’t have dessert in the restaurants, but had some fresh pineapple at home. I’m not a big dessert eater.

Sunday, November 22

At 10:30 a.m. I had a glass of clementine juice - I guess that replaced my Vitamin Water.

At 1:00 p.m. I brought two of my boys to the Ardmore Farmers’ Market with me to have a quick lunch and to buy some food for dinner. At Lulu’s I had giant beans with caramelized onions and peppers - they’re delicious just served at room temperature. Also
beef rissoles with hot sauce. I think it’s like a Brazilian dish. Not quite a turnover, it’s a little softer, with ground beef inside. I poured a lot of hot red sauce on it.

At 4:30 p.m., I had a couple of bites mochi frozen chocolate from Trader Joe’s. I didn’t like the taste of this particular one and I threw it right in the trash. Then I had a large piece of Jagelky’s Almond Butter Crunch. It’s a candy company in Ventnor and Margate - we have a summer home at the Jersey shore and we were down there the week before. It’s really decadent - the closest thing I would compare it to is a Heath bar, but it’s a lot more than a Heath bar - almond crunch toffee in the center, coated with milk chocolate and crushed almonds around it.

I made family dinner that night - chicken with a Mockingbird Hill Napa Chardonnay white wine reduction. I add whole tomatoes and spices, let it simmer for four hours and serve it on a bed of spaghetti. For me, part of the fun of cooking is fooling around with wine. I typically will cook with the same wine I drink with, but I don’t look down on people who don’t because if you’re cooking in mass supply, it can get pricey. I remember when I was at the PLCB, there was a famous restaurateur and to try and understand what his needs were I looked at a history of what he was ordering and it was very clear he was cooking with box wine. I’m just cooking for me and my family - this is like a $12 - $14 bottle.

At 9:00 p.m. I had two slices of sun-dried mangoes and then a glass of the ‘83 Taylor Fladgate Port. It was drinking even better than two days earlier. It was more aromatic, the nose was really closed and the tannins were a little dusty on the first day before the wine started opening up. Keep in mind it was in a bottle for 26 years. Right out of the bottle it needed sometime to integrate. The flavor profile was a lot silkier and more lush than on the first day.

Monday, November 23

9 a.m.: One banana. On days that I’m tasting a lot of wine, I find the best thing to keep my palate fresh is a banana. I don’t have an appetite for the first four hours of the day, but if you’re tasting wine you want to have a little something in your stomach and it’s my go-to fruit. Some days I’m tasting 60 or 70 wines, having a banana or two in your stomach makes it a little easier. If I had something like a Vitamin Water or an acidic juice, that would affect my palate, but bananas are really neutral and soft on the the palate.

For lunch, Chris Goldrich, my VP of sales and logistics, and I went to Chiangmai a Thai restaurant in Conshohocken. We had the special Thai Ravioli soup, Thai dumplings, and Chicken in green curry sauce rice, and a Coca-Cola. It’s one of five or six different places we go to near work for lunch. We tasted about 17 wines that afternoon and two of them were to my liking based on the price-quality ratio. I taste maybe eight wines a day on average in the office. When I go to Napa and Sonoma, I taste about 70 wines a day.

Family dinner at home. My wife made shepherd’s pie with beef, vegetables, mashed potatoes and organic green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup with Durkee browned onions on top, and kasha and bowties.

I had a glass of Mockingbird Hill Napa Cabernet, the 2007, it’s one of the best vintage years for Napa wines. The ‘07s are just getting released and it’s a vintage I’m really getting excited about they’re tasting great. I like ‘94, ‘97, 2001, and this is my favorite vintage since 2001. That’s one of our marquee wines in our portfolio.

Tuesday, November 24th

I overdid it a little today. After a 9 a.m. organic carrot juice at home, I had two business meetings - I was out for lunch and out to dinner.

I had lunch at Blackfish in Conshohocken with my friend, Jeff Cohen, who just completed his first novel, The Killing of Mindi Quintana and his publicist. We were going over marketing strategy. Jeff has been a longtime friend - I’ve known him since childhood. When your best buddy is publishing his first book, you want to help him and see what you can add to make the book successful. It’s about a guy who murders somebody and becomes an OJ-type celebrity. It takes place in Philadelphia - there are a lot of Philly landmarks in the novel.

For lunch, I had caesar salad and medium-rare steak frites, two glasses of sparkling water and a glass of the spectacular 2007 Kingsford Manor Reserve Napa Cabernet.

At 6:30 pm., At the bar in Morton’s Philadelphia, I sampled friends on some wines.
Although they’re business associates, I consider them friends. One was Bill Loftus, he sits on my board and has his own wine website called Bill is a really smart guy. We were comparing the 2004 Maxwell Creek Napa Cabernet to the bottle of 2007 Kingsford Manor Napa Cabernet that I had opened earlier at lunch. I wanted them (and for my own purposes) to see how the wine evolved in the bottle over those six hours since lunch.

At 7, we sat for dinner - I had smoked salmon with a Grey Goose martini to start, then a lobster tail with baked potato and butter. We shared carrot cake for dessert and I finished up with two glasses of tap water.

Read more: Philadelphia Diet Archives

Jonathan Newman Finds Having a Banana or Two Makes Tasting 70 Wines a Little