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Figuring out the wine thing in Boston and MA

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I'm a newly arrived resident (Waltham) struggling to figure out how the wine/liquor laws work here, after years of living in the laissez-faire state of CA.

Have appreciated help on this topic that came up on earlier postings. Search engine doesn't seem to be popping up that info, so just want to confirm what I think is the case, and have some new questions.

1) You can BYOB if the restaurant does NOT have a wine/beer/liquor license? Otherwise, can't pay corkage and bring in a nice bottle?

2) No alcohol sales except bars/restaurants Sundays. No wine in any grocery stores, ever? Some Trader Joe's sell wine, but others don't? Are the prices discounted compared to regular wine shops at Trader Joe's?

3) Unlike other Costco stores in other states, wine isn't sold inside the "membership" area in the Costco in Waltham. It is substantially more expensive than discounted wine inside the "membership" area in other states. Strong guess this has to do with antiquated liquor laws here? Is this the case in Costco stores in bordering states?

4) Believe the Wine Seller was mentioned as a good place to buy wine at a reasonable price. Also Trader Joe's. Any other ideas? Am fairly knowledgeable, not looking for an owner or clerk to help me choose, just suffering from sticker shock.

5) Will be traveling around NY and New England for work. Should I be shopping for wine out of state to avoid some of these and for better prices?

6) Cheapest place to buy quality beer and liquor?

Once again, you hounds have helped me enormously on making this transition. Will have reports on restaurants, Waltham and elsewhere, shortly.

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  1. Visit a New Hampshire liquor store for best liquor prices, and while you're there, pick up a price list, which has everything on the store in it, including wine. Browse at your leisure.

    1. You've got most of the Boston Wine stuff down correctly.

      That said, you have what I think is the best, and best priced wine store in MA right there in Waltham:

      Try Gordon's on Main Street. They have a great selection and excellent prices. They were voted Best of Surburban Wine Store by Boston Magazine, but I think they are just the best for wine.

      Often I just ask David the wine guy for a recommendation and buy what he tells me. He's sold me $8-12 bottles that were as good as better known $30 bottles elsewhere. Totally knowledgable and not at all pretentious.

      New Hampshire at the big State owned liquor stores is MUCH cheaper for liquor, beer, and basic wine. Careful about buying at the big stores right on the border on the highway, because supposedly MA cops stake out the stores and bust people who are buying just to take back to MA, which is illegal. They have cars on the MA side of the border and radio the license plates ahead.

      Not really worth schlepping from CT or NYC where booze is no cheaper.

      If you really want selection at a price, Brookline liquor Mart on Comm. Ave. about 4 blocks West of Harvard is also a big importer, and have a HUGE inventory and lots of rare (expensive old wine).

      Both Marty's Newton and Brighton are also good selection.

      Martignetti's on Soldiers Field Road is also good, but the staff is not very helpful and downright pretentious at times.

      2 Replies
      1. re: FeedMe

        Brookline Liquor Mart USED to be owned by Classic Wine Imports so it is not an importer as it once was. Now it is not owned by Classic. Classic Wine Imports is now owned by The Martignetti companies whic also owns the Martignetti Liquor stores,and also owns the Silenus import company which USED to own Wine Cellar of Silene, and Martignetti also owns Gilmore as well as some other importers and beer distributors.

        You are correct however about the staff at Martignetti on soldiers Field Rd in Brighton.

        1. re: Ed

          Oh, the Martignetti companies wholesale operations go under the name of Carolina.

      2. Hi Coyote, and welcome.

        1. You are correct on the BYOB laws.
        2. Bars and restaurants can sell liquor, beer and wine after 12:00 noon on Sundays. Liquor stores can open on Sundays between Thanksgiving and New Year's. There is a limit on how many establishments a license holder can sell beer, wine, liquor at-- hence some locations of a supermarket carry beer and wine, while some do not.
        3. Don't know.
        4. Not a big wine drinker, but there is a HUGE difference between prices at various stores. I have found that the best selection is often found at a higher price.
        5. NH CAN be cheaper, but isn't always. Quite often liqur can actually be found on sale for less here. I have seen a 1.75 liter Dewar's from $29.99 to $42.99 in my area, typically $34.99 where I shop. It was also $34.99 last week in NH. I tend to pick up what I might use if it is on sale in NH, but the price difference is really not as great as the public's perception, probably based on the pricing policies of 10 yrs ago.
        6. Cheapest for beer and liquor? I just look for sales. The price of a case of Sam Adams can vary by as much as $10 depending on the store and on a sale price.

        10 Replies
        1. re: Alan H

          [2. Bars and restaurants can sell liquor, beer and wine after 12:00 noon on Sundays. Liquor stores can open on Sundays between Thanksgiving and New Year's. ]

          A caveat to this statement - liquor stores within 15 miles of the NH state border (and I believe the CT state border?) are also open to sell alcohol on Sundays year-round. For example, North Reading liquor stores on Route 28 are open, while the liquor stores in Reading are not.

          I believe this law was enacted to enable those MA stores with bordering states that allow Sunday sales from losing those alcohol sales on Sundays. Of course, the towns bordering those MA towns allowed to sell on Sunday raised a stink, but the antiquated blue laws still stand for most of the Commonwealth.

          1. re: Linda W.

            True, but at that point, you're on the highway, might as well go to New Hampshire, you're almost there.

            1. re: Alan H

              If I'm bulk-buying the alcohol, beer and wine - yes, I'd drive to NH after price comparisons. But if all I want is a 6-pack or several bottles of wine for a Sunday dinner, I'm not going to drive another 20 minutes to "maybe" save a few bucks. You can spend that much in gas for the round trip.

              (And I get to North Reading from Route 28 from where I live, so I don't need to get on the highway to get to the stores in North Reading.)

              All I was saying was that if you need a small amount of liquor/beer/wine, the MA 15-mile-from-the-border rule is easier and quicker than driving up to NH.

              1. re: Linda W.

                No argument, except that the question was based on coming from Waltham, so logically you'd probably go 95N to rt 3 N towards Nashua. Note that you are already on the highway, and another 20 miles round trip is not exactly time consuming (less than 15 min. at 80 MPH) or expensive ($1-&1.50 for gas), especially in comparison to getting off in some small town and driving around looking for the one potentially opened package store, instead of going to one in NH right on the highway.

                1. re: Alan H

                  Re: another 20 miles round trip is not exactly time
                  consuming (less than 15 min. at 80 MPH) or expensive
                  ($1-&1.50 for gas)

                  Wow, where are you getting gas for $1?

                  1. re: Joanie

                    I don't think I said I pay $1/gallon for gas.
                    If I drive 20 miles, and get 30 MPG on the highway, I can pay $1.50/gal, and only use $1 in gas.

                  2. re: Alan H

                    "...especially in comparison to getting off in some small town and driving around looking for the one potentially opened package store, instead of going to one in NH right on the highway."

                    Last time I drove up Route 3, I didn't see any outlet stores "right on the highway" the way they are on Route 93 after you cross the NH/MA border. I believe you have to drive to the Southgate Mall or to Main St. in Nashua to find the stores that sell on Sunday.

                    So to drive to Chelmsford from Waltham (or whichever MA town is 15 miles from the NH border) is just as easy as driving to Nashua and driving around looking for those NH state stores that aren't "right on the highway."

                    1. re: Linda W.

                      So drive to Portsmouth or Salem. What is your problem, anyway? I'm trying to give someone some reasonable advice based on experience, and you're crusading to keep business in Mass or something. If I lived near one of the "might be opened on Sunday" Massachusetts stores, I'd go there too, but If I had to drive 30 min. to get there, why wouldn't I take another 5 or 10 minutes to go to a store that I KNOW will be opened, is easier to find, will cost me less, and will undoubtedly have better selection?

                      1. re: Alan H

                        No problem; and I'm not crusading. I'm just giving reasonable adviced based on *my* experience on pricing and location. You drive where you want to drive; I'll do the same.

                      2. re: Linda W.

                        Besides, you keep saying 15 miles from NH--it is 10 miles.

            2. I'll try to answer what I can:

              1) I think BYOB policy is very much up to the restaurant owner. When it's allowed, it's usually a bit hush hush, not making a big deal of it. You certainly never see big signs outside or even notes on menus. I haven't been to many restaurants without a liquor license and know nothing about corkage fees, although I have heard that it is done.

              2) A tricky one, this. Liquor stores (package stores/packies) sell beer, wine and hard liquor. I've also seen wine shops that are primarily wine and beer oriented, but thinking about it, they all also sell liquor so I guess they are the same as packies. As for grocery stores, here's my understanding: each grocery store gets something like 5 liquor licenses per chain to use as they want. Since Trader Joes is a relative newcomer, the stores that opened first have the licenses. This includes Brookline and Cambridge, maybe also Needham? And 2 others, by that logic. Omni Foods in Chestnut Hill sells wine, as does Stop & Shop in Malden and Bread & Circus in Cambridge. Again, if my info is correct, there are other ones out there, but it's a big state, so they could be anywhere.

              I think the prices on wine at Trader Joes are better than in the packies.

              3) Not sure about Costco, as I haven't shopped there in other states. I always wondered why people were so gung-ho on buying wine there, because the prices never seemed that good to me. What you're saying makes it all make sense.

              4) I mentioned Best Cellars (Brookline and maybe also Cambridge) as a place to buy wine at a reasonable price (no bottle over, I think, $15, used to be $10). Wine Seller at Silene out there in Waltham has great selection, but I'm not sure the prices ever seemed that low to me.

              5&6) Personally, I don't think the prices in NH are what they are cracked up to be. I've price compared Johhny Walker, Bombay Sapphire and a few other premium brands and have seen prices actually higher in some cases. Maybe that rule applies if you are buying cheaper liquor. I'm not sure about beer prices. One place that has great selection and good prices on beer is Sav-Mor in Somerville, on Msgr. O'Brien Hwy across from Twin Cities Shopping Plaza. The place looks like a dive from outside but has great stuff inside.

              One other note about the Blue Laws (no liquor sales on Sunday.) Of course, you can get around that if you have a BBQ, or something that you forgot to get beer for, by driving 30-45 minutes up to NH or down to RI. However, you can actually buy in MA on Sunday if you know where to go. Some MA communities that border NH allow liquor sales to let their liquor merchants remain competitive. And then, of course, communities that border those border communities complain to their local govt's and get permission as well, and so on and so on. I couldn't swear to it, but I think there is a liquor store in North Reading (which is nowhere near the NH border) that's open on Sunday. So look around as you drive in the northern parts of the state, you never know what you'll see. And (go figure) that Blue Law is suspended between Thanksgiving and New Year's, which makes SOOOOO much sense. If you're going to allow it for those 6 or 8 weeks, it seems pretty hypocritical not to allow it year around but what can I say... welcome to the crazy Commonwealth.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Chris VR

                North Reading is the cutoff point for liquor stores in Mass. The law is 10 miles from the border but obviously that has to be up to interpretation. ie: North Reading. If you live up Rte. 38 you can't buy in Wilmington but just up the road is Tewksbury with 4 or 5 stores you can buy in.Also the stores are open from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m.

              2. Massachuseets cities and towns exist under a crazy quilt of blue laws; some towns, (Arlington, Rockport) are even dry...

                1) Theoretically, these are right. However, I've been disallowed from bringing wine into some non-licensed places, and ALLOWED to bring my own into some licensed places, for a corking fee.

                2) Yup, some TJ's, and _some_ large grocers, actually(Omni Foods in Newton, for one) sell beer and wine, but never on Sunday(except Thanksgiving to New Years)...I think someone said because the owner is limited to the licenses they can hold?

                3)Almost all my wine comes from Trader Joes. I like the selections at the Brookline and Cambridge stores. I personally think Brookline Liquor Mart is way overpriced, and pushes a lot of bottles with pretty labels, but that's just me...I also buy at Marty's and Martignetti's.....

                Don't know about Costco...

                5) NH has great prices on liquor(heed the warning about the staies, buy on the way IN!), but is abysmal when it comes to wine. Don't bother.