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Nov 17, 2009 06:38 PM

Central Bottle: Fantastic Wine & Cheese Store Central Square

These folks just opened in Central Square at 196 Mass. Ave. and I'm already sure that this going to be one of my key "food" destinations in Boston. It's a wine and cheese store that's doing everything right. It's run by the former GM of East Coast Grill and the owners of The Blue Room.

It's not a huge wine selection, but it is thoughtfully original and priced right. Most wine stores in Boston, even apparently good ones, are stocking the same over-priced bottles. Here instead you'll find interesting regions and producers. The selection is strong at very reasonable price points: 11-15, 15-20, 20-30... It's what I've always dreamed of: a great selection of everyday wine at affordable prices.

If that weren't enough, they have a great selection of international and American cheeses, with a young, enthusiastic cheese monger happy to advise you. They also have a small selection of breads and bites. It almost makes you wish you could uncork one of those bottles on the spot and start eating... But wait... you can (sort of...)

On Tuesdays they have a $25 wine tasting which pairs 3 tastes with 3 small bites prepared by a guest chef. Tonight the guest chef was (no surprise) from The Blue Room. And on Thursdays they will convert themselves into a wine bar for the night.

I'm no wine snob, at least from my perspective. All I want is good wine for a reasonable price. Here I found myself paying less for better wine --now that's a move in the right direction.

This is my spot from now on...


Central Bottle
196 Massachesetts Avenue
@ Central Square

East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

Blue Room
1 Kendall Sq, Cambridge, MA

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  1. I really like this place. The wine selection reminds me of Brix - well-chosen, interesting, and not overpriced (though with few bottles less than $15).

    I'm so glad it opened because Central Sq. probably has the worst selection of liquor stores of any major neighborhood in the area.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DoubleMan

      I too am glad that there is a new place in Central but am surprised you would say that Central Square has the worst selection of liquor stores of any neighborhood in the area. I thought Supreme Liquors was actually surprisingly comprehensive, with far more varieties within type than I would ever have expected. The place across the street is less impressive, but that's still two stores in one small stretch.

      1. re: hckybg

        I should have just said wine store, not liquor. I think Supreme Liquors has a really really poor wine selection - the liquor selection is fine.

    2. Do you know what kind of seating they may have at Thursdays' wine bar & what time it opens? Can't seem to open website for other than pix.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Taralli

        I finally stopped in today (it's in the Novartis building on Mass Ave, right across the street from the bike shop). Spacious, modern, and minimal inside (think wine shop for the Dwell set). I definitely want to hit a Thursday night tasting - I'm not sure if there will be seating for events, but it's very roomy in there. I don't think there will be any jostling or claustrophobia, Taralli, if that's what you're worried about. I was the only customer in there, so hopefully, the word gets out that they are open. Got a bottle of G.D. Vajra that came highly recommended as a great everyday red for $14 (Central Bottle loves Piedmontese wines and I don't drink enough Italian wines, so I am looking forward to learning/tasting more). I also picked up a French Edelzwicker ($17) that is chilling right now. Lots of free cheese and ham nibbles laid out, but I was too full from a snack earlier today at Tory Row (Yukon Gold potato pureed soup, Wasik's cheese+apricot spread with baguette, and a couple of glasses of Tempranillo) - hell, from the entire weekend of eating. Very appealing line-up of snacks - cheeses, bread, cicchetti, light sandwiches.

        Tory Row
        3 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138

        Central Bottle
        196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

      2. I can't wait to go to some of the events they plan to hold. It sounds like a great gathering place for lovers of food, wine and cheese.

        We stopped in for a first look over the weekend and walked out with 3 bottles of wine, a loaf of bread, salumi and cheese! That was supper and each element was delightful.
        Some photos here:


        1. Thanks for the report. What a great addition to the neighborhood. I look forward to stopping by soon.

          1. Funny, I hit it today as well.

            Truly gorgeous wine store. While I was there, the owner was telling someone that her architect husband designed it.

            Fairly small selection. Even with their limited shelving some of the slots were empty which I surprising. In the end, retail is a game of sale per square foot...

            Really no way to tell if the prices are reasonable as they obviously go out of their way to stock VERY obscure wines. The one thing I recognized, Gruet Bubbly from New Mexico I forgot to check to price on.

            The cheeses are the usual high end mostly over $20 a pound stuff. If I'm hitting those price points I'll go to Formaggio or save my dough and hit Trader Joes (I did get a superb camembert at TJ's recently).

            The only reference point I had was the fact that they had one, and only one Champagne. (Kind of absurd as we are into the holiday season) a very obscure brand, for $56 / bottle.

            I guess my critique about a place like this is as follows: sure I support you going out of your way to sell only wines "Mis en Bouteille au Domaine." i.e. wines made only where the grapes are grown, fermented, and bottled by the vintner. That, in principle is an excellent way to run a wine shop. But if it is really just an excuse to stock super obscure wines so no one can see if your prices are reasonable, and you can gauge your clientelle, then it's really not such a good thing.

            I assure you that there are other excellent domaine bottled champagnes that cost less than $56.

            I have a place like this near me in Belmont, the Spirited Gourmet. I recently bought my first box wine, a Black Box Riesling for $21.99 at Cambridge Wine and Spirits. The Spirited Gourmet sells the same wine for $26.99.

            I'd love to frequent the local. I buy wines mostly by the mixed case. Any wine shop should discount that mixed case aminimum of 10%, and ideally 20%. If I know that mixed case is going to set me back another $50 - $100 (depending on how spendy I am feeling that day) compared to a larger store then I'll take my business elsewhere.

            20 Replies
            1. re: StriperGuy

              I don't know what champagne you were referencing but we were there yesterday and were pointing out the grower champagnes from the Terry Theise Collection. These are wines you would normally find on a great restaurant wine list.

              Reading the Terry Theise catalogues can be a wine education.

              I've purchased four bottles from them so far and each has been special. At Central Bottle, I see wines from some of the very best importers, some from our area.

              They carry some of the bio-dynamic wines from Violette Wine Imports in Belmont. Some of the great Italians wines in their slots are from Jeannie Rogers's importing company Adonna. (She was at Il Capriccio in Waltham before starting this company.)

              There were French wines from Neil Rosenthal from New York. These are all people I count on to find a better wines for me.

              There are many different approaches to buying wines. Some people like to stick with what they know and get the best price for it. Others like to explore new wines and depend on importers and retailers who match their tastes.

              You are not seeing the same wines as the average liquor store but it is very easy to compare the prices on the wines from these distributors if you want to do that.

              The cheese selection has some gems. Yesterday we bought put twoTwig Farm cheeses, both in perfect condition, to enjoy while we were cooking with friends. This is an award winning Vermont producer of aged goat cheese. It's the kind of cheese you would normally have to go to Formaggio to find. But, I'm happy to have it available in a more accessible location.

              We all have different priorities and Central Bottle is closer to mine.

              1. re: BostonZest

                Funny, cause the reason I like to buy mixed cases is so that I can try things I've never bought before. I usually ask the wine person to pick out their favorite 12 bottles with 1/2 under $20 and half under $30 a bottle. If they select something I am familiar with I ask them to skip that bottle unless the new vintage is something they really rave about.

                When a wine store is stocking one, and only one true champagne (only 3 or 4 sparkling wines total) and the price point is $56, the message is pretty clear. No Spanish Cavas, only Gruet from the U.S. which is fine, but certainly not close to the best small, and in this particular case reasonably-priced producer in the the U.S.

                Add to that little to no representation from South America, South Africa, or Australia (all places where you can get really excellent wines at reasonable prices).

                This place even goes so far to only sell wines with obscure sophisticated looking labels. I guess I'd rather a place with more selection and value and a little less "precious." I feel like increasingly Boston is turning into a place where people want "precious" and want someone to tell them what is good as opposed to finding out for themselves.

                David Raines, formerly of Gordon's in Waltham, personifies MY approach to trying and drinking wines. To this day he imports (himself) some of my favorite, most obscure and good value wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and elsewhere.

                I guess if Bostonian's are willing to pay for precious as opposed to substance then that is what they will get.

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  It seems a bit odd to criticize the price of a wine you obviously have not the slightest clue of, other than that it is obscure to you. If it is a really good champagne, then $56 could be a quite OK price.
                  Similar with the other wines, you seem not to know any, but judge them strongly. Based on the importers they carry it seems more likely that what is obscure to you is not obscure at all to others. And there is nothing wrong with being limited on South America, South Africa and Australia. While there is plenty of drinkable stuff at reasonable prices from these areas, not much of it is truly exciting imho.

                  Looks like you have plenty of wine stores you like. If this new store does not appeal to you that is fine, but no reason to insinuate that they are gauging their prices when you don't know at all if they do.

                  1. re: reese99

                    You must not have read my post. That price point may be quite reasonable for that bottle. But the fact that they stock one and only one Champagne and it costs $56 says a lot.

                    I am actually fairly knowledgeable about wines. And my point is that a store that has almost no bottles I am familiar with is going out of their way to stock the obscure. And in so doing this store's focus appears to be on the ridiculously pricey.

                    Have you ever been to Gordon's in Waltham? Superb collection of wines both obscure and not so obscure at very reasonable prices. And they have a gorgeous tasting room, and one of the best beer selections in town.

                    To me wine is an every-day phenomena that I consider part of life, not some precious bauble to cherish on special occasions only. That their only Champagne costs $56 is indicative of their approach.

                    That you dismiss all wines from S. America, S. Africa, and Australia in one fell swoop is probably indicative of yours. Perhaps you drink $50 bottles nightly, some of us do not.

                    My primary point being that the store is more precious than useful to me and I imagine plenty of other Boston hounds. And that a place whose sole offering of Champagne is $56 is making a pretty clear statement.

                    When Boston consists of only pricey, precious boutique wine shops, stores selling $4 cupcakes, and coffee houses that charge $14 a pound for beans that can be had for $6 a pound elsewhere, that will be a sad day for me. If you'd like some info on where to buy great coffee for reasonable money just let me know.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      I'd also add that I don't believe I saw a single cheese in the cheese case for less than $23 a pound. Even Formaggio has NUMEROUS excellent cheeses in the $12 - $20 range.

                      To go back to Gordon's in Waltham, in my mind it is probably still the single best wine store I have been to in the Boston area, though it is not quite the same since David Raines stopped working there and focused on his import business. On numerous occasions I would just let him guide me. The conversation often went like this: "hmmmm, I've heard of this Burgundy, what do you think David," "Well it's nice, but THIS is really a super wine, I don't even import this one, but I wish I did" and often enough the bottle he was pointing to was $8, $10, $15 LESS.

                      I have a hard time imagining that happening in Central Bottle.

                      To this day David still imports my all around favorite dessert wine that is less than $80 a bottle. It is an obscure Cadillac (Chateau Memoires). Made exactly like a Sauternes, but a few towns in the wrong direction to earn the Sauternes appellation. It is usually in the $20 price range, and quite frankly superb. Dessert wine is one of my many pleasures. I probably have a half dozen PRICEY Sauternes in my cellar right now, with the exception of Y'quem I will take David's Cadillac over all of them.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Boston Zest has already pointed out some of the distributors which Central Bottles uses, from Adonna Imports to Neil Rosenthal. Oz Pacific is another one of their distributors. You will find that Gordon's uses some of those same distributors, and thus you can check prices on some of their wines. So it is really not that hard to gauge Central's prices.

                        Plus, I am familiar with many of the wines Central Bottle stocks, having seen many of their wines at other stores such as Wine Sense, Lower Falls Wine Co. and Wine Bottega. Their prices are basically similar to all of those stores. You can visit those stores to compare prices to Central Bottle.

                        Plus, I have personally tasted a fair share of the wines and they are often excellent wines, and worth the price. Central Bottle uses many of my favorite distributors. They do not just stocking "obscure" wines because they are obscure. They stock less common wines, but only if they feel they are good. And they have many many good choices, wines of substance.

                        Go to their complimentary tastings and taste the wines you don't know. Talk to the owners and learn about their best value wines.

                        I am not sure if you were at the store after they added their four glass-topped wine racks or not. They initially only had wine on shelves on two walls, but recently added 4 free standing racks so they could add more wines. It is still a store in progress, and they will hone their selection over time.

                        1. re: RichardA

                          Thanks for the reminder because one of those racks is devoted to wines $15 and under.


                          1. re: BostonZest

                            I think this furthers my point. They have 15 or so "reasonable" wines at <$15.

                            If I head to Gordon's or Blanchards or Marty's or Martignetti there are literally hundreds of wines at that price point, heck many < $10 and of those, quite a few are independently grown, fermented, bottled, and darned tasty. Heck some of them are even from Spain (a personal favorite) or South America.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              I think you misread Penny's post. Penny never stated they only had "15" wines at that price point. They have an entire standing rack devoted to such wines, which could easily hold 50+ different wines. Plus, that also does not mean that is the only rack to find such priced wines.

                              When you consider the total amount of wines that Central Bottle stocks, 50+ is a significant proportion of their wines.

                              1. re: RichardA

                                I saw the rack. It had 20 wines or so, 10 on each side. Though to be fair they do perhaps have other wines at this price point or lower throughout the store.

                                I stand by my original statement that the place feels more about preciousness then anything else.

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  You are certainly entitled to your impression that it "feels more about preciousness" but I do suggest you taste some of the wines before alleging they lack substance.

                                  As someone who has tasted a fair share of the wines Central Bottle stocks, I can state they carry wines of substance.

                                  As one example, the portfolio of Adonna Imports is excellent, and they have wines at all price points. They are primarily Italian wines, from small artisan producers, mostly organic/biodynamic. Central Bottle currently carries two boxed wines, Poderi Zanusso White & Red. They are about $30 for a 3 liter box (equivalent of 4 bottles). These are a couple of the best boxed wines I have ever tasted, and at great values at this price.

                      2. re: StriperGuy

                        I'd like that coffee info - where do you get it?

                        1. re: nfo

                          I have found that Russo's in Watertown has superb, freshly roasted coffees for very reasonable prices.

                          If you want to have some really exceptional coffee with a 5 pound minimum purchase these folks sell via internet and have all sorts of exotics including fair trade and organic for very small money:


                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            I agree with Russo's for good value on Coffee beans. I bought a package of Cafe Umbria beans for $8.95 this weekend. I've paid $10- $12 for them elsewhere.

                            Our house beans now are from Beanstock Coffee Roasters down on the cape. They also discount orders of 5 pounds or more.


                        2. re: StriperGuy

                          I like D&L in Waltham much better than Gordon's. Both Sara and Fred are very knowledgeable and prices are lower than Gordon's. Staff in general is much friendlier than Gordon's as well, in my experience.

                          1. re: Duster17

                            Which location? I must admit since Raines left I am less of a fan of Gordon's than I was.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              River St across from Shaws. Newly expanded.

                            2. re: Duster17

                              I hit D&L the other day. The wine woman was VERY nice. Good selection, but not great. Nor were the prices super competitive. I'd be happy to have the place near my house, but not a destination Liquor/wine store in my book.

                              My usual haunts, Mall Discount Liquors, Gordon's, Martignetti's, Marty's, Brookline Liquor Mart are really in a different league.

                            3. re: StriperGuy

                              Taking the bait: where can you buy great coffee for reasonable money? [oops, saw the reply just now! sorry]

                      3. re: StriperGuy

                        Just to give a price reference, yesterday's Wall Street had a small piece on Estate Bottled Champagne's from small and large estates. 7 of the 9 mentioned were less then $52. 3 were priced below $40.