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Oct 31, 2010 07:23 PM

Best Wine Shop

Need some suggestions as to great wine shops particularly with smaller producers and not just run of the mill selections. Really knowledgable staff. Help! Thanks.

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  1. Martignetti's on Soldier's Field Rd. for the best selection in town, hands down. Very knowledgeable staff, as well. The Wine Emporium in the South End (one on Tremont and one on Columbus) have very good wine guys. On multiple occasions they've guided me towards great bottles that were significantly cheaper than what I was willing to pay. I've also found a number of unique bottles at Brix (locations in the South End and Financial District) as well as Charles Street Liquors in Beacon Hill. Formaggio also has a small selection of unique bottles but the help isn't nearly as helpful as it is for their cheeses.

    1. Not sure where you are but if you happen to be South of Boston (or Dot/Southie) Gypsy Kitchen in Quincy Center is excellent. Lisa, the owner (who used to own the hot sauce kiosk in Faneuil Hall for years) is very, very knowledgable. She is also very good at remembering her customers tastes and recommending appropriate wines for them.

      1. Bauer Wines on Newbury Street is our main supplier of great wines. Howie has been our wine mentor, teacher, coach and source of delicious for about 20 years.

        But, we'll always buy a few bottles when we are near an excellent shop with some alternative choices.

        Central Bottle in Central Square - excellent selection from importers that you usually see on great restaurant wine lists. And, we can put the rest of the meal together from the other end of the shop. What's more we usually have a bit of fun with the staff there.

        Brix- South End and Broad very good team and a nice selection- they have wonderful wine tastings and deserve some of our business for introducing us to winemakers and letting us taste great wines.

        Bottles in the North End. We discovered this place trying to find more of one of the Pretty Things beers but were impressed with the service and loved the first wines we had from there.

        Wine Botaga on Hanover Street North End has a good selection of the Italian wines my husband loves.

        Second the Formaggio recommendation. Our sparkling wine for November 1st was from there the South End store. ( We resolved to add more sparkle to our lives by beginning every month with a sparkling wine. And, we give a report on our selection on BostonZest.)

        Violette Imports in the little space at the back of Sofra Cafe and Bakery in Cambridge. If Richard is there and has the shop open, you can find some real gems and he is always willing to teach us a little more with each visit.

        And, if you are ever looking for the perfect bottle in Provincetown, Perry's in the West End is really excellent.

        I'm sure I'll think of more and I'll give thanks to all those who take the time to do the first layer of selection so that I can have excellent wine to drink.


        1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

        Central Bottle
        196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

        32 Replies
        1. re: BostonZest

          I second Violette. Not a huge wine store, but unusual stuff. Several wines that Formaggio carries are imported by V as are the wines on wine lists at places such as Craigie, T.W.Food, etc.

          1. re: BostonZest

            Sorry but I disagree with just about ALL of these recs.

            Small selections, not very good prices, Violette sold me just plain bad stuff once. The recurring theme in ALL of these suggestions is that they are on the smaller boutique wine side of the equation. And tend to have nice decor with a focus on being "manageable".

            I LOVE Formaggio, but just because they have 10-12 different bottles of wine don't mistake them for a wine shop.

            If a really decent sized wine store is overwhelming to you, fine, but for a serious wine person I find it hard to place ANY of the places you mention even close to the top tier.

            For serious wine stores in greater Boston:

            Federal in the financial district.

            Blanchard's in Allston (thought the owner is apparently not the nicest guy).

            Mall Discount Liquors at Fresh Pond.

            Martignetti's on Soldier's field.

            Marty's in Newton - went yesterday after not having been for a long time and was reminding just what a remarkable store it is. Food, liquor AND some of the best wine selection around.

            Gordon's in Waltham, my fav for many years.

            Brookline Liquor Mart.

            Some of the Atlas locations.

            Some of the Kappy's locations.

            And there is a place in Stoneham I have been meaning to check out that a hound raved about.

            Brookline Liquor Mart
            1354 Commonwealth Ave, Allston, MA

            Mall Discount Liquors
            202 Alewife Brook Pkwy, Cambridge, MA 02138

            1. re: StriperGuy

              Wow, StriperGuy and I disagreeing on something---whodathunk?

              The problem with just about every rec on your list, StriperGuy, is not that they simply have the ambience of a Costco, but that they tend to be packed to the gills with whatever crappy vintage the distributor happened to have an extra couple of pallets of lying around in the warehouse. Sure, if you know enough about wines to avoid the glut of lesser '05 Bordeaux that were supposed to be the Next Big '00! (and other minefields)—or *always* speak with the resident wine expert, and not just the clueless cashiers who can recommend "um, uh, are you having beef or fish?"—then, sure, you can tiptoe through the dust and the bargain-basement BS to find some gems. Except at Brookline Liquor Mart, which in my recollection has more choices of appletini mix than C-du-Pape.

              The "boutique" shops that you're categorically pooh-poohing may put off anyone who automatically conflates Gritty with Authenticity. But the best of them are less about decor and the Pachelbel playing overhead than about presenting a dossier of wines the proprietors truly stand behind—and yes, in some cases, an attitude, or slant, rather than a you-name-it-we-got-it free-for-all meant to satisfy every last oenophilic whim.

              As a "serious wine person," I thoroughly enjoy:
              -Brix (both locations), especially for their interesting Burgundies and terrific rosés, and a surprising depth in European whites
              -South End Formaggio, where they have dozens and *dozens* of interesting wines, as well as a staff who can talk about them intelligently
              -Beacon Hill Wine (this is a weird one, but I consistently find quirkball Rhone and Piemonte wines here that fit the bill to a T)
              -Agree that Gypsy Kitchen is a surprising gem for its size

              Farther afield: Eno, in Providence, is a wine store that I half-suspect was designed around my own personal tastes. Love it.

              Brookline Liquor Mart
              1354 Commonwealth Ave, Allston, MA

              1. re: StriperGuy

                I completely disagree with those suggestions. It is near impossible to find interesting wines from small producers at those stores (which is what the OP seeks). Those stores you recommend simply do not stock those types of wines; they focus on the commercially popular wines and the big names from the famous appellations - not the off-the-beaten path producers from less popular regions. For California Cabernet and Bordeaux they are unbeatable, for producers who make less than 100,000 cases, those stores are just plain terrible.

                They are similar in selection steakhouse wine lists - huge, but no surprises. To get wines that you'll find on lists at places like Craigie, Oleana, Central Kitchen, TW Food, and the Barbara Lynch restaurants, you have to go to the smaller stores.

                A small store does not mean a bad store. In fact, I think it often means the opposite. The people running the store actually edited their selection and chose good wines pretty much across the board. It has nothing to do with these stores being "manageable," it's all about them selling great wine. The large stores have 85% crap on the shelves. (Crap being wine from a handful of regions that all taste exactly the same.)

                At the smaller stores you're more likely to find great wines from importers like Neal Rosenthal, Kermit Lynch, and Theise. I think that makes these stores very "serious" wine stores. Stores that post the Wine Spectator score and follow Robert Parker's palate are much less "serious" in my mind. Selling wines from producers and regions you've never heard of is not a bad thing.

                For me, the best places in the area to find wines from smaller producers are Formaggio, Brix, Central Bottle, and Wine Bottega. I like the staff at the last three more than Formaggio because they focus on wine whereas the Formaggio workers have to know about everything in the store - they are helpful (some more than others), don't get me wrong, but in my experience not quite as much as those at the other stores.

                I also love the very small selection of wines at Violette - he's not really a retail operation, so he doesn't have many. It's a good place to find funkier wines that aren't to everyone's tastes, but they are interesting and can start conversations. I've had wines I didn't like from there, but only because they weren't my taste, not because they were bad.

                The only store I've seen nearby that does a superb job on stocking smaller, interesting producers as well as the big boys is Table and Vine in Springfield. That's also a good place to find very old wines.

                Central Kitchen
                567 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                Wine Bottega
                341 Hanover St, Boston, MA

                134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                Central Bottle
                196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  Large stores have their place, but they're not (as Jolyon observes) stores where you can generally count on knowledgeable help. You're just as likely to get a store employee who knows next to nothing, as you are someone who knows next to everything. You need the confidence and the knowledge to track down the wine buyer, and, even then, you can get a recommendation more based on what they want to push out the door to make room for the next big shipment, than one based purely on quality. I do use large stores, but more to track down wines I've already heard or read about than to make new finds. You have a better chance, in my experience, of getting a reliable *recommendation* at a smaller store even if the selection is not vast. After all most people go in to buy a bottle or two of wine, or at most a mixed case, than to stock a large wine cellar. Having 50 pinot noirs on the shelves is not as important in these cases as having three good ones that the owner/buyer can tell you about.

                  It's a bit like buying books. If you know what you want, you're more likely to find it at Borders. If you're looking for a recommendation, you're more likely to get a good one at the Harvard Book Store.

                  An aside on getting a bad wine at Violette: that can happen anywhere. Like fruit, wine is a crapshoot, especially ones that use natural cork. Most wine stores will take back bad wine. I know for a fact that Violette does.

                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                    Just to put things in perspective I essentially ALWAYS talk to the wine person. I typically buy mixed cases with a 20% discount AND then go back and buy a case when I particularly like something.

                    At big stores, Gordon's in particular where Raines actually imports many of the smaller bottlings of burgundy and Bordeaux, you will get off the beaten track bottlings AND good prices, and a knowledgeable staff as opposed to the 12 bottles on pretty shelves most of the places above have.

                    I also find that at the little fussy places you are JUST as likely to get some young newbie who they hired to pitch in as you are at the big places (with higher prices, a smaller selection and often a nice healthy dose of attitude to boot.)

                    Those smaller establishments are great if you want handholding. Not necessarily the most knowledgeable hand holding, cause in my experience the people with 20 years experience tend to work at the bigger stores, but nice warm fuzzy hand holding.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Agree that Gordon's is exceptional.

                      Though would argue that all the youngsters I've dealt with at Brix could teach some of the wizened veterans at other places a thing or two.

                      I've definitely seen examples of the overly "warm fuzzy hand holding," though. That Winestone place in Chestnut Hill: Pretty nice selection, but the young staff accost you like you're shopping at Thom McAn, or dining at PF Chang's. "Have you SHOPPPPPPPPED with us before?????? What kind of wine do you generally like to drink????" Me: "All kinds. Leave me alone, please." Sheesh. I like their wines, but hate that kind of superciliousness.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        I buy wine at the Wine Cask in Somerville as well as at auction. Any store can order whatever you want though you need to be knowledgeable and proactive. I bought a case of Dominus 2007 and a case and a half of Dunhoff Rieslings recently, but for that you need to know what you want ahead of time.

                        Still, i find Steve Moser at the Cask very knowledgeable, and he could tell you what to order. David Raines is, too, I admit, but he pushes his own wine; he has a vested interest. You have pointed out the advantages but there are disadvantages, too, as it is to his advantage to push his own wine rather than other tings out in the market.

                        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                          "Any store can order whatever you want"

                          I'm not sure that's true in MA. There are distributors that distribute to MA and those that don't. If you read about a wine and try to get a store in MA to order it, you tend to run into distribution issues if the official distributor does not supply MA. That's been my experience, anyway. Certain wines have proved impossible for me to procure here. I haven't tried too hard, I'll admit, so I may be wrong. (I don't try too hard not because I'm a quitter, especially when it comes to wine, but because I'm fortunate enough to have alternatives. I simply have wine shipped to New York.)

                          1. re: FoodDabbler

                            You can order whatever wine you want...

                            IF they have distribution in MA.

                            i.e. if it is available at ANY store in MA, any OTHER store can order it.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              I should add that some wines - including the 2007 dominus - are allocated and not every store can get them while other wines including Dunnhof can be ordered and received by any store. I was trying to make the point that any store would do as long as you already knew what you want to order.

                              That said, not every wine comes into the Mass market as noted by StriperGuy.

                          2. re: cambridgedoctpr

                            To say that buying a wine like Dominus 07 makes a wine shop is great is just plain silly. Anyone can buy it with a few clicks on their puter..amd a reasonable CC lmit. It's 120-150 btl.

                            Maybe your other recs are more in line with what people are looking for.

                            1. re: 9lives

                              i bought the 2007 for 118; you cannot ship wines to mass by the way.

                              1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                You can't...

                                there are 100 ways around that,

                                $118 is a good price.

                                My original statement re Dominus still has not been dented.

                                Enjoy it ,,,really..give it some time to age and develop..10yr, more?? As I'm sure you know,3-4 yrs is not nearly enough.

                                1. re: 9lives

                                  "there are 100 ways around that"

                                  Can you tell us one?

                                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                                    No, I won't assist you in commiting a crime.

                                    Question for you..Do you have parents, friends that live in a nearby state?

                                    1. re: 9lives

                                      I have no friends.

                                      (The nearby state bit I know.)

                                      1. re: FoodDabbler

                                        Buy a big boat and register offshore...maybe use RI of NH as a US contact.

                                    2. re: FoodDabbler

                                      I have a super discount out of state store ship some hard to find whiskys and the like to me all the time. I did have one fedex bumped back once. They just reshipped and it made it through the second time.

                                    3. re: 9lives

                                      i am drinking my 1991 dominus now; i am waiting on my 1994 dominus

                                      1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                        Good and I'm sure it's wonderful.

                                        I have quite a few cases of first growth Bordeaux from the mid 80's that are just starting to open up but still need a few hours decanting.

                                        Sorry if I was testy the other night. I firmly believe that any trophy wines like a Dominus or Mouton Rothschilds is relatively easy to find. There's a case of your 07 Dominus in CT right now for a few $ more than you paid. I may have a friend pick it up for me; although I'm losing my desire to buy wines that need to rest for 10+ years..:)

                                        To me the test of a great wine shop is a shop that can sell me a $10 wine that tastes like a $20 bottle or a $30 that tastes like a $50, etc...and something I wouldn't have the time to find because of time limitations. That's where a good wine shop "adds value" for me.

                                        It doesn't require a great wine shop to sell me a $100 or $500 bottle that tastes great. I can do that on my own.

                                    4. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                      The Massachusetts wine law isn't that straight forward. You can have wine shipped within Massachusetts. I order from all the time and have no problem with shipping.

                                2. re: StriperGuy

                                  It doesn't seem terribly helpful to generalize here. Perhaps some large wine stores have knowledgeable staff. Perhaps some small stores engage in the kind of "hand-holding" which is so cavalierly dismissed above, fuzzy, uninsightful, whatever.

                                  If one can develop a relationship at _any_ store with one or more of the staff/owners who know their stuff , that does more over time to increase your chance of buying wines you enjoy at the price points you can afford than the size of the store. That said, I would rather do so at a smaller store, because it is generally easier to get into lengthy conversations about, and even impromptu tastings of, the wines. Also, in certain cases, a small store may have a particular slant and agenda, wines and regions that they are particularly passionate about. That is invaluable for those of us who don't already know everything about everything: we learn from the passion of others, not merely from their knowledge.

                                  Such smaller stores are to be sought out and celebrated...

                                  1. re: khandha

                                    Rather then tell me how WRONG I am, why don't you discuss some wine stores and experiences that you have in counter to my stated preference for bigger stores, with more knowledgeable staff, and better prices.

                                    I've certainly given plenty of examples to support my opinion.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy

                                      Every experience I've had at Wine Bottega and Central Bottle has been great. Each person who works at either shop is friendly, passionate about wine, and can describe every wine in the store in detail. I've often had to make the person move on from a description because after (s)he has described the wine (s)he has gone into detail about the climate of the vineyard and anecdotes about the winemaker's family. I'm much more likely to get a wine that I haven't had before, really enjoy, and is interesting.

                                      Many of my experiences at larger stores has gone something like this:
                                      Me: I have a dinner party tonight and I'm looking for a wine that will go well with braised shortribs.
                                      Staff: OK, no problem. [Walks me over to an end cap or CA cabernets]. This one here [wine I can get at any large store] has a good amount of acid and smooth tannins [or other generic description]. It should stand up well to the shortribs.
                                      Me: I've had that wine. Do you have anything from another region that you'd recommend?
                                      Staff: Umm, sure. [Walks me over to the Rhones or Southern Italian wines, grabs a wine, and gives me a similar generic description]. This wine got 91 points from Wine Spectator and we're having a sale on it.

                                      My most common experience at the large stores is getting sold a wine they want to move or a recommendation for something I could get anywhere else. Many of the wines are good, but for me they often lack personality and interest. Maybe if I went regularly and developed a relationship with someone, my experience would be different. But my first (and second) interactions with the staff plus seeing the same wines at the large stores don't inspire me to build that sort of relationship.

                                      And it's tough to compare prices because the big wine stores just don't sell many of the wines carried by places like Central Bottle, Wine Bottega, Brix, Formaggio, etc.

                                      Wine Bottega
                                      341 Hanover St, Boston, MA

                                      Central Bottle
                                      196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

                                      1. re: DoubleMan

                                        I hear ya. And I agree that if you get stuck with the junior person who just happens to be out on the floor the scenario you described is for SURE what you'll get at some of the bigger places.

                                        I find in the smaller places, unless you actually get the owner, you get the same thing just with a veneer of understanding.

                                        When someone still wet behind the ears is giving me the 12 minute lecture on microclimate and the merits of some newly rediscovered grape (which I know more about then they do) I just find it annoying. To me it sounds like they just memorized a script. And likely once they get into grad school, they will never work in a wine store again.

                                        I do make sure to go the extra mile to actually seek out a wine person at a bigger store, and I develop the relationships over time.

                                        I personally don't actually care much about the microclimate or the owner's mom who has stomped the grapes barefoot since the days when they loaded the grapes in an oxcart ;-) though that stuff can be fun sometimes.

                                        In the end that's all just marketing, a different, plusher, persumably more sophisticated marketing, but marketing.

                                        For me it's about the wine. Even with my favorite wine guys, I don't need the 15 minute prose-poem about why this wine is wonderful... just let me taste it.

                                        I was just in Marty's in Newton and had run a little low on Spatlese Riesling, a personal favorite. I am rather particular to Rieslings from the Mosel.

                                        The wine guy practically gushed about the last three bottles they had just marked it down from $26 a bottle to $13.

                                        He said it was his favorite Spatlese in the store for under $50 and he was very sad these were the last three bottles... There were no points, no reviews, no big name, it was a fairly obscure wine, and when I opened it... it was excellent.

                                        A chacun son gout.

                                        1. re: DoubleMan

                                          i recommend that you go to one place; attempt to get the maximum discount by throwing all your business to them. And get to know one person who will learn something about your taste and will be helpful in advising you and perhaps giving your preference for allocated items.

                                          1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                            If this is your strategy, I think this is at least one of many instances in which StriperGuy's preference for places with very large selections can help a lot.

                                            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                              I've largely adopted this strategy (particularly for "daily" type wines and been pleased with the result.

                                              I'd rather be a very good customer at 1 or a few smaller shops than a not so good customer at many shops.

                                              Keep in mind, I am limited in my wine buying by being carless and have nearly everything delivered. Stores mentioned like Gordon's or Martignetti's are not realistic options.

                                          2. re: StriperGuy

                                            I don't because it was not my intention to discuss particular wine stores.

                                            Not sure what you disagree with in my post...

                                            I think it is lovely that you prefer larger wine stores, and I have no wish to "counter" that preference. But to go beyond that and suggest that smaller stores have nothing to offer the serious wine consumer seems a bit much.

                                          3. re: khandha

                                            I buy at a number of wine shops for diferrent reasons, long time friendships, fish together.

                                            ex..This past Sat, we were invited to friends and the meal was going to be Italian. We went to Ciraces in the NE, told Jeff about the meal and our price range. He suggested several bottles that matched up perfectly.

                                            I'm not going to say that Ciraces is the "best" wine shop but they have their strengths..and it was the best wine shop for me at this particular time.

                                            Being carless limits my options but I usually buy from Brix or Wild Duck/Bottles. I liked Wine Bottega on Hanover in past years but ownership has changed and staff I lked has moved on..and for personal reasons, I shop there less frequently.

                                            Wine Bottega
                                            341 Hanover St, Boston, MA

                                      2. re: StriperGuy

                                        Hmmm. Not my pics for "serious" wine buying. Maybe the places to go to buy a case of Mark West pinot, but... I actually like Brix and Formaggio, especially the latter for organic and small batch wines. My faves are Solera in Roslindale Village, and Macy's in West Roxbury--i have never been sold a bad bottle of wine at either place that the staff chose for me. They always stick to my budget and they are fun to work with.

                                    2. I will second the rec for Federal Wine & Spirits on State St in Boston. Very knowledgable, helpful staff.

                                      Federal Wine & Spirits
                                      29 State St, Boston, MA

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: erwocky

                                        Federal Wine & Spirits should have been on my list too. But, I always think of it as my go-to place for Bourbon and Irish whiskey and to recommend for spirits. I find myself so distracted by the first floor that I often forget to go downstairs.

                                        Doubleman makes a great point about Violette. What we love from there are the unfiltered, unfined, atypical examples he hunts down. He carries a some wines that I adore but would never serve to anyone who is not enamored with that type of wine.

                                        This is a great conversation. StriperGuy's picks are good ones for those who follow his wine path so they are a wonderful addition here. Boshtx won't be the only person using this list and others may want what exactly SG does.

                                        There are few times when this community is of one voice but that is a great thing. The greater audience that reads without comment, can follow the voices that have worked for them in the past. And, I'm going to give a look at some of the place SG listed.


                                        Federal Wine & Spirits
                                        29 State St, Boston, MA

                                        1. re: BostonZest

                                          Well said, well said...

                                          Here was also a very good, similar thread.


                                          1. re: BostonZest

                                            "There are few times when this community is of one voice but that is a great thing."

                                            I don't agree. We must all speak with one voice and never disagree.

                                            1. re: FoodDabbler

                                              I agree!

                                              Anyone who disagrees should be hung from their thumbs and fed cheese whiz, hot pockets, and blush zinfandel until they repent! ;-).

                                        2. I would add Lower Falls Wine Co. (in Newton Lower Falls), for having an interesting collection of reasonably priced wines, very knowledgeable staff, and some of the best free wine tastings of any store. They also have a room of higher end wines, which are often at better prices than many other stores.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: RichardA

                                            Another vote for Lower Falls Wine Co. Very knowledgeable and helpful staff and I agree, some of the best free tastings anywhere.

                                            I also like Central Bottle a lot, both for the wine and for the cheese and salumi selections, as Penny points out above. They have almost nothing under $10, but once you get up to $15 or so they have a lot of interesting bottles. I haven't looked there for anything much more expensive, but based on my experiences so far I would trust them to steer me right.

                                            I also go to Marty's and Brookline Liquor Mart - the latter primarily for its tastings which can be interesting although there's a lot of plonk as well - but Marty's staff is not helpful unless you're already very well-informed and specific about what you want.

                                            Brookline Liquor Mart
                                            1354 Commonwealth Ave, Allston, MA

                                            Central Bottle
                                            196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115