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Where do you shop for under-the-radar wines?

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Inspired by http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2013/09...

I'm a fan of the less well-known wine regions -- I've found them to often be a source of interesting wines at good prices. Unfortunately, they're often hard to find. I've had some luck at Vinidivino and a bit less at Boston Wine Exchange. The larger stores like Blanchard's and Martignetti's are a crapshoot and always involve wading through aisles of Barefoot and the like, and I've never seen anything that wasn't straight-up conventional at Trader Joe's. If you like less-common wines from less-popular regions, where do you go to get them?

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  1. Urban Grape, Central Bottle (had a great Santorini Assyrtiko from here yesterday), Martignetti's (yes, you have to wade but they have a large stock), Marty's. Also Julio's if you're up for a drive.

    Trader Joe's can occasionally have a great find albeit it takes a lot of wading. Recently I've found the Louis Latour Marsannay at $13 to be a pretty killer deal.

    Vinodivino is definitely not going to have much under-the-radar stuff. The first time I went in I was poking around and started asking if they had any Cru Beaujolais or Jura wines and they looked at me like I had three heads. Then I asked about higher quality vermouths... To be fair though, judging by their stock they are all about WS/Parker style scores and big name regions, so under-the-radar isn't their focus.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Klunco

      Thanks for the tips on Urban Grape and Central Bottle - I've never been to either. You're correct about 90% of the shelf space at Vinodivino, but the other 10% is worth a look.

      Oh yeah...how did I forget to mention Wine Bottega in the North End? Love this place, not a huge fan of the location, but you can't have everything.

      1. re: LilBrownBat

        Wine Bottega is great - I also love Bin Ends (now in Needham!)

        1. re: LilBrownBat

          Central Bottle is local to me, but I never go there. This thread offers a perspective on their pricing: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8821...

          I stick with the Wine & Cheese Cask locally and Gordon's if I can drive a bit.

          1. re: Gabatta

            Wine & Cheese is great and very well stock with liquor as well for such a small store.

            Agreed on Central's pricing and should make it out to Gordon's more often, but sometimes convenience trumps price and I do think they have good selections.

            1. re: Klunco

              I like both the Cask and Central Bottle.

              The Cask has a great section of wines from less-famous parts of France: Loire, Rhone, Jura, etc (i.e., not Bordeaux or Burgundy). And good prices. Lots of hits, lots of misses, as you'd expect, but more interesting selection than most places.

              Central Bottle, I find I can grab any bottle off the shelf and have a very good chance of it being delicious and exciting. It's very well curated, at least for my taste. And yes, you pay for that.

              So much of choosing a wine shop is finding one whose taste agrees with your own.

      2. If you're anywhere near Waltham, try Gordon's. Not intimidating at all, good listeners, and just tell them your price point, and they'll help you out.

        2 Replies
        1. re: okra

          +1 on Gordon's. The assistant wine director, Cheryl, has great recommendations for bottles at every price point when we go. Italian and French selection is especially strong -- there's more,
          but that's what we are mostly looking for. Plenty of small producers represented.

          We've also tried and enjoyed Vintages in West Concord for their wines from the Piedmont region of Italy. (Never been to their Belmont shop.)

          For overall selection, value, and personal wine shopping (thanks to help from Cheryl) our nod goes to Gordon's for an interesting wine adventure.

          1. re: tomatotomato

            i like the people at the wine cask; they do a pretty good job of finding interesting wines at all price points though they seem to be more interested in wines under 20 dollars. If you are looking for more expensive wines, Gordon's would be better.

        2. I have had great luck at Wine and Cheese Cask in Somerville for under $20 bottles and Federal Wines in downtown Boston for the rest. The staff at both stores are very knowledgeable and they know their inventory really well. I have been a happy customer of both stores for 15 years.

          1 Reply
          1. re: weg

            The fact that Federal delivers is a huge bonus.

          2. also brix.

            1. Hi LilBrownBat,

              I venture now and then to stock up at the NH Wine/Liquor outlet. They have some great sales, and it's not a hardship for me given where I live; if I were in the city, I'd do Martignetti's.

              1. As others have mentioned, the Wine and Cheese Cask in Somerville is very good, especially in the under $20 price category. Streetcar in JP seems to have a similar perspective, but is much smaller. Smaller still, but great (especially for splurges) is the wine selection at Formaggio.

                1. This has been repeated many times on Chowhound, but the way wine distribution works, ANY wine available at retail in MA can be ordered by ANY wine store...

                  I particularly like (bang for the buck, and just plain interesting) the wines imported by David Raines, look for Vineyard Research as the importer on the bottle, formerly the wine guy at Gordon's in Waltham. Price points tend to be excellent, wines off the beaten track, and just plain tasty.

                  Here is a little blurb on the Gordon's web site:

                  https://center.gordonswine.com/conten...

                  If you like Sauternes dessert wine, the Cadillac (sauterne-like botrytis wine) he imports is the single best dessert wine value I have ever had. On par with Sauternes costing 5X as much.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    striper, some wines are allocated and not available to your average customer, an example dauvissault Le Clos, but those wines are not flying under the radar.

                    that said, it is best to make a good connection with a wine store and try to get the maximum discount, usually 20% for their best customers though usually you can get this on the quarterly sales.

                    1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                      In my experience ANY wine store will offer a 20% discount on a case purchase even if they special order it... and certainly if it is off the shelf, whether it is a mixed case or not. I have never been refused a 20% case discount (non-sale items).

                      Also as a note, allocated wines are probably < 1% of all wines for sale in MA in my guesstimate.

                      1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                        dauvissat "les clos"? stuff like that flies over the radar.

                        i don't think the op is talking about finding grand cru chablis.

                        and yeah, like 70-80% of wines sold retail are krap critter wines.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          legit LOL. WTF are krap critter wines?

                          1. re: Beachowolfe

                            the term critter wines has been around for a while, and my understanding is they are wine labels with critters on the labels,,like cats, dogs, birds, kangaroos...you get the idea.

                            there are a few good critter wines out there, but most of them, or most of the ones i've tried i haven't liked.

                      2. re: StriperGuy

                        Another importer (again from this area) delivering very good, under-the-radar, wines is Andrew Bishop from Oz Wine company. He is bringing in some lovely wines from Spain and Portugal.

                        I learned about him at Bauer Wine on Newbury where the staff are big fans of his products.

                        I admit to shopping by importer when I'm not familiar with a wine. I keep a few names at hand with taste that match mine. I'd love to see restaurant wine lists that include the importer to the details.

                        Penny
                        http://www.bostonzest.com/

                      3. We drink mostly Italian wine and like some of the Adonna Imports selections we find a Winestone on Rte. 9 in Chestnut Hill.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Bugsey34

                          A huge +1 on Adonna Imports wines. If you love Italian wines and appreciate small-scale producers, they're just the ticket. Also available at Gordon's in Waltham (yes, I already mentioned this as my go-to shop).

                          1. re: tomatotomato

                            Another +1 on Adonna.

                        2. Shubies in Marblehead is outstanding for this.

                          And it is looking like this is going to be a beautiful weekend to take a road trip to the North Shore!

                          1. I love going to Bin Ends in Braintree (and they just opened a second location in Needham). They have a wide selection of wines from all around the world, and it's a lot of fun to go there and find new types to try. Their prices are excellent. They also have the best selection of craft beers I've seen anywhere.

                            1. Hah, so just read that article; it really jibes with my wine approach when dining out: order the most unusual sounding wine on the list, cause if it is off the beaten track, then it is probably on the list for a reason (i.e. the sommelier went out of their way to include the wine). That has rarely failed me.

                              Interestingly, the article mentions finger lakes region wines. I was there on a business trip not too long ago and discovered this remarkable store. I continue to by a couple of cases a year from them.

                              http://www.northsidewine.com/

                              Don't think they will ship to MA, my folks live in NY, so I place an order and ship to them and they bring it along when they come.

                              The wines produced by Dr. Konstantin Frank are superb.

                              I really like Rieslings, both the slightly sweet and the bone dry styles. The Niagara and Cayuga varietals specific to the region are great. Heck, even some of the region's jug wines in magnum formats are wonderful, very distinctive, and tremendous bargains.

                              I continue to feel that Spanish wines, in a store that has some selection can be both interesting AND very reasonable, but as the article says, if you get a little out of your comfort zone, even in Italian or French bottlings, you can find some marvelous surprises.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                Frank was Russian, and his Rieslings were quite the thing 25 years ago; good to know that his legacy cointinues.

                                I just had a very interesting bottle of spanish wine, but i have to say that they are few and far between. of course, vega scicilia is excellent.

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  Thanks for passing this along. It's been next to impossible to source Finger Lake wines in Boston. Have you seen them for sale anywhere in MA?

                                  Definitely agree that off-beat regions will often yield great pqr, particularly in the old world. I don't even think you have to go that far out. Honestly, look outside of California Cabs/Pinot, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Champagne and you've bypassed what 90% of the market is looking for.

                                  Personally, I still find many German Rieslings to be a great value considering the quality. It's crazy, but some of these wines are still being under-priced due to Blue Nun given how well made and terroir expressive they are. The Languedoc is another region that has been up and coming for a while and there are many values to be found. The Loire's prices are rising but I still think the quality and variety of wines there is spectacular.

                                  1. re: Klunco

                                    when i meet people just getting interested in wine, i suggest rhone wines to start. I do like rieslings from Germany and from Alsace. Riesling is not well appreciated though most wine buyers are enthusiastic about them.

                                2. My favorite place that's close to me has been Wine Sense in Andover, MA.

                                  http://www.wine-sense.net/

                                  13 Replies
                                  1. re: Infomaniac

                                    the owner is lovely. VERY wine-savvy and carries no critter wines. :)

                                    postage-stamp sized store but she makes the most of the space and does weekly tastings on thursdays.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Yes....you know the place.

                                      Postage- stamp size store is the perfect description too!

                                      1. re: Infomaniac

                                        semi-full disclosure: she buys quite a bit of wine from me. :)

                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          Do you sell Jack Hammer Pinot Noir out of San Luis Obispo, CA ?

                                          1. re: Infomaniac

                                            not me.

                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                              How about Walnut City Wineworks out of Oregon?

                                              The girl who owns the place is amazing at selecting wines based on me telling her what I like or am in the mood for.

                                              She hasn't steered me wrong and have total confidence in her.

                                              Any suggestion on any reds that are not that sweet that you sell?

                                              1. re: Infomaniac

                                                yes, the walnut city is mine. :) if you like it, stock up because there is no more in the state and my owner no longer wants to carry it.

                                                erm, i think it would be bad form to hawk my own wines on here though.

                                                while new world reds tend to be more fruit-driven and can be sweetish, ask her about italy, france and spain.

                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                  Okay thanks and I totally understand.

                                                  I'm going to head over tomorrow and stock up.

                                                  Thank you so very much!

                                                  1. re: Infomaniac

                                                    you're very welcome. :)

                                                    that wine is delicious and she is offering it at a very good price.

                                                  2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    walnut city is now distributed by mise inc out of newton ma , im looking at the bottle in the recycle bin. got it at ball sq wines a month ago

                                                    1. re: kewpie

                                                      i stand corrected, however what is at wine-sense is an older vintage.

                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                        i stopped by wine-sense today and she was out of the walnut city wine which was fine because i noticed she had some hendry ranch pinot noir out of napa valley, and i took your advise and asked about her to point me to an italian wine and she suggested this CastellUccio Sangiovese.

                                                        we tried the CastellUccio Sangiovese tonight and loved it with our spaghetti and meatballs and the cheeses we had.

                                                        thanks again, and i'm hoping these are your products.

                                                         
                                                        1. re: Infomaniac

                                                          not mine, but that means more open slots. :)

                                                          thanks and cheers!

                                    2. This is old but Marty's in Newton and Gordon's in Waltham if you're west of the city. Brookline Liquor Mart has a decent selection, too.

                                      I'm not a huge fan of Urban Grape but they do carry some harder-to-find varietals...they just charge through the nose for them and often with an attitude, at least in my experience.

                                      I've shopped at VinoDiVino a few times - they have a tiny selection and it's pretty pricey but not bad.

                                      I'll plug Beaver Brook Bottles in Waltham. Full disclosure, I know, and I am friends with, the owner. They carry interesting wines, good prices, and are more than willing to order what you'd like.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: QuakerInBoston

                                        Interesting - I've consistently found the folks at Urban Grape (at least the Chestnut Hill location) to be extremely low-key and friendly but still very knowledgeable about their selection. It's literally my favorite place to buy wine for precisely that reason.

                                        1. re: cjd260

                                          To clarify, my experience with UG is the South End location.

                                      2. If you are in the Newton area, I've actually got some real finds at Mr. K's Liquors on Rt. 9/Eliot Street. The owner is really nice and has some wonderful selections at excellent price points.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Science Chick

                                          Be sure to check the bin-end cart near the entrance of Gordon's Waltham. I picked up an Argyle Extended Tirage for $15 the other day.

                                          Also keep an eye on the NH liquor outlets - easy to do via their web site. They list real-time inventory by location, and their power buys can be amazing.

                                          I make an annual pilgrimage to Joyal's Liquors in West Warick, RI to stock up. Web site is minimalist but gives you an inkling of what you'll find.

                                          1. re: MaxEntropy

                                            I wonder if that was the last Argyle. I'd grab a Zipcar and go today if they had more. I may call.

                                            1. re: BostonZest

                                              Web site shows the brut but no extended tirage. If they did have it, expect to pay $60+. Of course the stuff in the bin-end cart is unlikely to how up on the web site.

                                        2. I like the Wine Bottega in the North End - they do a lot of their own importing!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: addiez

                                            Yes, as an update to this thread, Wine Bottega carries Matt Mollo's imports which are waaaay off the beaten path: http://www.selectionaturel.com/producers

                                            They are some great wine finds.