Massachusetts is a state coveted by wine retailers: with strong tech and finance as well as other industries, major research centers and the jet-set destinations of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, it’s fair to say there’s a large population interested in wine. However, the state is one of the hardest for retailers to ship wine into. Fortunately for the locals, this lack of external competition doesn’t lead to a poor selection and high prices; some of the state’s wine shops offer some terrific wines and, even reasonable prices can be found. And as of last year, there’s no sales tax on wine (and beer and spirits) in the state, so that helps stretch the consumer’s wine dollar seven percent farther than other states. When I’m traveling, I always love to check out the local wine stores; here are a few that I have visited in my wanderings in and through the state in the past year.
The Wine Bottega, 341 Hanover St, Boston.
This terrific, small shop seemingly ripped out of Brooklyn and placed in the North End has a “manifesto” for “real” wine and is a points-free zone. The well-curated selection of the delicious esoterica of the wine world makes it a great stop for cru Beaujolais, wines of the Loire, sherry and more. Offers 10% discount on mixed cases as well as 15% on solid cases. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the North End but they also ship.
Vintages, 53 Commonwealth Ave, Concord, MA
Owner Eric Broege clearly doesn’t get tired of talking customers out of obvious, big name wines in this well-heeled town because he doesn’t stock many. Instead, he offers lots of enticing wines from small Italian growers as well as some great domaines and estates in the Loire, Burgundy, Jura, Germany and the Left Coast. He has a small selection of craft beers too and even a few box wines from vignerons stashed beneath the counter. If every town in America had a shop like this, the nature of our wine discussion would be a whole lot different.
Gordon’s, 894 Main St., Waltham, MA
A bigger store, the list prices on some items appear to be a very full markup. But case purchases receive a 20% discount, which really gets your attention. I bought a mixed case of wines here while driving by last winter and was happy with the selection (including a few bottles of the rare Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas, possibly one of the best two best white wines from Spain). One note: if you see a wine such as the Marcel Lapierre Morgon on the store’s website that might make you want to stop off of 95, call first to make sure it’s in stock. Good craft beers too, some at super-low prices.
The Brown Jug, 1 Jarves St., Sandwich, MA
The Cape, for all its charms and attractions, remains surprisingly underserved by good wine stores. Through the thicket of package stores selling beer, plonk and lottery tickets on the Cape, the Brown Jug in Sandwich (pictured above) stands tall as the best that I have found. They have Vouvray etched into the plate glass window at the front of the store; inside, there are quite a few enticing selections ranging from Chablis to Domaine Huet and several Spanish wines from importer Jose Pastor. Good craft beers too. And several epicurean delights at the sister shop next door.
If you live in Massachusetts or go there a lot, which are some of your favorite stores and why? What do you think of the selections and prices in the state?
So if a sleek wine shop opened in the arcade under the new Goldman Sachs building, you’d expect it to have oversized bottles of first growths and Napa cabs, right? Well, Vintry Wine and Spirits has plenty of trophy bottles, but it also has some reasonably priced and very drinkable ones.
Nestled among the magnums and imperials on the sleek shelves are the wines of Arianna Occhipinti from Sicily, Ar.Pe.Pe in Valtellina, and Chateau Thivin from Beaujolais among the shop’s 2,500 bottles. Clearly whoever assembled the selection thought about serving the area’s residents as well as the Masters of the Universe in the tower above. And that decision fell to Michael Martin, general manager, who told me that most of the purchases thus far have been between $20 and $40 a bottle–although one customer did buy a $2,000 bottle on whim on his way to the register. One of the store’s owners, Peter Poulakakos, comes from a fine wine background as his father owns Harry’s Steak, which has a lengthy wine list.
Customers who care to probe the shop’s inventory can talk to the staff or tap on one of the iPads mounted throughout the swanky shop. Mike told me that he’s most proud of the Champagne and Burgundy selections, and they are particularly deep, with many grower Champagnes (though the only Selosse is the Initiale!).
But there’s one wine that customers won’t find here: Yellow Tail chardonnay. Time for those who want it to get familiar with Chablis…
Just across the West Side Drive in Tribeca are three other stores that are also worth noting: Chambers Street Wines, a national leader; Frankly Wines, the most charming 300 sq. ft. wine shop in Manhattan; and New York Vintners, which has many events with winemakers among other charms. This area gives the locals plenty of choice and makes it wine destination neighborhood for the rest of us.
An item on Bloomberg yesterday detailed how Spaniards are drinking less wine, which has prompted Spanish wineries to pursue export markets more. From this perspective, it’s partially understandable why Spanish wineries might want to pay a fee to invite Wine Advocate critic Jay Miller to their regions. They want to crack into the US market and they figure the best way to do so is to get a score from the Wine Advocate (even if one document from the regional organization referred to the scores as “Parker points”).
But that sales strategy is sooo 1990s! In my view, many American wine consumers have moved beyond scores, and an increasing number of wine shops have too. What do you think: should the wine industry move beyond scores? Are scores less relevant today to consumers in your experience than they were five or ten years ago? It seems to me that today the trade clings to scores more readily than consumers do. But one importer I spoke with recently Jose Pastor, has said no to scores.
Coming back from a terrific weekend in Maine, where blueberries are fresh and the lobsters still pair as well with white burgundy as ever, I steered the Dr Vino mobile into the last exit for the New Hampshire State Liquor Store off of I-95. (Incidentally, the state store is also paired at the rest area with a “Made in New Hampshire store,” as opposed to the “Christmas Tree Shops” along the way that might as well be called the “made in China store.”)
My curiosity was piqued: was this state store a wine lover’s nirvana, delivering on the promise of great prices thanks to their bulk buying? Or was it a dreary place, with low inventory, poor selection, surly or ignorant staff? Read more…
I’ve never actually heard a wine store broadcast that message over a loudspeaker. But that’s the message some are sending with their pricing.
The other day, I found a great wine at the sharp price of $18.39 a bottle via a local wine store’s web site. When I dropped by, the wine was on the shelf for $22.99. I mentioned that I had seen it online for the lower price and the staffer, without hesitating, rang me up at the lower price, punching in a 20 percent discount. That’s the equivalent of the fifth bottle free!
We have discussed this issue before. Contrary to some perceptions, New York’s State Liquor Authority does not regulate the prices that retailers charge. Thus the dual pricing phenomenon persists, so consider this a friendly reminder: check the store’s website if you think the price looks high, are making a large purchase or buying an expensive wine. Internet shoppers tend to be more savvy thanks to the price-leveling power of google and wine-specific search tools such as wine-searcher.com. (Full disclosure: I make a tiny amount of money–-pennies, literally–-as an affiliate of wine-searcher.com.)
On the one hand, I understand why stores do this: An internet customer is a self-service customer who doesn’t tax the staff’s resources whereas an in-store customer might want to chit chat about which wine goes with chicken and take up the staff’s time. But it somehow feels a little dirty to have the dual price structure. Caveat emptor!
It’s sunny with a high of 86 today in New York. Although rosé is food-friendly and refreshing for more months than it is usually given credit for, today is classic rosé weather. I’ve got a couple of good rosés so now all I need is a pool…
Last week I stopped by Crush Wine & Spirits on 57th St (map it). They used to do free tastings weekly in the store but now have switched to larger ones only once a month. A staple in this vein has been their annual “war of the rosés” where they uncork and pour a dozen or more for consumers who think pink.
My favorite of the all-2009 lineup, both foreign and domestic, was the Clos Roche Blanche, a rosé from the pineau d’aunis grape, which usually makes some pretty light reds to begin with. This wine ($18) from the central Loire had great brightness and an alluring subtlety. The other wine that I bought after the tasting was the Commanderie de Peyrassol, a Provencal rosé that is consistently fun and delicious (and a good value, on sale for $14.39 that day–search for these wines).
After tasting the wines, I wondered if 2009 might not be the greatest rosé vintage in Europe? Not that people really give much thought to rosé and vintages. But it seemed to me that some of them were not as bright and snappy as in prior years. What is your experience? While awaiting your reply, I might just uncork one of those bottles pictured above.
Stephane Tissot from the Jura outside Les Caves Augé in Paris.
Les Caves Augé, the excellent Paris wine shop, has fun, free wine tastings that spill on to the sidewalk. The shop is crammed with so many fine and fun wines that they mainly have to do these free tastings outside of the winter months, so the broad pavements of Boulevard Hausmann are at their most hospitable. For anyone traveling to Paris, there are three remaining Saturday tastings this season at Augé, “Wonder women” on June 5, “Loire” on June 19, and “bubbles” on July 10.
Although we’ve never met, Tim Eustis is a friend of a friend. He worked in wine retail in New York City and did wine consulting for seven years. About a year ago, he and his family moved to Paris. Back in March, he dropped by the first of the spring tastings. Over to Tim for photos and comments from his tasting some wines from the Jura and Alsace. I have liked some wines from Tissot (old vine Poulsard) and Binner (notably, the gewurztraminer) in the past so was pleased Tim had the chance to taste them.
By Timothy Eustis Read more…
A couple of months ago, we had a discussion about what makes a great, independent wine shop. Here’s a bit more about one of excellent example of a neighborhood shop: Thirst Wine Merchants in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Michael Yarmark, born in New York, moved to San Francisco where he did a Masters in English literature at SF State. While living in the Bay Area, he met Emilia Valencia, who was working front-of-house at a restaurant. Together, they came to know the wines of Steve Edmunds who makes wines from Rhone varieties under the Edmunds St. John label in the East Bay. They eventually discovered the retail shop for the importer Kermit Lynch, which Michael describes as a turning point in their wine journey that led them to seek natural wines from independent winemakers.
Moving back to New York, Michael got a job as a sales manager for a book publisher while Emilia continued working in restaurants, including at Franny’s in Park Slope. Michael says that they liked shopping for wine at many of New York’s independent shops–and a handsome display of the corks they pulled while living in NYC attests to that diversity. Michael says, “it represents our thirst and our quest.” But they wanted something closer to their home in Fort Greene.
So in December 2006, they opened Thirst Wine Merchant. The 500 sq ft store stocks about 500 different wines, all with a natural bent, onto curved shelves made of biofiber (wheat) and sustainably harvested birch. The well-curated selection, strong in wines from the Loire, Burgundy and Italy, features many wines from Kermit Lynch as well as other importers and some domestic wines.
If you stop by the store, you’re likely to meet Michael or Emilia since they only have one full-time employee. When I stopped by last month, Michael was there and a $13 natural chardonnay from the Languedoc was being poured in the store. Prices are reasonable, especially with 5% off six bottles and 15% off case purchases. They also ship but don’t have inventory on their website. You can check it out in person or on my map of NYC wine shops.
Store info and photos after the jump: Read more…