After careful consideration I’ve decided to bend a little with regards to a comment I’m hearing a lot about Musings on the Vine: Love the wine reviews, but where can I buy the wine that you’re reviewing?
When I started this little venture I vowed to remain objective and give no appearance of favoritism in my wine reviews. A chronic complaint of some readers of the Wine Spectator is the potential for influence due to the volume of advertising in the magazine. Mr. Shanken and crew use a process of blind taste testing to maintain objectivity, but I have to admit that it still appears as if some degree of influence is possible, perhaps probable.
Many years ago, Monte Ishige started a published newsletter called Wine Sense. The newsletter was completely subscription-based; meaning Monte took no advertising. The concept was to provide readers with purely objective price and availability information for about fifteen wine shops in the Metropolitan Boston area. Monte would cruise around the different shops looking for a list of about fifty “hot” wines and he would publish his “findings” monthly along with other wine-related stuff. Wine Sense was great, but short-lived. Monte found that it was impossible to make Wine Sense truly self-sufficient through subscriptions only. Remember folks, Wine Sense was pre-Internet, when publishing a newsletter meant carrying a lot of expenses like publishing, printing, mailing, etc. I was always sorry when Monte closed up shop and went back into working for high-tech. I took a cue from Monte when I started Musings on the Vine: objectivity.
For this reason I have long resisted telling my readers where they can find the wines I review. I also felt that half the fun of wine collecting is the hunt. However, I can appreciate that the hunt can get pretty frustrating, especially if no quarry is ever caught. To help eliminate this frustration and to pay homage to some folks that have been very helpful in my own wine journey, I’ve decided to publish my list of preferred wine shops. Depending on the wine reviewed and its scarcity, price, etc, I will elect to note where I bought the wine to assist my readers in acquiring some.
Before I get to the list, one more thing. Some people may find it helpful for me to articulate the criteria by which I measure a good wine shop. In general, the criteria that I think make a wine shop good are the following:
- Selection. A wine shop should have a broad enough selection to be interesting as well as representative of the great diversity that is wine today. Wines from the major regions should be represented with more than one producer and vintage. Shops earn extra points in my book by offering unusual varieties or regions, as well as by offering hard to find, or allocated wines.
- Price. Everyone loves to get a good deal and wine is no exception. While I don’t shop price for wine the way I used to, I like to know that the prices I’m being charged are fair and reasonable. I tend to measure the fairness of price in wine shops through their commodity items (jug wines, domestic beers, etc.). While not always perfect it’s usually a pretty good indicator of overall price fairness. Now that Supermarkets are carrying wine, the process is even easier, but be careful. Most local wine shops can’t even to begin with large super chains like BJ’s and Costco. Don’t unfairly judge your local wine shops price if they can’t slash their pricing the way the larger chains can.
- Staff. Knowledgeable, helpful and enthusiastic staff is the most important element in a great wine shop. A wine shop can offer the best selection and have the best price, but if their staff is not knowledgeable and willing to truly invest the time to help the consumer, then you might as well shop somewhere else. I owe almost my entire passion and enthusiasm for wine to a few outstanding individuals who took the time to educate, counsel and share their valuable time and knowledge with me. They took the time to learn and understand my tastes and the areas I was interested in so that they could better inform me of wines I should try and learn about. Staff is in the shop to listen and to guide, competently, the average wine consumer. Along with listening comes personality, respect and humility. The best staff is unassuming, unpretentious with nothing to prove except their unbridled enthusiasm for wine.
- Storage Conditions. Wine is a perishable substance that reacts very badly to wild fluctuations in temperature and humidity. The longer a wine is subjected to these variable conditions the more likely the wine will either prematurely age, or spoil altogether. Most wine shops have at least two areas, the “front” showroom or retail area and the “back” warehouse or inventory area. Both should be temperature controlled, with racking that is out of the direct sunlight and free from vibration. This is especially true of shops that maintain inventories of fine, older wines for long periods of time.
- Discount Policies. Most wine shops have discount policies for multi-bottle purchases. The policies vary from shop to shop and are sometimes supplemented with monthly specials. Most discounts range from 10% to 20% off case quantity purchases and some even extend discounts to half-case quantities. Usually there is a stipulation around mixed cases, although that is beginning to change. It’s not uncommon for repeat patrons of shops to be extended the case discount to single bottle purchases, although this usually means establishing a fairly regular pattern of wine buying in a particular shop. I’ve even found shops that provide even deeper discounts for multiple case purchases.
- Ability to “Special Order”. I have never found a wine shop that has had every wine that I’ve been looking for on their shelves. Inevitably, at one time or another, a wine collector will end up special ordering wine. The ability for a wine shop to provide this service is invaluable. It’s especially nice if the shop will order wine and still give you the option of not purchasing the wine pending your tasting it. Some shops also allow you to order less than the usually expected case quantity. These last two points are really helpful for either wine you haven’t tasted but want to try because of its great reviews, or for bottles that are too rich for your wallet in case quantities.
The following is by no means a complete or exhaustive list of area wine shops (in searching the on-line Yellow Pages there were 1339 listings for liquor stores in MA). Specifically, as the title suggests, the following are wine shops that I frequent. The list is in alphabetical order; lest I offend anyone or give anyone preferential treatment and I may offer a few comments about each establishment and their staff.
One last thing, please feel free to send me your own favorite wine shops, so I can include them too!
Berman’s Wine & Spirits
Small but well stocked store. Well organized with helpful staff. Joel and Gregg Berman run an excellent shop with a great selection.
Brookline Liquor Mart
Good size store with a large, diverse inventory. Well organized. Helpful and knowledgeable staff. Roger Ormon (Wine Manager) has been doing a superb job for seemingly forever.
363 East Central St
Franklin MA 02038
Brothers, Mark and Mike Lenzi have a nice selection of popular and eclectic wines in a clean, well-stocked shop. Mark and Mike are usually both in the shop, willing to gladly share their love and knowledge of wine with their patrons.
Gordons Fine Wines & Spirits
Medium size store with a large, diverse inventory. Well organized. Very helpful and knowledgeable staff. David Raines (Wine Director) and Cheryl Lechan (Associate Wine Director) run a first-class place that is clean and well organized. Convenient location, just off Route 128 in Waltham. Make sure you get on their email A-list.
675 Washington Street,
Newton, MA 02458
Newton Lower Falls Wine Company
2366 Washington Street
Newton, Lower Falls, MA 02462
Chris Minervino has a great selection in his swanky, well-organized shop. A lovely tasting area in back is the location for regular Saturday tastings. The staff at Lower Falls is knowledgeable, helpful and eager to please. Make sure you get on their email list to get special offers.
282 Dedham Street, Route 1A
Norfolk, MA 02056
Bruno Formato is well-educated with one of the best selections of whiskey I have ever seen. If Bruno doesn’t have what you want, then he will do his best to get it for you.
South Liquor Mart
431 South Street (Route 1A)
Plainville, MA 02762
A store that isn’t especially pretty from the outside (adjoining a Honey Dew Donut shop), owner Jason Lee is creating quite a fine wine destination with the assistance of wine manager Bill DiMarco (previously of the Wine and Cheese Cask) at this long time fixture along Route 1A. A small, but growing collection of unusual labels at very reasonable prices. Friday night wine & beer tastings give clients an opportunity to taste before they buy. Conveniently located less than 1 mile south of the Wrentham Outlet Mall.
Village Mall Liquors
45 Franklin Village Drive,
Franklin, MA 02038
Good size store with a decent selection of high value wines. Well organized. Ed and Lisa Garrity (owners) are extremely helpful and enthusiastic, with a well-chosen offering of very nice wines. Conveniently located just off Route 495 at exit 17.
The Vin Bin
27 South Bolton Street (Rte. 85)
Marlboro, MA 01752
Brand new to the Metro-West area. Small, handsome shop featuring an excellent assortment of fine wine and specialty cheeses. Owners Rick and Julie Lombardi have done a great job with their selections, nicely arrayed on white oak racks and organized by varietal. Super friendly staff. Conveniently located just off Rte. 495 at the intersections of Rte. 20 and Rte. 85 in Marlboro. A must visit.
Wampum Corner Liquors
660 South Street
Wrentham, MA 02093
Small store that doesn’t look like much but has a great selection of high value wines. Fran McIntyre (Store Manager) and Jeff Crisileo (Wine Manager) are friendly, helpful and down-to-earth. A solid portfolio of well-priced wines. Conveniently located up Route 1A, just off of Route 495 at exit 15.
The Wine & Cheese Cask
407 Washington Street
Somerville, MA 02134
Small store with a great selection. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable, which is important because the tight surroundings make the organization and layout tough. They also offer an amazing array of cheeses, olives, pates, breads, etc, in the front of the store, which are always a perfect accompaniment to the liquid treasures found in back.