There are lot of great wine shops in the metro Boston area, but none get a higher percentage of my wine spend than the Hingham Wine Merchant. Here’s why:
Dick, Duncan, and Sean apply two rounds of sorting on the wines they carry. First, they survey their past experience with respected producers and consult wine publications to find candidate wines. Next, the taste through the wines. Lots of them. Finally, they connect the dots between price and quality to find value. If it doesn’t pass through their filter, it’s not in the shop. As a result, there is no “fat” in the store. If it’s not good- they don’t carry it.
As an example, I remember the first time I went along with one of their suggestions without prior knowledge of the wine. I asked for a nice bottle of Australian Shiraz- I think I asked for Two Hands or some similar name that’s perennially scored highly by Wine Spectator. Dick suggested a 2005 John Duval Entity that was available at a great price. When I got home and checked the Spectator rating I was pleasantly surprised to see the wine received 94 points. Brilliant! Better yet, when I cracked it open I thought it was fantastic. It was one of the few times I’ve bought a wine with such a high rating without specifically seeking it out, and it went a long way towards earning my trust for future purchases.
First Class Events
These guys know how to throw a party. Their events bring together:
- Really high end wines from the most important wine regions
- Ample amounts of really good food
- Elegant ambiance- usually at an interesting location on the South Shore
Attending one of their tastings truly feels like a night on the town; a special occasion. At the end of the event, just drop your order form off and pick your wines up a week or two later. It couldn’t be easier.
Kids’ Play Area
I don’t think I’ve seen another wine shop anywhere that has a kids’ play area. What could be better than a safe environment to keep the little ones happy while you’re making your wine selections? My 4-year-old *loves* a trip to the Wine Merchant, and I don’t blame him. Coloring books, puzzles, cartoons, Hot Wheels and more. Bring the whole family!
Check ’em out:Hingham Wine Merchant 74 North St
This is the first in a series of blog posts that will focus on Boston-area wine stores and some reasons why each is a great place to shop for wine. I will be cross-posting to Bob Dwyer’s wine blog The Wellesley Wine Press so we can cover the greater Boston area in our respective blogs.
Groton Market, located on Route 119 (Great Road) in Groton, MA, is a great little wine shop for the following reasons:
Careful Selection of Quality Wines
The store has a good selection of wines, mostly from small producers, from most of the more popular wine producing regions, and quite often with good ratings from International Wine Cellar, Wine Spectator, or Wine Advocate, which are helpfully posted. As a consumer, I like that information posted clearly.
Thoughtful Selection of Price Points and Sale Items
The store features at various price points 2-Fer sale bins, Featured White Wines, Featured Red Wines, items on sale on End Caps, and regular sale items in inventory. I assume the 2-Fer sale bins are the most popular with most consumers, but even the cheapest offerings there that are 2-For $12.99 represent good quality.
How many wine shops do you know that will accept returns? This shop accepts returns on opened or unopened bottles, if you are unhappy.
Friendly and Helpful Staff
I always have a nice time chatting with J.P., owner John, and the other people who work there. They also know their inventory, and their stuff. Quite often there is a bottle open to taste.
Proximity to Filho’s Cucina
The shop is actually attached to and flows through to a very nice Italian restaurant called Filho’s Cucina, which conveniently has a BYOB policy. The shop is also attractively airy and sunny, and although small, doesn’t feel too cramped.
I also want to mention that the shop has a very good selection of craft beers, although that is not really my bag.Groton Market 235 Main Street Groton, MA 01450 (978) 448-6387
This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme is Wines of Piedmont, Italy and is hosted by David McDuff and his excellent blog, McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail. This is a great theme as there are really a great variety of interesting wines, some very well known and some not so well known, available from this north-west region of Italy. Just a quick perusal of my wine book Wines of the World (Eyewitness Companions) which is handily arranged by country and region leads me to consider some of my options: Barolo and Barbaresco (Nebbiolo), Barbera, Dolcetto, Gavi (Cortese), Moscato (still and sparkling), Arnies, Asti (sparkling), to name a few of the well-known offerings.
I chose for this assignment an affordable ($11.99) wine from producer G.D. Vajra, the 2007 Langhe Rosso, Langhe D.O.C. appellation, purchased from Groton Market. Groton Market has a relatively rich selection of Italian wines from small producers as they work with New England importer Adonna Imports, as do a number of fine wine stores in the Boston area.
This is the newest vintage of this blended red wine from G.D. Vajra. Each vintage represents an entirely different blend of grapes from the vineyards under the pervue of this producer in different areas, and as such has to be labeled Langhe D.O.C. It was difficult for me to find out exactly what is in this wine as the G.D. Vajra web site is quite… larval. I found a reference to this 2007 vintage on the website of Cambridge, MA gourmet food & wine store Formaggio Kitchen, here. This blend according to this writeup is composed of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa and Merlot (not sure of percentages). There is a nice writeup of G.D. Vajra in a web site devoted to producers of Barolo, here. This is an great writeup of the 2006 vintage of this Rosso and other wines on… McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail (hi, David!), here. This is apparently a great Piedmont producer.
I don’t have a lot of experience drinking wines from Piedmont. A few weeks ago I did enjoy a Nebbiolo varietal wine from producer Vietti quite a bit. This Rosso from G.D. Vajra has some Nebbiolo so I expect to detect the famous ‘tar and roses’ from that varietal. Tasting notes – color is a lovely mid-raspberry, would make a fantastic lipstick color. Body is light-medium. On the nose are wafts of woodiness, perfume and sour cherry and… roses? The mouthfeel is pleasantly sour-acidic mouthfilling while maintaining some roundness. The finish is good and reminds of red licorice. I do like it quite a bit. It is light and somewhat refined and would probably go with a variety of foods as is not too alcoholic (13.5% ABV). Not a powerhouse, but well-made. So, this is a great WBW theme. We could probably have a Piedmont WBW every month and be able to post about different great wines for years if we were so inclined!
UPDATE March 21, 2014
Anna from G.D. Vajra has helpfully pointed me to their new beautiful web site and the fact sheet for this wine which lists the grape varieties blended into this wine: Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Albarossa, Freisa, and Pinot Noir.
El Jefe (Jeff Stai) of El Bloggio Torcido (the Twisted Oak Winery blog) has presented an interesting Wine Blogging Wednesday theme this month: Wine for Breakfast! Or, more accurately, Wine with Breakfast Food. No sparkling wines, nor dessert wines are allowed – only dry red or white table wines. I do love breakfast foods of all sorts but don’t generally think of the wine pairing possibilities. I decided to make some sort of omelet (which may end up being scrambled eggs, depending on which pan I’m using) and didn’t have any idea of suitable wine pairing so I decided to use the Wine & Food Matcher applet on Natalie MacLean’s site, Nat Decants. I plugged in Eggs, then Omelet, and out popped its matching wine: Frascati. Cool – um, what is Frascati? Ah, a nice Italian white wine made in the environs of Rome, Italy! And quite conveniently my most local of local wine stores, Groton Market, had a very reasonably priced example for $7.99, namely the Cantine San Marco Frascati Superiore Secco “CRIO 10” 2007. And what grapes are in this wine? Well, some unusual, indigenous grape varieties…
“Da uve Malvasia Puntinata del Lazio, Bellone, Trebbiano
Toscano e Malvasia di Candia con percentuali più consistenti per i primi
due, autoctoni tipici di questa regione.”
There is a nice map of the Frascati DOC on Wein-Plus.com. Zoom out on the map to see its proximity to Rome. Frascati the white wine that has been made for a *very long time* from grapes grown on volcanic soils near Rome. It can be dry or sweet, still or sparkling. My example is dry (Secco) and still. So how well did this wine and food pairing fare? I think, quite well. The wine is quite light-bodied but full of citrus flavors and acidity, and perfect with ‘light’ dishes such as my red pepper and cheese omelet with cranberry-orange scone. This wine is quite a bargain and I do recommend it!
On Friday, December 5 2008 I attended another great wine class at Gordon’s Fine Wine and Liquors in Waltham, MA. As previously mentioned in my last post, I was quite impressed with the ‘house’ cuvee of Champagne Henriot, the Brut Souverain NV, at a wine tasting at The Spirited Gourmet. Not that I am any great champagne expert, mind you. I just know what I like.
The class was given by Champagne Henriot New England Sales director Mark Bell. Mr. Bell was formerly a sommelier at Jean Georges, a very fine restaurant in New York City. Clearly he has opened a couple few thousand bottles of champagne in his career(s). He even demonstrated how he would perform Sabrage, which I had never even heard of. This is the art of opening a champagne bottle with a saber. Don’t try this at home. You could shoot your eye out. (Just watched ‘A Christmas Story’ a few days ago).
Photo at left is of Mark Bell, Gordon’s Wine & Culinary Directory Lindsay Cohen, and her assistant at the door. In this class Mr. Bell discussed champagne making at Henriot, and we tasted 5 champagnes from the venerable House. They are a family-owned winery in Rheims, Champagne, France, and have been making champagne since 1808. In France you can only label sparkling wine as champagne if it is from a winery in the Champagne apellation, France, and is created by the Méthode Champenoise, a labor- and time-intensive process. This is described pretty succinctly in this web page, Making Champagne, by Alexander J. Pandell, Ph.D. Those poor yeast cells literally spill their guts so that we may detect that toasty yeastiness in our champagne.
The winery in Champagne (the region) is located some 95 miles northeast of Paris. The weather is not warm and the wines before fermentation(s) are low in sugar and quite high in acidity. They are so acidic as to be basically unpalatable. The soil in the region is full of limestone chalk and this chalkiness and minerality is reflected in the champagnes. Three types of grapes are used in making Champagne (the drink): chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot munier. Henriot however chooses not to use any pinot munier in their champagnes. They also do not use any wood at all to age the wines in: all toastyness comes from the lees (champagnes aged on lees/sur lie). All champagnes are aged in stainless steel.
The 5 champagnes we tasted are as follows, with some of my notes:
Brut Souverain NV: “House” style champagne, reflects the approach, style, and taste of the Maison Henriot. Aged 30 months on lees. Blended from 35 crus, from several vintages, 40% chardonnay, 60% pinot noir. Light, crisp, toasty, redolent of brioche and stone fruits. Lovely.
Blanc Souverain Pur Chardonnay NV: 100% chardonnay (blanc de blancs), aromatically more intense and interesting than Brut Souverain, also fuller bodied and rounder in mouth. My personal fave. Fabulous.
Rose Brut NV: 42% chardonnay, 58% pinot noir. Still pinot noir part of blend to make color pinkish-orange, saignee method not used. Dried red fruits, spice and earth.
Brut Millesime 1996: 48% chardonnay, 52% pinot noir. 1996 was a great vintage in Champagne hence this vintage effort. Primary notes of truffles and fig.
Cuvee des Enchanteleurs 1995: The house “tete de cuvee”, their top of the line cuvee. Majority of blend is chardonnay. After 13 years of aging, this shows great richness and complexity. The nose is port-like and smells *very* strongly of truffles. Personally, I prefer the brighter, younger, crisper, not very aged champagne style.
So this was very fun and Mr. Bell was very entertaining and a gracious presenter. Kudos yet again to Gordon’s for offering such a variety of fun wine classes.
On the afternoon of Saturday, November 15, 2008 I attended the 2nd annual Holiday Grand Tasting at The Spirited Gourmet in Belmont, MA along with some members of the Boston-area wine interest group North Shore Winers. Richard of The Passionate Foodie who runs the Winers had indicated that this store has a carefully selected inventory of fine wines and that this tasting would be a treat. And indeed it was! At large tastings I make it a point to dump pours that I don’t enjoy so much so as not to fatigue my palate and liver on mediocre wines – I was having trouble wanting to dump any pours at this tasting. Also on hand were some yummy nibbles and a very conscientous clerk who threw away my tasting notes when I put them down to nibble (they were later retrieved).
There were 5 tables with 11 distributors representing. My favorite tastes are as follows:
Horizon Beverage – Helfrich Gewurztraminer 2007, Small Gully The Formula 2004, Nita Priorat 2006, Pirie Tasmanian Pinot Noir 2005
Classic Wine Imports – Henriot Brut Souverain NV. I LOVED this CHAMPAGNE. It just about knocked me out. Coincidentally Gordon’s in Waltham is having a free wine class on December 5th presenting champagnes of Henriot and I feel it my duty as an amateur wine blogger to attend.
Cafe Europa – Santome Prosecco X-Dry, Jelu Mendoza Torrontes 2008, Anne Amie Willamette Pinot Noir 2005
Boston Wine – Gisselbrecht Pinot Gris 2006, Ramos Loios Alentejano 2007
M.S. Walker – Qupe Chardonnay Bien Nacido 2005, Zantho St. Laurent 2006, Ratti Barbera d’Alba 2007
Vineyard Road – Fairhall Downs Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Richter Riesling Kabinett 2007, Eclipse Carneros Merlot 2006, Scholium Project Gardens of Babylon Tenbrick Vineyard 2006
Charles River Wine Company – Il Cuore Chardonnay 2007, Mills Reef New Zealand Merlot/Malbec 2007
Gilbert Distributers – Clautiere Mourvedre 2004
Spirited Gourmet provided a lovely shiny sheet listing the wines with sufficient space for tasting notes. I’m sure I will be returning to this beautifully arranged store some time soon before the holidays to pick up a few of these and other choice wines.
On Saturday November 15th 2008 I will be participating in another Twitter Taste LIVE event. Twitter Taste LIVE is the brainchild of the folks at Bin Ends Wine of Braintree, MA. Wine bloggers (and their guests) taste wines and post tasting notes, thoughts, and questions on social networking site Twitter at a predetermined date and time. The theme for event #5 is “The Bloggers Take Over.” Each blogger decides which wine or wines to taste and will post to Twitter. Others can purchase the same wine or wines and post along if they would like.
For this event I chose the 2005 Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Right Bank. I purchased this wine online a few months ago. I can’t say whom I purchased the wine from as I don’t want them to get in trouble from the interstate shipping police, or be subject to a wine.com sting. I purchased the wine for a number of reasons. I only purchased one bottle as it cost $42 plus shipping as I am of modest means. Firstly, I was just curious about any wine produced from the capable hands of Todd Anderson, he of Ghost Horse World cult winery fame. The wines at Ghost Horse World cost from $500 up to $5000 PER BOTTLE so obviously I am not going to ever purchase those. I mean, even if I won the lottery I would never spend that much money on a bottle of wine. I have previously perused the 27-page thread in Marc Squires Bulletin Board on eRobertParker.com (concerning the Ghost Horse World web site) and found it to be *wicked funny*. In his work at non-cult winery Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, CA, Todd Anderson produces quite a few very highly regarded wines included this Right Bank.
In Fact the 2005 Right Bank earned a 95-point rave from Robert Parker in Wine Advocate #174 December 2007. I’m an online subscriber so have access to the review but don’t want to get in copyright trouble by reprinting it, but I can say that Parker called it many nice things including a “total hedonistic turn-on”. Yeah, Baby! I’m up for some of that. In fact, I have never tasted anything rated above 92 by anyone, so this should be interesting.
Another thing that intrigues me about this wine is that it is a Château Cheval Blanc homage. Of course this is a Bordeaux Grand Cru that I would certainly like to taste some day but… in the mean time, I will be happy to try this American homage. Like the original, it is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc with smaller percentages of other grapes. Miles in Sideways was obviously confused about the fact that his prize bottle of Cheval Blanc has a sizeable percentage of $%#@ Merlot in it.
On October 14th 2008 I attended another tasting/class at Gordon’s which featured some wines from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates; specifically, some from their Antinori portfolio of wines. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates acquired the rights to sell Antinori wines approximately 2.5 years ago. Interestingly enough, I had just watched a 60 Minutes piece on Antinori 2 days previous to the class. The CBS site shows the segment here. So I was naturally pretty curious about their wines. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, based in the Columbia Valley, Washington, represents, owns, or distributes wines from at least 18 different labels including of course Chateau Ste. Michelle.
In this class, National Wine Educator George Foote chose to highlight 7 wines from Antinori. Generally, the wines tasted in the class are on offer at Gordon’s, and this was no exception. However, no Guado Al Tasso nor Tignanello at the tasting; they are still on my ‘wish list’ from Antinori. The 60 Minutes piece on Antinori stated that the winery has been owned by one family since its inception in 1385 from its home base in Tuscany.
My favorites from the tasting include one white wine and one red. The 2007 Antinori Santa Christina Campogrande Ovieto is an affordable, refreshing white wine made from some unusual grapes: 40% Procanico, 40% Grechetto, 15% Verdello, and 5% Drupeggio & Malvasia. It is from the Orvieto Classico DOC in Puglia. I found this floral, fresh, fruit-forward, with a nice zingy acidity that always make me happy. My favorite red of the evening had to be the 2004 Antinori Marchese Chianti Classico Riserva from the Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG in Tuscany. This is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet. I found this to be intensely fruity and spicy, yet balanced and smooth Chianti. A real ‘double bubble’ wine – delicious now, but could be aged for 10 years or more.
On September 8th 2008 I had the pleasure of attending a tasting of 7 of the wines of Belle Vallée Cellars of Corvallis, Oregon (in the Willamette Valley appellation) with one of its founders, Mike Magee, in the very agreeable Fine Wine & Culinary Center at Gordon’s in Waltham, MA.
Belle Vallée Cellars is a smallish winery founded in 2002 specializing in Pinot Noir which grows famously well in the Willamette Valley. Chief winemaker is Joe Wright, former winemaker at Willamette Valley Vineyards. Mr. Magee is a self-described former beer maker with a large family (7 children) whose glassmaker wife designs the beautiful and colorful labels on the wine bottles.
Mr. Magee stated that Belle Vallée Cellars sources fruit from 16 vineyards in the area with pinot noir as the primary grape; fruit is handled gently, hand-sorted, and the aim of the wine making is to not ‘get in the way’ of the fruit. All wines are blends from various combinations of fruit from the 16 vineyards. In farming, they have at various points used irrigation, but not always; they like to plant more vines and have fewer grapes per vine, which is “unlike the CA model.”
On hand to taste were as follows: 2007 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, 2007 Willamette Pinot Noir, 2006 Reserve Willamette Pinot Noir, 2005 Grand Cuvee, 2005 Southern Oregon Red, 2003 Rogue Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Port of Pinot Noir. My notes (some pretty abbreviated) are as follows:
2007 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir – Their entry level pinot, all stainless steel, sees no oak, easy-drinker, quaffable, quite light in color and body, entire grape plant (seeds, stems, skins) used to provide structure, dusty tannins, rosé like, BBQ wine, serve chilled
2007 Willamette Pinot Noir – Produce about 8000 cases/year, most popular wine they sell, grapes from 8 vineyards, in Wine Spectator top 100 list in 2006. Nose of rubber bands cherries, and earth, lots of acidity, cinnamon, butterscotch, and vanilla on palate. *my favorite*
2006 Reserve Willamette Pinot Noir – Produce about 1000 cases/year, earthy, dark fruits, intense
2005 Grand Cuvee – Produce about 350 cases/year, extracted, a bit hot, very earthy nose of forest floor, well-made
2005 Southern Oregon Red – Disagreeable nose
2003 Rogue Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – No notes
2004 Port of Pinot Noir – One of very few ports made from pinot noir in the world. Only 6 barrels produced a year. The nose smells of cough syrup and plastic, but sweet and rich and complex on the palate. Quite a special aperitif (or digestif).
My cudos again to Gordon’s for another infomative and delicious wine class. Attendees also receive special discounts on all wines tasted, which is also awesome.
The 4th Twitter Taste Live event created and hosted by Bin Ends Wine of Braintree, MA takes place this evening, October 23rd 2008, and will feature some of the wines of Steele Wines of Lake County, CA. Jed Steele, the owner and winemaker at Steele Wines, will be at the Bin Ends store in person along with many wine enthusiasts for the live event. People like me will taste along at home and we will all use the social networking tool Twitter to post our thoughts, questions, and tasting notes about the wines using the hash tag #ttl in all our posts.
Since I last wrote about Twitter Taste Live, the folks at Bin Ends have created a wonderful feature-packed web site. There is a central window on the main page which polls Twitter for all posts with the hash tag #ttl. Also there are places for personal pages, photos, videos, email, and a conversation forum. I say, well done, Bin Ends!
I am looking forward to tasting the wines of Steele Wines. Reading the Making Our Wines page on their web site, I’m intrigued with Steele Wines non-interventionalist approach to winemaking and the fact they source fruit from as close to next door to as far away as Washington (paraphrasing) all in the quest to make quality wines at affordable prices. I’m all for that!
If you are into wine tasting and social networking, why not sign up on the Twitter Taste Live web site and join in the fun? And don’t forget to tell them I sent you.
And… HAPPY 18th BIRTHDAY to the grooviest chick around, my beautiful & talented daughter Katie (yes of course I’m biased but she really is of course).