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A Wine Lover's Guide to Boston and Western Massachusetts
By Michael Apstein
Jul 29, 2008
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"You have a finite number of meals in your life, so don't waste one."  This is a guiding principle for me, as I take food very seriously.  However, finding satisfying restaurants when traveling to unfamiliar cities can be a challenge, especially if the wine list plays an important role in your choice.  Although populist type guides--such as Zagats Readers' Polls found in the travel magazines, or on-line reviews--can be useful when traveling, they have the inherent disadvantage of anonymity. 

The reader has no idea regarding the preferences of the "reviewers" or their reliability.  It's like walking down the street and asking every third person to name his or her favorite restaurant.  My preference is to consult professional reviewers who have perspective and experience.  But it's not always possible to find timely professional reviews when traveling.  A viable alternative is to ask friends whose tastes you know and whose judgments you trust for recommendations. 

One advantage of Wine Review Online is the geographic diversity of the writers, which allows me to obtain suggestions and recommendations from fellow columnists whenever I'm visiting their cities.  A trip to Baltimore is always preceded by a phone call to Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas for their opinions and suggestions for restaurants, especially wine friendly establishments.  Similarly, Robert Whitley gets a call before I venture to San Diego. 

There's no reason our readers can't benefit from this unique resource.  I'll go first, starting with metropolitan Boston and the Western Massachusetts resort area--the Berkshires, home to Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Boston

If you have time for only one meal in Boston, head directly to Troquet (140 Boylston Street, 617-695-9463) in the theatre district across from the Boston Common.  Chris Campbell has an ever-changing wine list with very attractive prices (I have friends who travel from New York just to cherry-pick bargains from the list) and food to match.  Initially, his wine pricing policy was to add $10 to his cost, which meant that an inexpensive Cotes du Rhône was no particular bargain, but a Grand Cru Burgundy obtained from a private source would be a steal. 

Although Campbell has changed his formula, prices remain modest for what he offers.  (A 1992 Le Montrachet from Remoissenet not long ago was $250).  A recent scan of the list revealed a 1990 Chateau Meyney ($129), 1982 Cos d'Estournel ($275), 1988 Chateau Lynch Bages ($179) or 1985 Chateau Gloria ($129).  There are plenty of choices that carry a price tag that's less than three digits, including the 2005 Dauvissat Chablis La Foret or Turley's 2005 Zinfandel Vieilles Vignes (each $49).  The chef takes as much care with the food as Chris does with the list.  Succulent sweetbreads or suckling pig are consistent winners. 

For a quintessential Boston experience, Anthony's Pier 4 tops the list (140 Northern Avenue, 617-482-6262).  You don't expect to see such a wine list in a restaurant whose setting and ambience is reminiscent of the 1970s.  But the Athanas family has put together a magnificent list over the years, with an emphasis--not surprisingly given its location on the waterfront overlooking the harbor and its focus on seafood--on white Burgundy and Chardonnay.  But don't overlook an equally impressive list of red wines.  Simply prepared impeccably fresh seafood is their specialty.  Sautéed Nantucket scallops and fresh broiled Dover sole are heavenly.  If a red on the list catches your eye, don't hesitate to order one of their steaks.  You won't be disappointed.

Western Suburbs

Journeying to Il Capriccio in Waltham (888 Main Street, 781-894-2234) is, as the Michelin Guide says, "vaut le voyage"--worth the trip.  Jeannie Rodgers, their wine buyer, finds unique wines in Italy and sees that they are imported and appear on her list.  Take her recommendations--which are flawless--and will drink well and learn something new about Italian wine in the process.  Chef Rich Barron's porcini soufflé, fresh pastas, and grilled veal chops are a worthy accompaniment to Jeannie's selections.

Although there are plenty of fine wine shops in Boston--Federal Wines and Spirits and Brookline Liquor Mart to name just two--a trip to Marty's in Newton (675 Washington Street, 617-332-1230) will reward you with a vast selection of Burgundy or some attractively priced "bin ends."  Harkey's Fine Wines (1138 Main Street, Millis, 508-376-8833) is more out of the way, but Bob Harkey's palate can't be beat and he can lead you to reasonably priced lesser known bottlings.  He also has older bottlings at excellent prices.

 Western Massachusetts

Travel and Leisure magazine called Blantyre (16 Blantyre Road, Lenox, 413-637-3556) the best bargain over $550 (that's the starting price of their rooms, tax and service, excluded).  You get a sense of the clientele when you arrive at this Tudor styled Relais and Chateaux resort when you see, as I did, a Bentley and Ferrari parked in the driveway.  Located minutes from Tanglewood, this opulent retreat has comfort that is second to none. The service--from help with your luggage at the door to the complimentary half bottle of Krug awaiting you in your room--is impeccable without being hovering or obsequious.  The food is exceptional and inventive, but not overwrought.  The five guest rooms in the main house are furnished in Victorian splendor.  Breakfast in the solarium is a peaceful way to start the day.  Dinner in the tastefully elegant dining room--preceded by drinks in the lounge and followed by coffee in the music room--is the perfect way to end the day.

Christelle Cotar, Wine Director, and Luc Chevalier, Sommelier, have done a splendid job with the wine list.  Depending on the occasion, select 1995 Krug Clos du Mesnil ($1,500); 1973, 1985 or 1990 Dom Perignon Oenotheque--each a beautifully mature prestige cuvée Champagne ($500), or one of California's best sparkling wines, Roederer Estate ($45).  Choose from a great collection of California Chardonnay, such as the 2003 Bernardus ($42).  Or if your tastes run to mature white wine, try the 1997 Stony Hill Chardonnay ($130), a 1995 Chateau de Fieuzal ($145) or Bernard Morey's Puligny-Montrachet La Truffiere from the same year ($140).    

In addition to the prestige offerings--10 vintages of Screaming Eagle ($1,900 to $2,600)--there are some outstanding buys, including 1970 Chateau Pape Clement ($110) and 1966 Chateau La Lagune ($180).  Cotar has assembled a long list of half bottles and comprehensive choices from Italy (don't overlook the modestly priced 2004 Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Riserva Nipozzano at $50), Spain and Australia.  Few California Cabernets are less than $50 (the 2001 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge Estate from Washington State is a fine buy at $52), but most categories have an ample selection at that price point.

Chevalier hosts Saturday afternoon wine tastings that are complimentary for guests.  A recent one compared the 1998 Clarendon Hills "Astralis" Shiraz, one of Australia's most sought-after wines with a French rarity made from the same grape, the 1998 Guigal Côte Rotie "La Mouline."

While visiting Tanglewood, be sure to make a detour to Table and Vine (formerly Big Y Liquor Supermarket, 1119 Riverdale Road, Route 5, West Springfield, MA, 413-736-4694), the most comprehensive wine shop in Massachusetts.  Michael Quinlan has recently taken over from Paul Provost, the previous wine buyer, and early indications are that the stellar selection and price/value policy will remain the same.  Their inventory is vast, prices are good, and this being Massachusetts, there is no sales tax on wine.  Although their website (www.tableandvine.com) is excellent, you must visit the store because, this being Massachusetts, out of state delivery is still prohibited.

Questions or comments?  Write to me at mapstein@winereviewonline.com