date published: January 28, 2008

Great places to enjoy the grape here in the Hub
by Josh B. Wardrop

For many gastronomes, the wine one drinks with dinner is as crucial an element of a successful meal as the food itself—such is the devotion that a growing number of oenophiles feel for the drink enjoyed by disparate cultures and generations stretching back to mankind’s earliest days. Trying to present a definitive tally of Boston’s best wine lists is pure folly—there are simply too many restaurants brimming with delicious vintages to ever do our city justice. Instead, Panorama offers a primer on some of the city’s best bets to find a great wine experience—be it a special wine tasting, an informative lecture or just a charming space in which to enjoy your wine with someone special—to which you can really raise a glass.

Wine on Wednesdays
Face it—seven days is a long time, so it’s scarcely surprising that some of us need to take some time in the middle of the week to unwind and enjoy life. That must be why so many restaurants in Boston devote Wednesdays to wine appreciation. At Vinalia (refer to restaurant listing), a sophisticated Downtown Crossing restaurant/wine bar boasting a collection of more than 2,500 bottles, guests can enjoy Wine and Cheese Wednesdays from 7–10 p.m., a complimentary sampling of popular vintages. Sel de la Terre (255 State St., 617-720-1300) hosts Wintry Wine Wednesdays, hosted by wine director Erik Johnson—these themed wine gatherings start at 7 p.m., and for $45 per person, guests get a four-course tasting menu paired with seasonally appropriate wines, like the January 30 Roman Holiday: Wines of Italy event.

Also on January 30, from 5–7 p.m., popular restaurant 33 (33 Stanhope St., 617-572-3311) hosts the monthly Grand Tasting as part of its Hot Off the Vine series. Guests can try samples of wines including the 2002 Duckhorn “Paraduxx” from Napa Valley and the Sicilian 1998 Tasca d’Almerita “Rosso del Conte,” among others, for $40 per person. And if you want to sample a true work of art in a place packed full of them, the Museum of Fine Art’s restaurant, Bravo (refer to restaurant listing), hosts Winesdays at Bravo each week from 5:30–7:30 p.m., where wine novices can learn about wine from a trained expert—$25 admission includes hors d’oeuvres and unlimited tasting of featured wines.

A Festival of Flavors
Everybody likes a party—especially when the party is packed full of some of the best wines and gourmet meals you can imagine and, even better, it goes on for three months. The Boston Wine Festival 2008 at the Boston Harbor Hotel is just that kind of celebration—an ongoing series of special food-wine pairings and educational seminars featuring the hottest new names on the wine scene and the newest offerings from acclaimed domestic and international vineyards. Chef Daniel Bruce of the BHH’s restaurant Meritage (renowned for its massive 12,000 bottle wine collection, one of Boston’s largest selections) crafts delectable wine dinners like the Super Tuscan February 4 at 7 p.m. focusing on Italian vintages, and the Rising Stars event February 7 at 7 p.m., spotlighting three wineries from Napa and Sonoma. Refer to special events listing.

The Wine List
Here’s 10 more of Panorama’s favorite spots for scoring a fine bottle of vino.

  • Troquet, 140 Boylston St., 617-695-9463.
  • P.F. Chang’s, 8 Park Plaza, 617-573-0821; Prudential Center, 617-378-9961.
  • Sasso, 116 Huntington Ave., 617-247-2400.
  • Lucca (pictured above), 226 Hanover St., 617-742-9200.
  • Les Zygomates, 129 South St., 617-542-5108.
  • Avila, One Charles St. South, 617-267-4810.
  • Davio’s, 75 Arlington St., 617-357-4810.
  • Bin 26 Enoteca, 26 Charles St., 617-723-5939.
  • L’Espalier, 30 Gloucester St., 617-262-3023.
  • Piattini, 226 Newbury St., 617-536-2020.

Class is in Session
For every person out there who can recite chapter and verse about their favorite wines, there are 100 people who couldn’t tell a Beaujolais from a merlot. Rather than let a relative ignorance of wine keep you from enjoying all the fine varietals out there, why not educate yourself? The Boston Wine School (1354 Commonwealth Ave., 617-784-7150) was started by local food and wine expert Jonathan Alsop back in 2000 to help fledgling connoisseurs conquer their fears and uncertainty about what they’re drinking, and now the school offers seasonal courses about wines of different regions and styles suitable for beginners and experts alike. On February 6 from 6:30–9 p.m., the school offers A Night in Southern France Wine Pairing Dinner, led by food writer and cookbook author Elizabeth Riely, which—for $100 per person—provides diners with insight into Gallic wines, as well as a gourmet meal with which to savor them.

Tower of Power
Some restaurants keep their wine collections hidden away from the light of day in a dark and cozy cellar. Then there’s Excelsior (refer to restaurant listing), which subscribes to the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” theory. The acclaimed Back Bay restaurant has a 41-page wine list, reflecting a more than 7,000-bottle wine collection. What truly sets Excelsior apart, though, is that you can see all 7,000 bottles, as they’re housed in an impressive three-story, dual-climate glass Wine Tower that dominates the center of the restaurant.

The Price is Right
The eternal conflict: is it better to splurge on a big-ticket wine and eat Ramen noodles the rest of the week, or be thrifty and end up with something just a notch above Thunderbird? Instead, we suggest you search out deals: Silvertone Bar & Grill (69 Bromfield St., 617-338-7887) is renowned for charging no more than $10 above cost for any bottle of wine, while Ivy Restaurant (refer to restaurant listing) keeps the majority of its 60-plus wine selections at just $26 a bottle.

A Space to Sip
Wine can add a romantic element to any meal, and even more so when that wine is sipped in a private little alcove away from a restaurant full of diners. That’s why several Boston eateries have designed semi-private wine rooms that not only spotlight their collections, but offer greater ambience in which to enjoy them. Legal Sea Foods at Park Square (refer to restaurant listing) has just such a spot—its charming, stone-walled Wine Cellar, where more than 10,000 bottles line the wall in glass and mahogany cases, and where the restaurant hosts special wine dinners like the Organically Grown and Biodynamic Grapes Wine and Food Pairing Dinner on January 29 and the Louis Jadot Wine Dinner on February 9.

Some go to Sonsie (refer to restaurant listing) for prime people-watching on chic Newbury Street, but others opt for a lower profile in the restaurant’s downstairs Wine Room, which features intimate brick-walled alcove booths and candlelight, as well a chance to see Sonsie’s collection of cabernets, zinfandels and sauvignon blancs up close. For a less intimate gathering, Caliterra (refer to restaurant listing) has a special wine room—boasting high ceilings with exposed wooden beams and a large rod iron chandelier—that seats up to 18 people, and which features one whole wall devoted to exhibiting Caliterra’s extensive collection of red, white and sparkling wines.

Drink to Your Health
Much has been made in recent years of how wine is actually good for your health—abundant anti-oxidants present in red grapes are thought to be useful in reducing the risk of coronary disease. Ashmont Grill (555 Talbot Ave., Dorchester, 617-825-4300) takes the idea of healthy wine to a global scale, though, by offering a wine list that’s 100% eco-friendly. All their selections—including whites like the Chateau Le Pyral Sauvignon Blanc and reds like the Bonny Doon Syrah—are either organic, sustainable or biodynamic, meaning that you can sip to your heart’s content knowing you’re doing something good for your body and the planet.

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Fine Wine Gets Expo-sure in the Hub

Bring together more than 450 wineries from around the world, pouring samples of some 1,800 different bottles of wine, and what do you have? Apart from some very happy connoisseurs with wide smiles, you have the Boston Wine Expo—the largest trade and consumer wine event in the country, and an event marked in red on the calendar of any Hub oenophile.

For 17 years, lovers of fine wine and delicious food have flocked to the Boston Wine Expo—taking place this year February 9 & 10 at the Seaport World Trade Center—to sample exotic wines and learn from some of the top names in the business. Winemakers mingle with the public, letting them in on some of the tricks of their trade, while restaurateurs research the vintages soon to appear on wine lists throughout Boston.

Visitors can check out live cooking demonstrations from acclaimed area chefs like Kevin Crawley (Coriander), Dante di Magestris (dante), Rodney Murillo (Avila), Anthony Caturano (Prezza) and many more, while the Grand Tasting allows guests to stroll the massive hall to meet winemakers and sample their wares. For the true wine devotees, the Expo also features the Grand Cru Wine Lounge—a special tasting area pouring reserve wines, the high-end best of the best vintages that rarely appear on restaurant wine lists—as well as a Friday night kickoff dinner, Jazzed About Wine, taking place February 8 in the Seaport Hotel Plaza Ballroom.

Whether an aficionado or a novice, everyone who has a passion for the grape can find something to suit their taste at the Boston Wine Expo. Refer to special events listing.