Wine & Provisions
196 Massachusetts Avenue
Just up Massachusetts Avenue, past Albany Street and across from IS&T Headquarters sits the recently opened Central Bottle Wine & Provisions. Central Bottle is a delightful shop opened by a team of four — including three veterans from the Cambridge restaurant scene — seeking to recreate the atmosphere of an Italian enoteca, an intimate wine storehouse where people can gather to taste wines and small plates of food. The shop’s wine selection is focused on small production, handcrafted, organic and biodynamic wines from around the world, so their offerings differ significantly from that of other Cambridge stores such as Trader Joe’s or the Harvard Wine Company. With its hefty wine racks that double as tables and its beautifully designed glass front, Central Bottle offers an exciting escape from the otherwise dreary and unremarkable walk up Mass Ave.
Along with the emphasis on small producers comes slightly higher prices for many of the bottles, though there is a student-friendly “$15 and under” wine rack with an ample range of wines spanning the classic French appellations, Argentinean Malbecs, and even a red blend from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The wine racks are categorized both by region and by varietal and present a vast variety. For those looking to explore new regions, labels, and even blends of wine, Central Bottle’s modest but original selection hits the spot.
Since so many of the wines may be unfamiliar, Central Bottle’s friendly and helpful staff are generally quite eager to assist customers navigate the store’s diverse collection. However, during the stores’ tasting classes, wine bars, and rush hour times, it can sometimes be difficult to catch the attention of the staff. We tasted one of the staff recommendations, the 2006 Fitou “Chasse Gardee” from the Mont Tauch Cooperative in southern France, made from a pleasant, full-bodied blend of varietals. Our favorite, though, was a 2008 Pinot Blanc from the Lucien Albrecht winery in the Alsace region of France. This lovely Pinot Blanc was refreshingly crisp with strong fruit flavors and aromas of honey and lemon, all for the reasonable price of $14.
In addition to the broad variety of wines, Central Bottle also possesses two shelves devoted to beers. Though the beer stock is very small, this is the place to go if you’re looking for a vendor that reliably markets good beer without offering an overwhelming selection. The limited selection of American breweries partially includes Stone, Wachusett, Allagash, and Cisco. Notably absent is one of America’s most creative and fastest growing craft breweries: Dogfish Head. The limited selection of foreign breweries partially include Samuel Smith, Duvel, Chimay, and Weihenstephaner. Weihenstephaner in particular is notable for offering excellent quality brews at a bargain price point. Central Bottle’s beers undoubtedly provide a refreshing alternative to the typical Cambridge liquor store, finally giving MIT students no excuse to not forgo mass-market beers and sample some truly tasty craft brews instead. Further encouraging are the reasonable prices that do not feature the markup of most Massachusetts Avenue retailers. The limited selection of high quality and well-priced beers encourage customers to experiment and purchase something novel.
Central Bottle also showcases a variety of cicchetti (small snacks served in Italian wine bars, akin to Spanish tapas or Basque pintxos), cured meats, and local cheeses. While the shop’s cheese counter is no replacement for a dedicated cheese purveyor and the selection here does not rival that of Formaggio or even Whole Foods, the staff were friendly, knowledgeable, and most importantly, patient. They will happily provide samples of any of the larger wheels, a very welcome offering given that many of their cheeses are in the $20-$25 a pound range. The cheese selection is focused on cow and goat milk cheeses and though some characteristic cheeses such as Morbier and Mimolette were not available, the cheese counter is great to pick up some cheese for a dinner party or satisfy a craving while you pick up a bottle of wine. Some of the highlights from the cheeses we sampled included the Von Trapp Farmstead’s Oma, a washed-rind raw cow’s milk from Vermont with earthy and buttery flavors and a smooth texture, and the Humble Pie, a creamy and rich cow’s milk cheese from Weston, VT. Though many of the cheeses are on the pricier side, most of the cheese selection is domestic so customers save money on import fees and know that their cash is supporting smaller, local cheesemakers.
Central Bottle also stocks $2–$4 loaves from Iggy’s Bread, known for its scrumptious hearth-baked bread with perfect crust and airy interior. And a small selection of chocolate and sweets (including some truly outstanding macaroons) graces the checkout counter to entice your sweet tooth.
Central Bottle’s most unique feature is their tasting events, which typically occur two to three times a week and showcase a particular varietal, vineyard, or region. Every Thursday evening from 5 to 9 p.m., the shop hosts its signature Thursday Wine Bar and provides a warm, friendly environment for customers to taste wines while sampling cicchetti. Some of the tasting events, particularly the classes, even boast live Skype video-calls to vineyard owners or managers so that customers can sample the best of a region’s offerings while learning about the production process and flavors of the wine directly from the winemakers. Central Bottle’s well-designed website has a full listing of upcoming events including wine bars with featured wines, guest chefs, tasting classes, and “Meet the Winemaker” events.
Given its proximity to MIT and its unique selection of products, Central Bottle is a great pick for a special bottle of wine and some tasty accoutrements. With Boston’s renowned Flour Bakery + Café opening its third location next door to Central Bottle in early summer, this block of Massachusetts Ave. is sure to be a gourmand hotspot for food and wine, reinvigorated by the presence of small, conscientiously-managed stores that focus on high quality products.