Learn by Drinking: Boston’s Best Uncommon Wine Bars

The informal yet quality-driven wine bar is a concept that is gaining traction with thirsty locals in Boston. Having spent the last few years immersed in the New York City wine scene I had become reliant upon places that offer large by-the-glass lists. Places where the idea is to learn by drinking, without having to dress up, order a fancy meal, and break the bank. Here in Boston, I have been searching for the equivalents of NY’s Terroir, Ten Bells and Kashkaval, where the atmosphere is relaxed and people come to drink and geek out. Without delving into the world of proper restaurants, I wanted to come up with a short list of places with impressive wine programs. After chatting with some of Boston’s industry insiders behind at their bars and shops, I gathered some leads and headed out on the town. Here’s a list of the best places around Boston that I found to explore the world of wine, one glass at a time.

Bin 26 Enoteca

In the historic Beacon Hill district, this self-proclaimed enoteca is a neighborhood staple. Drawing a mostly post-work crowd of smartly dressed 30-somethings, the semi-fancy atmosphere is well balanced by comfortable seating and down to earth staff. Everyone walking around, whether taking a drink order or delivering food, is knowledgeable about the 50+ by-the-glass list, making it a no-pressure and decidedly anti-snob environment. The pours are offered as 100ml, 200ml, 500ml or 750ml (a whole bottle). The smallest pours range in price ($7-$13 for 100ml), the real value being in the higher end wines. The list is focused on Italian wines with thoughtful selections from France, Austria, Germany, Spain and USA. Their menu offers pages of wine-nerd fun, like a glossary of terms, pronunciation guide to difficult grape varieties, and a page on how to decode German wine labels. | 26 Charles Street, Boston, MA 02114 | (617) 723-5939

Les Zygomates

Les Zygomates

Located in the South Street area not too far from Chinatown, Les Zygomates opened some years ago as a wine bar. Now featuring live jazz, this bistro has a largely un-tapped wine bar scene that’s perfect for beginners. They have an international by-the-glass list with over 50 wines, including an ample section for Madeira and Sherry. Pours are offered in both three and five ounces with prices to match ($4-$15 for the smaller pours), which means even those on a budget can taste a variety of wines. The focus is on classic French regions: Rhone, Burgundy, and Bordeaux, with a healthy dose of Italy and California and a smattering from other regions worldwide. Here you can find classic wines to sharpen your blind tasting skills, go funky with jacquère, or try a sparkling rosé made from trousseau and ploussard. While the staff here shows no signs of bubbling over with passion or wine knowledge, their friendly and attentive service matches the laid back scene, enhanced with live music Tuesday through Saturday. | 129 South Street, Boston, MA 02111 | (617) 542-5108

The Butcher Shop

This hip and modern take on full service European boucheries is yet another foodie-haven destination courtesy of restaurant maven Barbara Lynch. The South End butcher shop offers wines by the glass from lunch to late to accompany their house-made charcuterie and other delicacies. The wines hail from France, Italy and Spain and are always selected for their seasonality and food friendliness, with daily special features like Albariño-of-the-day. There are around 20 by-the-glass offerings, ranging in price from $10 to $18. While not exactly budget-conscious, this is a great place to indulge for special occasions and to study-by-tasting the art of food and wine pairing. | 552 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118 | (617) 423-4800

Central Bottle

Central Bottle – Thursday Night Wine Bar

Every Thursday night this favorite Cambridge wine store offers a flight of wines plus à la carte snacks for just a few dollars. The cool and airy shop lets music flow while patrons sip and snack at communal standing tables. Wine flights are chosen seasonally and by theme, and always include an information sheet with the name and price of each wine. The selections are thoughtful and approachable, with a balance of classic and funky flavors, and there’s always staff on hand to tell you more about what’s in your glass. Whether you meet up to pre-game before a night out with friends, or just to unwind from a long day at work, this is a not-to-be-missed weekday value. | 196 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 | (617) 225-0040

Belly at The Blue Room

Belly Wine Bar

From the people who bring you Central Bottle and The Blue Room, Belly is the no-wine-geek-left-behind mecca of Boston wine bars. Just a few months old, their bold international wine list that classifies wines by style like “rocks in your mouth” and “once you go orange, you never go back” has caught the attention of industry peers and amateurs alike. They offer two- and five-ounce pours of their 30 wines by the glass at competitive prices ($4-$8 for 2 oz). The lights are low, the music rocks, the staff is young and über-knowledgeable in a way that invites you to taste beyond your comfort zone. This is the place where you’ll find sommeliers liberally drinking sherry, trends emerging, and flavors you didn’t know existed. | 1A Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139 | (617) 494-0968

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://palatepress.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Tess-Rose-Lampert.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Tess is a lifelong world traveler who holds various certifications from wine and spirit institutions as well as an MA from University of East Anglia, UK in Philosophy of Food and Drink. She currently writes and teaches about food and beverage all over the country while working on her first book.[/author_info] [/author]