GLENN – Has living in Beantown lost its zing? Do you need to renew your appreciation for the Hub? Or are you new to town? And want to find out what’s out there in Boston’s neighborhoods? Perhaps you’re having weekend guests and would like to show them a somewhat different view of Boston? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then consider taking a City Wine Tour, a different – and arguably better – way to experience Boston than a ride on the Swan Boats. Founded in May 2011, the group offers four walking tours which “highlight the urban wine experience” of Boston and Cambridge – North End, Back Bay, Harvard Square, and South End. We were fortunate to be offered the opportunity by Christian Iannucci, one of the co-founders of City Wine Tours, to experience – as non-paying guests – this most interesting approach to urban sight-seeing. Christian allowed us to pick the tour of our choice. We chose the North End.
KATRIN – I was initially a bit skeptical of the City Wine Tours concept though there’s lots of evidence that interest in wine is strong in Boston. The incredible Elizabeth Bishop Wine Resources Program at Boston University has been educating wine enthusiasts for more than 20 years and Boston has a thriving Wine & Spirit Education Trust program. Additionally, diverse selections from around the globe can be found in the area’s many wine shops. But given that Boston doesn’t even have a true wine bar, at least not in comparison to some of the great wine bars of New York or San Francisco, I wondered exactly where a tour would take us. In order to put together a tour takes some imagination. This is clearly something that co-founders Christian, Daniel Andrew, and Rick Goldberg have. Their creative agenda was well-served by our tour leader, aka Wine Ambassador, Sarah Cummings. Sarah did an excellent job giving a Wine 101 overview of many key topics ranging from the impact a winemaker can have on the finished product to restaurant wine service. A challenge to say the least given that our group of 13 participants had a wide range of wine knowledge.
GLENN – Italian wines are my weakness – not that I swoon over them but that I just can’t seem to keep the regions and varietals properly sorted out. Oenologically, I’m a Francophile. The tour would provide the means for me to brush up on my Italian wine knowledge and also visit an area of the city I haven’t been to in quite some time. The North End tour covered all aspects of this bustling area – the revitalized waterfront, the restaurant scene, a salumeria, and a wine bottega. We began in the bar of Aragosta, the “bar+bistro” in the Fairmont Battery Wharf Hotel. The hotel is the latest project in the revitalization of the once decrepit, rat-infested waterfront into a most civilized “window on the sea”. The tour was almost sabotaged at this point by a boisterously noisy pre-wedding crowd in the bar. However, our Ambassador persevered.
We then moved on to Davide, a romantic ristorante and North End fixture for thirty years and the location of one on Chef Gordon Ramsey’s (in)famous effing interventions. Our host Anthony, one of the current owners, spoke candidly about the experience à la Ramsey and also, as a North End native, of growing up in this distinctive neighborhood. He also presented us with a wonderful culinary treat – a small bowl of superbly delicious shortribs with papparadelle and a small serving of carpaccio. We continued our ramble through the North End, passing Paul Revere’s house and arriving at the Salumeria Italiana. Here we had a tasting with Chef Raymond featuring some of the foodstuffs for which Italy is justly famous – cheese, prosciutto, aged Balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. And then our final stop, the Wine Bottega. This is a wine shop with a manifesto. As Kerri, the owner, explained the shop specializes in small production organic, biodynamic, and natural wines. Here we tasted our final two wines.
KATRIN – Here’s why I really enjoyed the tour: the wines and the people we met. With the exception of the wines at Aragosta (a Prosecco and the Pinot Bianco by Terlano in Alto Adige), the selections were intriguing and excellent, and I would say that the selections at Davide and The Wine Bottega were ones that I would certainly buy in the future. But the people of the North End made the tour memorable and gave a true flavor of the neighborhood. Anthony, Raymond, and Kerri gave an inside glimpse of this neighborhood’s history and its future. And in this respect the slick, urban Aragosta is the weakest link on this tour. Granted, it is a useful gathering point for the tour, but each of the other stops have so much more character and history that the Aragosta feels like a filler.