The Berkshire Wine Hunt
The wine-buying landscape in Berkshire, Columbia, Dutchess, and Litchfield counties is growing and evolving, with an ever- increasing number of well-edited wine stores with passionate proprietors making the search for that perfect bottle both an adventure and a pleasure. For this, the first of a series on the area’s vino venues, we focus on Berkshire County, with the spotlight on two well-known stores with solid reputations, as well as one promising newcomer to the scene.
We started at Domaney’s Liquors & Fine Wines, located in Great Barrington just before the bridge over the Housatonic River. The Domaney family has owned the store since the 1930s, when it was a country market supplying groceries, dry goods, and sundries. When Eddie Domaney’s father bought it from his uncle in 1973, he realized that, with the increase in weekend crowds coming in from Boston and New York, he needed to specialize. The Berkshires, he says, were being populated by “actors, musicians, artists, historians, and retired world travelers. As all that was happening, we realized we needed to change the product line.” And the transformation into a wine and spirits haven began.
Domaney’s is a welcoming store with a democratic selection that takes the stress out of wine buying. Customer service, too, is paramount. Eddie has since passed the buying to his son, Joe, and another employee, Andy. “They attend all the tastings, read all the wine literature,” says Eddie. But, he says, “everybody knows wine: We have to make sure our employees are versatile and can talk intelligently. I’ll help the customer find the right bottle. If I can’t get that wine, I’ll know what the wine is, I can research it, and I can find a wine that works for them, at a lower price.”
Domaney’s selection has something for every palate and budget. Small bottles of affordable Merlot are available, as well as a solid selection from across the world, such as obscure finds like a pop-top liter of Zweigelt from Austria. “People love it once they try it,” Eddie says. For a good winter red, he steers us to the Breca Breca 2010, an all-Garnacha (or Grenache) Spanish wine about which critic Robert Parker, giving it 94 points, said, “It may be the most amazing wine I have ever tasted at this price in over three decades.” One of the more elegant and thoughtful collections in the area can be found in Domaney’s cold room, where the higher end selections are kept. Some of the stars that caught our eye: A Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 for $165; a Groffier, Chambertin Clos de Beze, 2004 for $200; and the latest release of Muga’s Prado Enea ‘05, an excellent, traditionally made Rioja for $65.
The Nejaime family opened their first eponymous store on Elm Street in Stockbridge in 1970, followed by the Lenox location in 1982. An amicable splitting up of stores between the brothers gave the recently renamed moniker Spirited to Jim Nejaime for the Pittsfield branch, with Joe keeping the Stockbridge and Lenox locations. French wine is a specialty of Nejaime’s, Lenox, not surprisingly, given that their wine buyers are both French; Franck Seguin and Xavier Letteron. We spoke to Letteron, who brings that continental perspective to the shop, with the appropriately charming French accent. Xavier, who moved to the Berkshires with his wife, Elena, in 1998, says, “When a customer comes in looking for a bottle for a dinner party, I will ask,” he says, “’What do you want to bring? [The wine you bring] is part of your personality, even if you don’t know wine.’”
It has often been noted, while party-going in Manhattan, that it seems as if everyone arrives with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. But Xavier prefers the Champagne Ployez-Jacquemart ($49.99). “It has such a great expression,” he tells us. Xavier tells us that it’s important for their regular customers to find what they’re looking for. So they have well-known brands, but it’s fun to show them new things. He says he likes to “expand their horizons…Customers ask us to show them some French wine, because French wine has an aura of being intimidating. When you have friendly French people in the store, this is a perfect way to be introduced to that country. Customers then feel taken care of.” While Nejaime’s has a diverse and thorough selection that spans the globe, if you wish to stay in France, Xavier recommends the J.L. Chave, Mon Coeur, a Côtes du Rhône ($24.99). He described it as a step up from a basic Côtes du Rhône. “It has a nice balance and some spiciness. A beautiful red wine. If you appreciate a Rhône wine, this is a special treat,” he tells us.
The final stop on our local tour takes us to Queensboro Wines & Spirits in West Stockbridge. Steve Dixon, formerly the regional salesman for the well-known distributor MS Walker, took over this shop two years ago. Before that, he’d been the wine director and sommelier at Wheatleigh. Although his true love is for Burgundy wines, he says that his “palate doesn’t matter. I try to identify the customer and find the best example of what it is they’re looking for. That’s the first half of my job; second half is to get them to explore new things.”
He works hard to provide the right service and the right recommendations for his customers. Recounting his time at Wheatleigh, Dixon says “There’s always that ‘aha’ moment for the customers when you hook them up with the correct wine. And they say ‘Wow, that really worked, I get that.’ “That’s the rush, that’s the adrenaline, that’s what makes you go home and think ‘I did my job.’”
It’s clear from the well-edited selection at Queensboro and Steve’s passion for the wines that this is a store for a true wine lover. His winter red recommendation is the Rio Madre Rioja, 2011, made entirely from the grape Graciano. (Most Rioja comes from Tempranillo.) It has a beautiful nose, and is a well-structured wine that would go well with dinner or as an aperitif. At $12, this is a lovely wine for the season.
For a broad selection with great service, you can’t go wrong at either Domaney’s or Nejaime’s. For the carefully edited selection that will always succeed, take yourself to Queensboro. All the stores provide tastings frequently: Check their websites for the latest information, and remember, to learn about wines, you have to pull corks! —Tim Eustis
Domaney’s Liquors and Fine Wines
66 Main Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
Nejaime’s Wine Cellars
60 Main Street
Lenox, MA 01240
Queensboro Wine & Spirits
26 Main Street
West Stockbridge, MA 01266