Monday, December 21, 2020

Bauer Wine & Spirits: A Tour With Howie Rubin

As you meander down Newbury Street in Boston, it's sad to see so many shuttered shops and restaurants. These are financially troubling times for many, but some are finding ways to survive, using their creativity to overcome the obstacles. Bauer Wine & Spirits, which was established over fifty years ago, is one of the survivors, although obviously it hasn't been easy. Recently, I visited Bauer, and spoke with Howie Rubin, the General Manager/Wine Buyer, about their wines and spirits, about how they are handling the pandemic, and more. 

Bauer Wine & Spirits is located below street level, in a 1700 square foot space, which is relatively small yet they have well used the space they have, packing in plenty of wines and spirits. The Bauer family was involved in wine business since the 1950s, opening their shop in the 1960s. Since then, a few different owners have taken over the store. 

In 1980, Howie Rubin, began working at the shop, so he has been there for 40 years, and he has no immediate plans for retirement. Howie's own experience in the wine industry began in 1975, when he worked at the London Wine Bar in San Francisco. In addition, he has worked the crush at Mayacamas Vineyards, and been a sommelier at the Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida. In Boston, he initially worked at a small wine bar in Quincy Market, before joining Bauer. In addition, Howie had a 10 year stint on WFNX radio, doing a wine program. With all that experience, Howie knows plenty about wine and the business of operating a wine store. 

To Howie, maybe the most important aspect of the wine store business is establishing relationships with their customers. To best service their customers, especially those who shop there regularly, they need to establish a level of trust, to get to understand the needs and desires of those customers. It's those relationships which allow Howie and the Bauer team to select the wines which best fit those customers. The trust they develop helps keep customers returning, seeking that personal service which caters to them. 

From my own experiences working at a wine shop, and from speaking to other wine store owners and employees, this is very important for many. Customers want to feel comfortable with wine store staff, wanting to trust them to make recommendations. Wine can seem intimidating to some people so they want people to make it easier for them. And if they trust you, they are far more likely to return to buy more wine. 

One of the biggest changes for Bauer Wines during the pandemic has been a large increase in delivery. Prior to the pandemic, they did about 40% delivery, which increased to 70%-80% for a time, though is currently closer to 60%. They also do curbside pick-up. You can visit the shop to peruse the shelves, and it is quite a fascinating place, with plenty of interesting wines, at all price points. As it is a small shop, they have had to carefully curate what they stock, so they can't carry everything, but there is much to interest any wine lover, including wines you might be hard pressed to find at many other local wine stores. 

As you enter the store, on the right side you'll find a large refrigerated case containing some of the most rare and expensive wines at the store. For example, you'll find two vintages (2008 and 2009) of the famed Screaming Eagle ($4,000) as well as every 1st Growth Bordeaux. You'll recognize many of the producer names within this cabinet and if you're seeking to splurge, this is an excellent place to do so, especially if you are seeking the classics from around the world. With the holidays here, this is the place to buy treasured gifts for someone special.

There is a second wine chiller, located deeper into the store, with more rare wines, especially French and Italian wines. 

Near the front of the store is their stock of Champagne, with other Sparkling Wines, from Franciacorta to Cremant, nearby as well. They mostly carry mainstream Champagnes, from the major Houses, though it would be nice if they carried more Grower Champagne. However, if you enjoy classic Champagne, they have plenty of good choices.
Some Dom Perignon

If you like Veuve Clicquot, you can find a Methusaleh bottle ($1350), which contains 6 liters, the equivalent of 8 750ml bottles.  

One of my favorite House Champagnes is Krug, and you can find their bubbly here.

Besides the Veuve Methusaleh, Bauer Wines has plenty of other large format wines, in various sizes, from wine regions across the world. These are great choices for holiday gifts, or if you are planning a small gathering. Most wine shops don't carry many large format wines so it's great to see a shop that has some many options. 

As you peruse the store, you'll find wines from many well known wine regions, from California to Italy, Germany to Portugal, Spain to France. There are wines are at all price points, with plenty under $20 and lots to splurge upon as well. There is also a small stock of half-bottles too. 

I found a good number of wines that I enjoy, including some top favorites. And I was intrigued by numerous other wines, which I'd never tasted before but want to try. They lack wines from some of the smaller wine regions, like Croatia and Georgia, though they have carried some of them before, and might bring in some in the future. However, that is a minor issue as it's a small store so it is difficult to carry everything 

It was great to see that they have a selection of Rosé wines, and don't see it merely as a summer wine. As I've often said, Rosé should a year-round wine, and goes well with so many different foods. I drink Rosé throughout the winter, enjoying it with dinner.  

You'll find a selection of Ports, from various producers, including Vintage Ports. The Ramos Pinto 20 Year Old is a killer wine, one of my favorite Ports. 

Besides Ports, there's a selection of dessert wines, from Ice Wine to Chinato, Madeira to Vermouth, and more. Howie recommended selections from Chinati Vergano, including their Chinato and Vermouth

In the Spanish wine section, Howie stated that the R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Viña Cubillo is one of the best $30 wines in the store. This is one of my favorite Spanish wineries and I would highly recommend their wines as well. 

As the current owner of Bauer Wines is Greek, they carry a number of Greek wines. The Domaine Gilvanos Paleokerisio Semi-Sparkling Orange Wine ($19.99) is unique and intriguing, and very popular at the store. It's probably one of the most unusual wines at their shop and something to excite any wine lover. 

Although Greek Retsina has a bad reputation for some, there are plenty of delicious bottlings nowadays and it's well worth checking them out. The Tetramythos Retsina ($14.99) is organic and was fermented in amphora. An excellent value wine and it could change your mind about Retsina. 

The Occhipinti wines, from Sicily, Italy, are compelling natural wines and their Il Frappato is one of my favorites of their portfolio. 

If you want to splurge, consider the House of Ganevat wines from the Jura region, imported by Kermit Lynch. I haven't tasted these wines before, though have enjoyed other Jura wines, but Howie highly recommended them. I may have to splurge to check these out.

Sean Thackrey is one of my favorite California winemakers and Bauer sometimes carries their wines, having recently sold out of his Pleaides. However, Howie told me that Sean Larkin is making wines in a similar vein, and strongly recommended the Larkin Cabernet Franc. Larkin's wines are small production, using fruit which he purchases from special vineyard sites.

I was pleased to see they had a good selection of Sake, including half-bottles. Some of the excellent choices include the Hakkaisan Snow Aged Junmai Ginjo, Wakatake Onikoroshi Daiginjo, Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo, and the Bunraku Yamahai Junmai. 

There is a large wall containing a diverse selection of spirits, including vodka, rum, gin, whiskey, and much more. These are well curated, offering compelling choices in all categories. They carry a number of locally produced spirits, from distilleries including Bully Boy, Whistle Pig, Mad River, and Hillrock. Japanese spirits are also available, from vodka to gin. 

Plenty of whiskey choices, including intriguing Japanese whiskies, and a wide range of Scotches. 

To the left at the front of the store is a special glass cabinet containing some of the more rare and expensive spirits, perfect for a splurge. Scotch, bourbon, tequila, and more. Lots of Whistle Pig Rye! 

Besides wine, Howie also has a passion for Tequila, so it's natural that Bauer carries some compeling, high end Tequilas, as well as Mezcals. For example, the above Darth Vader-looking bottle is the Clase Azul Ultra Extra Anejo Tequila, which sells for around $2,000.  The decanter itself is a work of art, while the tequila is supposed to be amazing. 

The shop sells Grand Mayan Tequila, and although you might prejudge them based on the bottling, you shouldn't as Howie states their tequila is quite delicious. 

Besides tequila, there is also the Clase Azul Joven Mezcal, with intricate beading in the stopper. 

At the back of the store is their craft beer selection, with plenty of popular brands as well.

There are wine accessories too, including Riedel glasses. 

You can find cocktail supplies as well, including olives, cherries and bitters.

Bauer Wine & Spirits has much to offer, including numerous rarities that are difficult to find elsewhere. You can find plenty of value wines there as well, so wine lovers of all types can find wines that will appeal to them. Their Spirits selection is compelling too. Howie Rubin impressed me with his knowledge, experience, and passion, and he is vital to the success of Bauer. However, the entire team at Bauer also contributes to its success. They work at building relationships with their customers, building trust. Take some time and check out Bauer Wine & Spirits. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

For 25 years in Boston, Howie Rubin was our "go to" guy for wine, champagne and beer, both for routine dinning and for special occasions. He's not only highly knowledgeable but honorable, approachable, and has sense of humor; a perfect gentleman and one of Boston's human municipal treasures. Having moved to another city, we really miss Howie and the excellent Bauer team. They are the best.