Each year, the holidays pose a familiar challenge to shoppers checking names off the nice list: what do you get for the boss, the bride, the brother-in-law? Emerging as retail cure-all is the boutique wine shop, an urbane take on your local liquor store. In Boston and Cambridge, spots like Urban Grape, Formaggio, Central Bottle and Brix offer customers a curated selection of wine, beer and spirits that make for great presents or simply add a dash of panache to the year-end festivities. And these types of stores aren’t just for city folk—witness Pamplemousse, an epicurean one-stop shop with locations in Salem and Reading.
The Salem store opened in 2002, and in 2013 owner Diane Manahan cut the ribbon on her Reading location, bringing on chef Courtney Hale to expand Pamplemousse’s food program. “A lot of what we have is for entertaining, for people who want to share a great food experience with their friends,” says Manahan. That philosophy extends to her beverage program, too. “A bottle of wine is so much more than something you open and drink. People care about what they eat—they should care just as much about what they’re drinking.”
To that end, Manahan and her team go to great lengths to make sure anything that hits the shelves is a product they’re proud of. She and the staff—most of whom have been with Pamplemousse from the beginning—meet with reps and taste every wine, beer or spirit before greenlighting it for purchase. “Everyone has a say in what we bring in,” she explains. This level of discernment makes for a strong inventory, start to finish.
But not all of her inventory is immediately familiar to customers, according to Manahan, and that’s by design. “I set the store up to look like a library of wine, so to speak. People come in and say ‘I don’t recognize any of these wines.’ That’s a good thing! I love that we have people who come in who want to learn. We can really engage them.” Part of that engagement is the Wine Club, a two-tiered monthly wine subscription that you can buy for yourself or give as a gift. The Inquisitive ($30) gets you three bottles a month, or The Wine Lover ($60) comes with six—each subscription is available for three-month minimum purchase, with the option to extend up to a year. “It’s definitely a favorite for couples to give to one another,” says Manahan. “It’s kind of like a Homer Simpson gift—you get to share in it, too.” The wine is available for pickup on the first Saturday of each month and comes with tasting notes from the team so people can learn about what they’re drinking.
For those who prefer malt over Malbec, Pamplemousse offers a Mix Your Own Six program which allows customers to pick out a variety of the store’s small-batch craft beer selection. Manahan explains that she wants people to have options. “They can try six different breweries. They can grab a porter, a stout, a Belgian. Maybe they’re having friends over who want something a little bit different.” And though there’s no subscription package (yet) for beer- or spirit-lovers, Pamplemousse does offer gift baskets. “The beer baskets get some sort of beer openers or koozies or that sort of thing,” says Manahan. “And it’s something you really can’t get at your local packy. We do larger bottles and smaller bottles and we put together cocktail baskets—we make an amazing housemade Bloody Mary mix that we’ll include alongside vodka or tequila.”
Whether prepping for a party or on the hunt for a gift, give Pamplemousse first crack at the holiday checklist—it’s likely to be the only stop you need.