The Magical Wine Shop – A Blog Review

Posted by on Mar 17, 2013 in In The News | 0 comments

The Magical Wine Shop – A Blog Review

The Magical Wine Shop BY PUT THAT IN MY FACE ON MARCH 9, 2013 Since moving to Maine three years ago, there have been some lonely days. And there have been some really wonderful days. I think it’s inevitable to miss home. The places. The faces. The smells. There is something about Boston that just fills me up inside. Now that I visit Boston only on rare occasion, I have searched Portland for trinkets that make me feel like home. Small tokens that brighten up my day. Give me a little boost. A couple of years ago, I found a place that has yet to be topped in my list of favorite places: Old Port Wine & Cigar on Commercial St. It’s not even the beautiful shop or the fantastic selection that I marvel at, although they are pretty spectacular, it’s the gentleman who greets me that I can never seem to stop smiling at. He’s warm. He’s kind. He’s jolly. He’s got this magical energy that is undeniably charismatic. When he speaks of something he loves, his eyes light up and his body moves in such a way, that you want to experience whatever he is telling you about. He makes me feel something when I go in that is beyond replaceable. He makes me feel like home. It’s a strange thing really but his personality makes that shop one hundred percent. We have spoken about South Africa and he showed me his collection of photographs from his trip, we have laughed about driving in Italy and how it’s a near death experience and he has been generous with my children when they probably didn’t deserve it. (Being crazy kids in a wine shop and all) And as you probably have guessed I don’t actually know his name, I don’t think I have ever asked. I will make it a point next time. But he is the only one in there every time I go to visit.I usually browse the shop in a mere few moments. He knows when to leave me be and when to come and interact. He has shown me so many amazing wines that I can not stop drinking. And he’s basic about his attitude with wine: “It’s grape juice, just drink it.” I like that he has never sold me an out of reach expensive bottle but rather recommends casual drinking wines that are just delicious. He’s always willing to tell some anecdote about a wine that fascinates me or show my husband and I something really interesting. On my birthday last year he sold my husband a bottle of wine from Italy and he told him to keep it untill Emma gets married (she’s 7). That feels very special and sentimental to me. It makes me love that bottle of wine, gives me a reason to hold on to it and something to look forward to. His selection can not be beat. You could drop a grand in there if you wanted to or twenty bucks. I usually come out with 4-8 bottles and spend anywhere from $100 to $250. The bottles he recommends always come with a reason, “This wine is made my monks.” Ok, sounds pretty cool to me. We live in a world where everyone turns a blind eye. Money is a driving force....

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What’s a Retailer? Not Just Someone Who Sells Wine | The Portland Press Herald

Posted by on Sep 12, 2012 in In The News | 0 comments

What’s a Retailer? Not Just Someone Who Sells Wine | The Portland Press Herald

By Joe Appel I haven’t been sleeping well at night recently. It’s probably the wine. It could be the coffee, too – damn you, Speckled Ax and Tandem – which is why I’m off alcohol and caffeine for a while. I’m writing on Day 5, you’ll read this on Day 10. Unfortunately, sleep has been smooth the past few nights. I’ll re-introduce one of the drugs in a few days, then take it back out and try the other, and see which is responsible. After that, I may blow my brains out. This is what’s known as “the scientific method.” What’s a wine column without a wine drinker? It’s an opportunity for me to write profiles of Portland-area wine retailers. We’ve got quite a few and they vary tremendously in terms of emphasis, style, atmosphere and selection. As with wines themselves, anyone who sticks with just one is unfairly limiting himself. The world’s too varied: shop in several stores. (I sell wine in a shop, and I do intend to write about it soon. Critically.) There’s only one wine retailer to kick it off, and that’s Old Port Wine Merchants. Owner Jacques de Villier loves wine and cigars but his true passion is people, and that’s what makes him the shopkeeper’s shopkeeper. He’s old school. Plenty of people open stores because they love their product or want money, but neither the product nor the cash is the heart and soul of it. Anyone who doesn’t like de Villier is a wretched misanthrope who needs serious professional help. “This store is more about my ego than about selling wine,” he told me. But he doesn’t mean ego. He means the give and take, the chats with customers, the stories and the light that goes on when you turn someone on to a new, weird wine that expands their world. Larger-than-life though he is, de Villier has somehow assembled a great and complementary supporting crew in Erin, Lori and Jack, who have their own rosters of customers who seek out their personal advice. That’s the mark of a great store: a particular unified spirit, put into play by real human beings with their own subjectivities. Here’s the unified spirit of Old Port Wine: “It’s just grape juice.” That’s what de Villier told me guides his store’s take on wine, and allows him and his staff to have as much fun as they do. They know tons but “this is not where you come to pay reverence, genuflect and kiss the ring.” The shop’s selection is as gregarious, informed, congenial and accessibly organized as the staff. You won’t find a tremendous selection of super-geeky stuff, though you’ll find some. Amidst the mouthwatering prestigious labels is Rutherford’s Orin Swift, Mosel’s J.J. Prum, a splendid selection of Priorats, and Tuscany’s Bolgheri and a Ricardo Santos Semillon ($17, Davine) from Mendoza, Argentina (a “big, rich, incredible wine I can’t sell” in de Villier’s words). But nor will you find a stinker, or crappy industrial product, anywhere. (The only major shortcoming I found is a too-narrow selection of rose [neither-red-nor-white] wine.) Customers are told they can return any wine they don’t like for a full refund, which is what all retailers who stand by their recommendations should do. Old Port emphasizes easy sleepers like the Cantele Primitivo ($10, Pine State), Pazo de Galegos Albarino ($11,...

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Economy’s Down, but Celebrating’s Not Out | The Portland Press Herald

Posted by on Sep 12, 2012 in In The News | 0 comments

Economy’s Down, but Celebrating’s Not Out | The Portland Press Herald

by JOHN RICHARDSON The expensive champagne might not flow so freely this year, but those preparing local New Year’s parties said people seem in no mood to pass up the celebration entirely. ”People are aware of the economy, but they still need to give themselves a way to celebrate and hope the New Year brings something else,” said Deborah Roberts, director of sales and marketing at the Eastland Park Hotel in Portland. The Eastland has added complimentary live music and appetizers in its lobby lounge this year, Roberts said, to bring more people into the celebration, and in part to create ”an atmosphere for people to kind of take the edge off the economy.” The Space Gallery in Portland, meanwhile, is taking a more direct approach — a Wall Street dress code and, possibly, a chance for revelers to whack a giant bull pinata. Managers of some local restaurants and bars said they’re taking New Year’s reservations at a good pace, or are booked up and turning customers away. But there also appears to be a shift from more expensive options, such as fine champagne and hotel overnight packages, to the affordable, such as a less pricey meal or drinks and appetizers. And, some locals said, it’s a perfect New Year’s Eve to settle in with friends or some good movies. ”We’re just watching movies and making cocktails,” James Devine said Tuesday, as he and Susan Baker scanned the shelves at Videoport in Portland. ”Part of it is saving money, and part of it is we’re just holidayed out.” At the Eastland Park Hotel, reservations are down from past years for the four-course dinners and overnight stays, Roberts said. But she expects the party in the Top of the East rooftop lounge to fill up as usual. Champagne sales are down this year because prices are too high for many people, said Jacques deVillier, owner of Old Port Wine Merchants and Cigar Shoppe in Portland. But, he said, sales of sparkling wines and other wines have been strong for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. One of the hottest sellers is Prosecco, which deVillier said is a less expensive Italian version of champagne. ”People may have cut back,” he said, ”but they’re still going to celebrate.” Caterers said they are doing their normal volume of business this year, although they also are seeing more interest in less expensive options. ”We’ve been more flexible and creative with our menus,” said Camille Kellett, an event planner at Black Tie Catering, which has a wedding and several parties tonight. A popular ”comfort menu,” for example, includes less expensive dishes such as roast turkey or chicken and mushrooms, she said. Not everyone is scaling back their party plans, however. The Frog and Turtle in Westbrook is offering a four-course dinner, complete with caviar, a raw bar, a carving table and lots more, as well as live music, for $55 per person. ”We sold out last Friday,” said General Manager Claire Stretch. Stretch said there are still plenty of people who want to dress up, go out and ring in the New Year in style. ”There’s a great mindset that’s coming into a New Year. It’s a hopeful mindset, and I think people really want things to turn around,” she said. At Empire Dine and Dance...

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Connoisseur with a Common Touch | The Portland Press Herald

Posted by on Sep 12, 2012 in In The News | 0 comments

Connoisseur with a Common Touch | The Portland Press Herald

by Meredith Goad He has a fancy name and a fancy job, but Jacques de Villier is anything but fancy. And that’s the way his customers like it. The owner of Old Port Wine Merchants on Commercial Street can’t hide his disdain for wine snobs who look down their noses at people who prefer to drink, say, white zinfandel. That’s a value judgment, he says. You don’t look down on someone because they like cookie dough ice cream instead of some other flavor, do you? ”If you like white zin, we’re going to treat you the same as if you want Mouton Rothschild,” de Villier said. ”We don’t care if you like white zin. You’re not less of a customer, you know? I know that sounds hokey, but I’ve been in shops where they look at you like, ‘White zin? Can I get somebody from the cat food aisle to help him?’ You know those people. They’re superior because you don’t like the right wine. ”People make apologies for liking sweet wines. I hear it every day.” His voice drops to a whisper: ” ‘I’m sorry, I like a sweet wine.’ ” Tell Jacques de Villier what kind of wine you like, what you’re going to drink it. He’ll probably throw in a good yarn, too, because a love of stories is the other thing de Villier is known for among his regular customers. Some of his ostensibly true tales are a bit hard to believe — was this unpretentious, garrulous wine merchant really in military intelligence? –and he seems to get that. When he senses skepticism about the claim that he graduated from The Citadel, the famous military school in South Carolina, for example, de Villier pulls upa photo of himself in uniform on the computer. ”My standard line about Jacques is ‘I love his stories. They’re mostly true,”’ said Margo Mallar, founder of the Maine Ambassadors of Food and Drink program, who has taught wineappreciation courses. Take the humorous story de Villier, who just turned 50, likes to tell about his elderly mother, ”the only gentile that drinks Manischewitz.” ”My mother is a riot,” he said. ”She’s 85 years old, but she’s the toughest broad you’ve ever met. My dad’s a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, just funny as hell. I took them to Bordeaux in ’97. I took her to Chateau Margaux. We’re barrel sampling the ’95 Margaux, and my mother proudly announces she’d rather be drinking Manischewitz. ”I wish that was a lie. I always tell people two Frenchmen came out and started beating the crap out of my mom, and I went, ‘Hey, hey, that’s my mother!”’ De Villier holds court daily in his new shop — he moved there 10 weeks ago from his old place on Fore Street — where there is more space and a new humidor stocked. Customers who have a good story of their own get to sign the ”wall of fame” de Villier brought to the new shop from his Fore Street location. The most famous name on the wall is Lyle Lovett, but the more interesting signatures actually come from people like the ”Library Book Guy” who had a book (”Sharp Ears the Whale”) due on June 7, 1946, and owed a fine of $440.16. ”We’re related to Dom Deluise!” one couple wrote enthusiastically. De Villier made them bring in a photo as proof before he allowed them to sign the wall. De Villier makes sure he is available every day to meet customers, answer their questionsand tell them his stories. His next day off won’t be until Thanksgiving. De Villier is full of constant chatter, and often doesn’t finish a sentence before moving on...

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