Salad Days Wines: Talking to Central Bottle's Maureen Rubino

Salad Days Wines: Talking to Central Bottle's Maureen Rubino

By Hairee Lee Maureen Rubino has a super short haircut, balances a pen over her right ear, sports a tattoo of "Riesling" on the inside of her left forearm ((Turns out it's only temporary and in support of Summer of Riesling, 2011)), and wears a puffed sleeves blouse. It's a combination of elements I'm not sure how to reconcile, but as a wine merchant and consultant, there no question of her focus and knowledgeability in food and wine. She is, hands-down, the best wine consultant I've ever consulted with.

One of the four founders/owners of Central Bottle, a wine and gourmet foods shop near Central Square, Maureen and her store first came to my attention when Jonathan picked up a six bottles from her store for Dinner 9. Since then, I'd been meaning to visit the store and talk to her in person and Dinner 13 finally gave me the opportunity.

Maureen is friendly but gets down to business pretty much as soon as I introduce myself, Melissa, and Nate. Her first question is our price point. Under $20 per bottle. Then she asks about the menu.

First course: caprese salad on a stick. For the recipe, go here.

What kind of dressing, she asks me. Balsmic and extra virgin, salt and pepper. Okay, she says.

"Let's go to Italy," she says, walking towards the back wall of the store.

Central Bottle is a large store and Maureen has filled it with an intimidatingly vast selection of wines. Row upon row of perfectly flush-to-shelf-edge bottles vie for your attention, your wallet, and your palette. Each bottle has a round tag around it with the price written in large print. I like that, my not having to pick up the bottle and looking for the price sticker. The space between the wall and the floor-to-ceiling windows of the store front are filled with

With a store this size and this well stocked, it's hard to know where to start. That's where Maureen comes in.

half-shelves full of more wine. The atmosphere of the store is clean, light, and modern. Totally appealing to the demographic of the area: educated foodies open to international cuisines and wines, who are also mostly on a middle-class budget, but willing and able to spend a little more if it's worth it.

With a store this size and this well stocked, it's hard to know where to start. That's where Maureen comes in.

She knows where to take us and she takes us first to Verdicchio. "From Le Marche ((Pronounced "mar-kee".)) region." She explains that we are in a very mountainous region, just south of the Veneto. "The Marche overlooks the Adriatic," she says helping us to orient ourselves. "So high altitude."

I like how she describes the wine selection process as if we're going on a trip. I'm getting excited.

"The Verdicchio grape ((I want to add that during this conversation with Maureen that lasted all but fifteen minutes, I must have learned about a dozen new wine terms or food terms or facts about wine. She not only knows about wine, but she also knows food, which I realize now, is essential to being a good wine consultant. Seems obvious but this never really got through to me until I heard her talking about food and wine together. It also helps to know other languages. Maureen used Thai, Italian, German, and French all in the span of this single visit to her store.)), will go well with the creaminess of the cheese. The high altitude acidity means a lot of clean minterality. You need that from the vinegrett but the wine's going to do that too."

Her pick: Il Coroncino Verdicchio Classico Superiore DOC 2007.

To read about the diners response to this wine with the Caprese Skewers, go here.

Next is the wines for the main course: Thai steak salad with basil and mint. Melissa reads off the main ingredients for her and Maureen takes a few minutes to consider her choices.

From the Loire you get this pure, first pinot noir. Good, tight fruit, fresh. - Maureen

"Mint, fish sauce, nước chấm essentially, and lots of herbs and vegetables," she says walking slowly towards the shelves in the back facing the windows. ((I'm following her wondering what Nước chấm is)) "We're going to go straight to the heart to the Loire Valley where the grapes we're going to work with, coming from the Loire, don't have this kind of bovine. And you don’t have something that’s too earthy and mushroom-y, which, I think, would clash. Instead from the Loire you get this pure, first pinot noir.Good, tight fruit, fresh."

So why this one? Maureen explains that with most spicy dishes, there a great acidity from the dish itself and often when you take a sip of red wine the alcohol comes to the forefront and that's not good. This is probably why she says later that a sweeter white wine, like a riesling would be the obvious choice for the dish. But Maureen isn't about to just play by the rules. Guy Allion 'Les Parcs' Touraine Pinot Noir 2009 is her red wine pick.

"12.5% [alcohol]--that's fairly low. You might get a little bit of the heat ((By this Maureen means the alcohol and how it mimics a sense of heat in the mouth and throat and stomach.)) but it might be fun to try a red and a white."

Is this red low in alcohol enough and fruit freindly enough and herbaceous enough to match the tried and true, some-really-low-alcohol wine? I'm betting this pinot noir is going to deliver." - Maureen

The question, once we try it back at Laura's and pair them with the salad, will be: "Is this red low in alcohol enough and fruit freindly enough and herbaceous enough to match the tried and true, some-really-low-alcohol wine? I'm betting this pinot noir is going to deliver."

I'm just happy that Maureen went with a pinot noir, which is one of favorite red variety.

To read about the diners' response to this wine with the Thai Steak Salad with Basil and Mint, go here.

We moved towards the half-shelves in the center of the store and Maureen picks up a riesling: Flonheimer Bingerberg, Riesling Spatlese, 2009. “Look. It’s only 9% alcohol. Do you see? We already know it’s probably going to be fine." Pointing to the label she says,"Spätlese level means, in a German wine label, the grapes are picked a little bit later. So by German standards there’s a lower level [of dryness] so you go form Kabinett (driest), Spätlese , Auslese, and then you do your dessert wines."

[Wine] lower in alcohol and with a little more residual sugar wine will pair reliably well with the spicy dish.

She explains that we (or she to be more accurate but I'm not one to argue with her inclusive pronoun) already know that with the lower in alcohol and a little more residual sugar wine it will pair reliably well with the spicy dish. I didn't know this before this visit. But what I do know is condescension or egotism when faced with it. And Maureen doesn't evince a trace of this as she reels off these terms I've never heard of and probably would never have learned how to spell let alone pronounce had I not had my voice recorder with me, faithfully digitizing Maureen's voice.

"I’m hoping that the pinot noir, because of it’s versatility will also go…look at that! It’s only [singsong voice] $13!"

To read about the diners' response to this wine with the Thai Steak Salad with Basil and Mint, go here.

After Melissa lists off the ingredients in the dessert, Maureen says, "Peanut butter and chocolate. Together again. How about beer?"

Nate who has been quietly photo-documenting the visit declares a definitive response: "Yes."

She goes to the beer cooler, which I only now notice, and selects Two-Headed Beast. "And it's only $7 so you can get two of them. And this is probably one of my favorites." Will Shelton, she continues, is an amazing beer maker from Holyoke, Massachusetts, and he makes the High & Mighty series of beers, and Two-Headed Best is his "luscious" chocolate stout. "The beautiful thing here is that it's not heavy and will not overwhelm your peanut butter."

The three of us, Nate, Melissa, and I are, by this time, tizzy with excitement. This trip around the store from Italy, to France, to Germany to back home again, has been a palette tantalizing, utterly engrossing gastronomic mini-lesson. I can't wait to try it with the upcoming meal.

To read about the diners' response to this beer with the Peanut Butter Tart, go here.

While we were visiting Binger Berg, Germany, for the riesling, I took the opportunity to ask her about her tattoo. It's temporary, she said. I told her it made me think she must be pretty hard core about wines in general and rieslings in particular. Maureen chuckled and said, "I’m living on the edge." She added, "Unfortunately, I’m afraid of pain."

Which is probably why she's so good at her job.

As the owner and manager of Central Bottle, located in a highly competitive Central Square area, a wine store has to have something special to set it apart from the two liquor/wine stores down the street, which are right off the T station, from the store by my house with then taciturn but now friendly cashier, from the $2.99 wines at Trader Joe's, from the lowest wine prices I've ever seen at Cambridge Wine & Spirits in the Fresh Pond area.

Central Bottle's got that something that, I predict, will keep the owners from feeling the pain of having to shut their doors in this still-not-so-great economy: Maureen.

Lots of thanks to Maureen for her time and wine wisdom. We hope to visit Central Bottle soon for another Dinner Series event.

Photographs by Nate Brescia.