Nine of us are seated at high bar tables in a corner nook of Gaslight Brasserie du Coin in Boston's South End, paying attention as guide John Fiola (also known as a "wine ambassador") demonstrates how to open a bottle of bubbly. "You twist the bottle, not the cork," he instructs the group. "Six twists." On that final turn, the cork releases with a gentle thwup — not the explosive pop many expected. "Anticlimactic, for sure," Fiola quips, "but better than half the bottle gushing onto the floor." The group chuckles. He pours. We sip the pink sparkler and nibble steak tartare on mini toasts. This is the first stop on a two-hour tour.
City Wine Tours was founded in 2011 by entrepreneurs Daniel Andrew, Rick Goldberg, and Christian Iannucci, to offer afternoon walking tours, year-round on weekends ($56 to $66 per person). They hit three destinations – usually restaurants, sometimes a wine shop – where two glasses of wine and small plates are served at each stop. Local sommeliers and wine educators lead the groups, offering helpful hints about wine and insights about neighborhoods.
From the Brasserie, we head out into the sunshine and walk up Harrison Avenue. In a sky blue-collared shirt and red cap, we won't lose Fiola in a crowd. Fiola is a wine educator, certified by the internationally recognized Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Participants have arrived mostly in pairs; with all of the hand-holding, it appears to be a romantic afternoon for most of these couples.
At Cinquecento, a Roman-style trattoria that opened this spring, we fan out down the length of the bar. The ceilings are high and it's hard to hear. Fiola is at one end, sharing tips about spotting values on a wine list. One attendee pipes up with a question about Orvieto, the white we are sipping with salumi and cheese. Then a carafe of nero d'avola prompts a couple to talk about a trip to Sicily. Finally, the group is warming up, and dialogue continues as we walk through Peters Park. We learn that the South End used to be a strip of land surrounded by tidal marsh before it was filled in with soil from Needham. Then came the stately brownstones and years later, fashionable restaurants.
Masa is our final destination. Salsa music is playing on the sound system and conversation flows as we taste a Spanish rosé and a sturdy Chilean carmenere. The tapas have withered under a heat lamp before our arrival. But the tasty pours and the walk in the sunshine have put everyone in a festive mood.
At a nearby booth, a family has ordered sparkling wine. Their server struggles, and the cork dislodges with an explosive pop. Fortunately, no frothy dribble.
We look at one another. That wouldn't have happened to any of us. Six turns of the bottle. Worth the price of admission.
City Wine Tours are held Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the South End, North End, Back Bay, and Harvard Square. Call 855-455-8747 or go to www.citywinetours.com.