By MONTE BELMONTE
For the Advocate
As someone who worked for a music radio station in western Mass for twenty years, I was ashamed to admit that I had never been to Tanglewood.
And as someone who is a day-drinking, BYOB loving, wine-snobby bon vivant, I am even more ashamed that I had never been to Tanglewood.
Where in western Mass is more famous for both music and for laying out a tablecloth, charcuterie plate and candelabra and popping open a bottle of wine than the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra? I am pleased to say I have atoned for the sins of my past and have now been to Tanglewood thrice this season. But what to drink while picnicking there?
My port of entry into the landlocked city of Lenox was Nijame’s Wines, where I met with Joe Nijame. Joe and his brother, Jim, carry on the tradition their parents started.
The Nijames bought the Stockbridge Market in the early 1960s. The Nijame family is of Lebanese descent. They changed the name of the market to Nejame’s Stockbridge Shop and incorporated Lebanese flavors into their offerings.
A neighbor, who was a painter, grew quite fond of the Lebanese cuisine, became a regular customer, and worked the new name of the shop into a painting. The painting is “Home for Christmas,” and the painter was Norman Rockwell.
A few years later, a wine shop around the corner went up for sale. The Nijames bought it.
“It was just a liquor store,” Joe says. But with the U.S. developing an increasing interest in fine wines, Joe and his brother found wine as a growth area for the family business. The Nijames became the OGs of wine shops in southern Berkshire County.
We blind tasted some amazing Hungarian wine made from a grape called Furmint, as well as an extremely interesting Corsican wine. I was impressed by Joe’s hospitality, no doubt a trait he learned from his Lebanese legacy.
His store feels like a classic New England Main Street market. Nijame’s Wine Cellars had no shortage of great wines to choose from, including a huge selection of rosé. They also had plenty of delicious cheeses, and pretty much everything you need for a Tanglewood picnic.
I asked Joe if the BSO were regulars at Nijame’s.
“The whole cultural community, I think, comes through my door in one way or another,” Joe says. “I’m happy to say that some of the members have been my customers for decades. Generations of them.”
I asked if there was a number one Boston Pops wine. “Hard to say,” Joe says. “It’s confidential information. I wouldn’t want to be indiscreet.”
Given that Tanglewood is synonymous with James Taylor, I asked Joe Nijame what Sweet Daddy James likes to drink. “He doesn’t drink,” Joe says. But he adds, “The Taylors are friends and customers. Whatever they need.”
If Nijame’s Wine Cellars are the legacy wine shop in Lenox, the new kids on the block, quite literally, step by step down the street from Nijame’s, is Dare Bottleshop & Provisions. They’ve been hangin’ tough since November 2021.
I visited Dare Bottleshop and met with owners Mary and Ben Daire. Mary is originally from Pittsfield but ran off after a Frenchman, Ben, whom she met in Lenox. They lived for several years in Provence, but when they got bored with all the incredible wine, lavender, food and scenery, they moved back to western Mass. Mary became a wine salesperson and continued to build on the wine education she gained in France.
Mary and Ben then decided to build their own dream — a fine wine and fancy food shop. They took their family name, Daire, and dropped the “i” so people could more easily Google the name of Dare Bottleshop. I commend how they secretly incorporated the “i” back into their logo with a clever image of a bottle.
I tasted two rosés with the Daires: the Birichino Vin Gris from Northern California and the Les Hauts Plateaux from their old grape-stomping grounds in Provence. Ben is French. Mary is American. Two great tastes that taste great together. And both of these rosés were dynamite.
I had tickets to Tanglewood on Parade, where the Pops were going to be under the baton of not only their conductor from the better part of the last 3 decades, Keith Lockhart, but arguably the most important composer living today, John Williams. I needed wine and snacks.
Dare Bottleshop did not disappoint. I snagged the French rosé, canned fish, olives, cheese curds and super fancy potato chips.
I learned the Tanglewood pro-tip of getting shed tickets but picnicking on the lawn. They won’t let you bring a bottle of wine under the weatherproof cover of the shed. This is a trick generations of Berkshire concertgoers have known for ages.
Although this season was my first Tanglewood rodeo, I know it won’t be my last. Although I’m not sure Tanglewood will offer rodeos in the future, I’m definitely going to try and see John Williams there every chance I get. And now I have two places I know I can go to get great provisions for my idyllic Tanglewood picnic — Dare Bottleshop and Provisions and Nijame’s Wine Cellars.
And as Joe Nijame says, “Seasonal folks coming back every year, it’s always a really nice ongoing reunion.” I can’t wait to be a part of the reunion next year.