By Janice Llanes Fabry

Wine merchant Cai Palmer is somewhat of a celebrity these days. He can’t walk down Purchase Street without being stopped by inquiring minds who want to know “When’s the Wine Bar opening?” He likes to reply, “It’s in the hands of the gods, from City Hall and the Health Department to the contractors.” The truth is the long-awaited Wine Bar’s opening on the corner of Elm Place and Purchase is imminent, probably the beginning of next month. In the meantime, the new Wine at Five next door at 1 Elm is ready for business with fans peeking in all day long.

Having opened the original Wine at Five 11 years ago, after a successful career on Wall Street, Palmer had the idea of expanding his retail business by establishing an adjacent wine bar. “There was nothing available on Purchase Street to put them together, so when this space came up last November, we jumped at it,” he remarked. “The synergy between the store and the wine bar is going to be huge.”

For the sake of continuity, the new store is painted the same Empire gold and Curio gray, reflecting the earth and wine that customers have come to know. The newly renovated space boasts track lighting, porcelain tile resembling wood, and attractive shelves with the bottles upright.

“I wanted people to see the bottles and not have to poke around for them. Visualization helps people understand a wine more. I want the labels to show, as well as the chalk pricing on every bottle,” said the merchant, who always divides wine by country and by varietals within a country.

What has always set Wine at Five apart is that it carries all types of wine from wineries that make small batches. He noted, “If we like the wine, we buy it for the store.”

In fact, there are no third-party buyers. Palmer and colleagues select the wine and disregard critic ratings or price, an unusual tactic. He calls Marina Adam, a former Greenwich wine merchant who has worked with him from the beginning, his “elegance buyer because of her amazing palate and deep appreciation for really good wine.” Also on board at the shop are wine connoisseurs Malou Despoux and Marcos Lopez.

It’s not unusual to walk into the store and come upon the Wine at Five team engaged in a tasting with a vendor to determine whether they should bring in an “expressive” Pinot Noir or a Malbec from New Zealand “with firm tannins.”

Their customers enjoy participating in the shop’s wine clubs. While in Club Magnum, they can enjoy two bottles of the Wine at Five selection of the month for $40, with 5% off the purchase of six or more; joining Club Jeroboam for $75 offers four bottles with 10% off six or more and 15% off any case.

As for the Wine Bar, Palmer noted, “It will be a pure European wine bar with no television, no beer on tap, and no kitchen. We’ll serve charcuterie and fromage, and if you can only serve two foods they have to be the best two foods.”

Wine lovers will be able to choose from 70 wines by the bottle, 30 by the glass, and about 120 small batch spirits, such as Barr Hill gin, specialty tequilas, and mescal. Cheers!

<For more information, call 921-5950 or visit for additional information and wine tastings with the actual wine makers.

Store hours are Monday-Saturday, 10-8.>

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