The other trick isn't much of a trick at all, it's simply to get to know a producer. Think of the overwhelming wine shop as your first day in a new school: even the shyest kid meets the person sitting next to her, and then you have a friend, then you meet another one, and there are two friends...the next thing you know you're bored because you know everyone in your school and can't wait to move on or at least go to a party where there will be some new faces. So, your goal is to make at least one face friendly.

The following wineries meet my three criteria of being artisanal; with good websites to tell you in detail about the wines, the land they come from, the actual winemakers and such; and are also well represented here in the Twin Cities. For French wines, try Rhone producers M. Chapoutier ( or Chateau de Beaucastel (, both critically well regarded and offering wines at every price point.

For German and Austrian wines, you can actually read the entire Terry Thiese catalog online, through his section on the Michael Skurnik website ( This thing is no mere catalog; it's a personal, literary, longwinded, and utterly charming take on various vineyards and Thiese's journey. If you just read Thiese's catalog you'll know more about German wines (and some others) than most anyone in town save a few wine pros.


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For American wines that never disappoint, are well priced, well represented in both Twin Cities restaurants and liquor stores, and have good websites, my super-short list would be: Trefethen Vineyards (, Cline Cellars (; Edmeades (; Qupé Wine Cellars (pronounced koo-pay;; and Flowers Vineyard & Winery (

Write those names on a card, put the card in your wallet, order them when you see them, check the websites when you can, and I think you will find yourself a happier, less baffled wine lover in about a year. No tasting, no thinking, no fuss, no muss, just a card in your wallet and a year. Try it. Let me know if it works for you.

Until we meet again, I'll leave you with this thought: Did you ever chance upon someone who showed all her bad qualities in the first minute, and you hated her, but years later found that those same obnoxious qualities were seamless extensions of the very good qualities you had grown to adore?

I have a lot of friends like this. One is a heart-on-his sleeve whiner who proved to be an uncannily accurate judge on all points interpersonal; another seemed at first to be just a brusque critic, but later turned out to be a realist and the only one I want in my corner during a crisis. Anyway, you get the idea. I think that wine is very much like this: When you first approach it, the bad points are all you see. The number of wines, the foreign geography, the subtle similarities and differences, the technical jargon, the tricks, the anarchy, the snob appeal—these annoying qualities are all right on the surface, and almost each is an extension of something attractive, when you get to know it better.

The overwhelming number of wines, of course, is exactly what you adore about wine once you master some of it—your sea of nonsense words is a Bordeaux lover's endless, delicious smorgasbord. Your current dislike of the lack of correspondence between price and value may turn to glee when you discover a great bargain. Snob appeal is the dark side of desirable commodities. And so on.

When I spoke with Michael Wirzylo, at Surdyk's, he gave me his take on it. "Wine is interesting because it defies so much of conventional wisdom in America," Wirzylo told me. "It doesn't follow brand identification. Even if there's a golden wallaby today, it may not mean the same in a decade. There's also a great cross-current in American wine culture that acts at cross-purposes to itself: There's a desire to be more European in our consumptive practices, but also a desire to have it demystified, democratized, which is in some ways anti-European. This makes wine a pretty lively thing to be interested in—elite critics or elite individuals do not hold all the cards."

As they do in, say, Hollywood film production. There's never only King Kong remakes or Julia Roberts vehicles, there's never a forced diet of sweet pablum; instead there is always the option for something never-tasted, something made by an anonymous farmer, far far away.

"It's both an artisanal and a technological item too," continued Wirzylo. "It relies on a human hand and nature to make, but also relies on the human hand to sell. It passes through many hands, through many passions, through the legacy of prohibition, language barriers, and a million things. That's what makes it so compelling."

Finally, dear Baffled, if you're wondering why I only provided you with French, German, and American shortcuts, snubbing South America, Spain, Australia, Italy, and everywhere else, it was only because my goal here wasn't to add more fuel to the fire. I merely wanted to give you a place to start. If you go the route of either befriending a local wine clerk or working with those vineyards for a year or two, wine will get less hard. You will suddenly start to see the same bottle twice, you will know what is in it, you will find a rock to stand on, and the pirates won't get you.

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