2005 Wine & Dine Guide: The World in a Bottle

Laura Tundel

The world is big. I'd say it's actually bigger here than it is other places. In Los Angeles, for instance, the world seems to be about the size of your nearest competitor's pool, or development deal, or cup size. In New York, the world seems to stretch from the Hamptons to the insides of the newspapers and back again.

In Minnesota, though, there's something in the culture that just seems to make the world, be it Spain or Germany, Africa or Guatemala, New York or Tulsa, and, of course, Sweden--always Sweden--seem very close at hand. Is it the education? The airlines? The Lutheran legacy of doing your good works in the world, and not merely in your heart?

The evidence is everywhere. I'll never forget the time I was sitting in a booth in the Dino's Gyros in Falcon Heights, thinking about grape leaves and lemon soup, and the woman in the next booth, fresh from the airport, was rapturously describing to her young daughter what it's like to be invited to the White House. Then there's the conversation I had with a wedding caterer about how you're unlikely to succeed in the near western suburbs unless you can provide a Kosher/Korean banquet. And I was tickled to note the recent news stories on Minneapolis' ultra-deluxe new water filtration plant, which will put us in the big leagues, water-wise, on par with Singapore and Kuwait.

You know, Singapore and Kuwait. I don't think other cities think about Singapore and Kuwait, but we evidently do. We also think of Tarragona, the Friulian Plains, Maipo Valley, and the shores of the Gironde, all of which I have encountered in the wine aisles of our local wine shops this month. We just have an astonishing array of global wines in Minnesota.

This comes from our 40-plus wine distributors and importers--an astonishing richness, as many major cities have as few as two or three. (We have so many, I think, because of our reasonable Midwestern real estate, which allows storage costs to be kept low, and because the diversity of wine shops in the area provide them with a variety of markets. Some states basically have one big distributor that places most of its wine in the one big discount chain, with one phone call.)

Now, do the math: If 40 distributors each work with between 30 and 200 chateaus, bodegas, collectives, estates, wineries, or what have you--how many separate bottlings are available in Minnesota? Enough so that if you have a curiosity about the wine culture of a place, and you live here, you have an itch you can actually scratch. You can do it casually or you can do it intensively. This year, for Wine and Dine, we have decided to point out how you might do either. On the pages that follow, you'll find several articles examining the wines of a single country--all European, this year--and suggesting strategies for getting to know them.

For starters, we've dissected several wine lists heavy on the bottlings of a single country. There are some phenomenally deep and focused specialty wine lists to be found in town: Minneapolis's Black Forest, for instance, has enough German offerings that if you visit it monthly for a year or two, you will be, de facto, an expert in German wines. The same can be said of the Italian lists at Broder's and Osteria I Nonni, the French list at Vincent, or the Greek wine list at It's Greek to Me, which displays a truly astonishing array of Hellenic bottlings.

Did we forget your favorite? Sorry, we'll try to do better next year. We picked these for their depth, focus, and ease of use. There was some consternation in the office as to whether we should write about Solera's gobsmack of a Spanish list--haven't we covered this already? But not writing about it in the end seemed kind of like talking about giant gorillas and leaving out King Kong: The only way you're going to see this many Spanish wines anywhere else is get out your passport and start practicing your Catalan.

Speaking of which, Spanish wines have been very much on the mind of Twin Citians this year. My mailbox runneth over with folks asking me to help them decode the cheap, thrilling world of Spanish reds. And so for the second component of this year's edition of Wine and Dine, I fell back on an idea I've used before: the wine party, or guided tasting. I really do think it's the most helpful way to write about wine, and I hope you'll agree.

I guess I just never got over the idea that if you teach a man to fish, he'll eventually be able to work the wine sales himself, and amass a wine cellar he can drink from all winter long. So here we have it, Wine and Dine 2005: a big, wide, drinkable world, all for you.

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