Haskell's: Beau Farrell talks about great wines and wine values

Haskell's Downtown Minneapolis

Haskell's Downtown Minneapolis

The Twin Cities is blessed with a number of great wine shops, each with something a little different to offer in their specialties and amenities. Each month we will feature a different wine shop that is holding a sale. This month we highlight Haskell's, which is holding its Nickel Sale through May 1.

Haskell's was founded in 1934 by Fritzi and Benny Haskell, who started the original store on Seventh Street in Minneapolis. Since Benny was a convicted bootlegger he couldn't obtain a liquor license, so it had to be registered in Fritzi's name. Haskell's has the distinction of being the first liquor store in the U.S. to import a container of wine from France in 1935. In 1970, Jack Farrell acquired the company and has turned it into a Twin Cities institution, with 10 stores (one in Naples, Florida). Haskell's has been called one of North America's finest wine shops by publications such as Esquire magazine, and Market Watch named Jack Farrell a "Market Leader."

I interviewed Beau Farrell, Haskell's director of internet sales (and Jack' Farrell's son), about the wine shop.

Over the years, have you seen trends in what people are buying in regard to beer, spirits, and wine?

One of the greatest aspects of the wine world is the ever evolving trend in wine. During the '70s and '80s the U.S. wine market experienced a large increase in consumers and through the U.S. marketing efforts we bastardized wine. Everyone was drinking "Chablis" in large jugs. What was not explained to us was that the wine in that jug was indeed chardonnay. "Chablis" is actually a town in France that grows chardonnay, thus it's called Chablis. Same story holds true for "Champagne," "Chianti," "Burgundy," and the list goes on. In the U.S. we focus on varietal. The rest of the world focuses on region and knows what the varietal is based on the region.

Ten or 15 years ago there was the Australian boom of "shiraz." Everyone was buying up shiraz, which in France is called syrah. Same grape, different lingo.

Five to 10 years ago we hit another explosion, a price explosion. Due to increased wealth in foreign markets, prices for Bordeaux wines skyrocketed. Over these years wine collecting has outperformed most stocks and mutual funds.

Today the trend is value. Which is excellent--it will expand people's palates by allowing them to try the various values out there.

What grape variety today seems to be the biggest seller? Are there any specific wines that seem to be the No. 1 seller?

Today's biggest seller is value. But within a group, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir dominate the red sales. Malbec has been gaining ground. White wine sales show chardonnay in the lead, along with strong sales via pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc.

Specific No. 1s vary, but right now Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon and Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

What type of wine or region is undervalued by the consumer?

Germany. Riesling is one of the four noble grapes, and as American consumers we consume very little. Riesling is just great. There are dry styles, sweet styles, and styles meant to age for 30 years. From dry to sweet Riesling is classified as follows: Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. Try a spicy dish from the Lotus with a Spatlese and you will be amazed.

What can you tell us about the Bacchus Wine Club and the radio show on WCCO?

Every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Jack Farrell will call into Charlie Boone's WCCO radio show for a 15- to 20-minute chat. Topics on the show cover wine, food, wine and food pairings, entertaining guests at your home, history, geography, travel, etc. Jack and Charlie have a great relationship. Oftentimes I listen just to figure out where my dad is in the world. He is a hard guy to keep track of. The show has a great following and has a big fan base at WCCO radio. You can listen to podcasts of Jack and Charlie's show through our Haskell's microsite. [Visit and type in keyword "wine."]

Bacchus is Minnesota's premier wine club. You can sign up at Haskell's. It is our wine buyer program. The cost is $30 per year, $17.50 to renew after that. You will receive a 10 percent discount on non-sale wines. You will also be invited to our monthly wine tastings, wine dinners, and beer and wine cruises. A newsletter will also be sent to you quarterly.

What are the world's best wine values in your opinion?

Easy. The Cotes du Rhone region in southern France has some of the best wine values in the world. You can just about close your eyes and pick one of the Cotes du Rhones [CDR] and be quite pleased. CDR is usually a blend of mainly grenache, mourvedre and syrah. Most of these wines are under $15, and some are under $8. The 2007 vintage is amazing.

Spanish wines are also a close second these days, along with wines from Chile, Argentina, and Germany.

What has been the most enjoyable wine region to visit?

Each wine region I have visited has been enjoyable. Wine country people are farmers, and most are very humble. They are very welcoming and invite you into their homes and businesses with open arms. Each vineyard does it a little differently. Hence the saying, "It would take three lifetimes to try all the wine in the world," and "So many wines, so little time."

What is the best wine you have ever tasted?

Hmm, tough question, as there are so many "best" wines. The businessman in me says to choose a wine currently on sale. But, excluding mood, experience, and ambiance, since all play a factor in what is each person's "best," the best wine I have tasted was a 1957 Chateau Ausone. I was at a dinner at the Naples Yacht Club thanking some of the Florida sales staff for another great season. We thought the wine would be fun to open but were not expecting it to really dazzle us. We figured it was way past its prime. Boy, were we wrong. At the time, the wine was almost 50 years old. Yet it still had hints of fruit and great structure. The wine was well crafted and just delicious.

What are Haskell's strengths as a wine shop?

Service, selection, and price. We can beat the big-box stores' prices, but they can't beat our service. The folks at Haskell's love to talk about wine, and they will help you find a bottle that doesn't cost much. Tell us what you are making for dinner and we will find the perfect wine for your meal. Need to impress your boss or a wine lover? We can help. Plus, we also help plan parties, we write menus, make wedding wine selections, we have wine storage, we ship, and we deliver. We will do whatever it takes to make the customer happy.

In selection, we have been in the wine business for 76 years and have built up quite the inventory. At last count we have over 12,000 products in our system, of which over 7,800 are wine.

We do our best to bring our customers the best possible prices we can. If you find an advertised price for less, we will match it. And during the Nickel Sale the prices are unbelievable. It is a great time to stock up for the summer!

How long does the sale last?

May 1

Haskell's is a great wine shop destination. Stop in on a Friday or Saturday, as they always have a nice selection of wines to sample during the sale and beyond.


John Glas