Top 10 wine bars in the Twin Cities
Spending an evening at a great wine bar is one of life's most elegant, refined, and enjoyable dining experiences. Whether you're rediscovering a favorite wine; exploring little traveled regions, wineries, or varietals; seeking a perfect match of food and beverage; or just relaxing in good company, Twin Cities wine bars offer a world of taste adventures, and with so many opening in recent years, it's easy to find one nearby. Here are 10 of our favorite spots to pour a glass. They can be a destination in themselves or the perfect beginning or ending to a night on the town.
10. Café Latte
Soup, sandwiches, salads, and sweets. That's the Café Latte a generation of St. Paul kids grew up with, and now that they're all grown up, thank heavens for the wine bar. A bit of a Summit Hill neighborhood secret, the bar is around the corner from the front room, but some things remain the same. The wine bar cafeteria line is as jumbled as the one out front, slabs of diet-killing cake whisper their evil promises, and the walls are covered with a regularly rotating and occasionally provocative art exhibit, often reflecting the owners' interest in southeastern America art. Come evening, things smarten up with full service and a something-for-every-palate wine list that may be the best-priced in town. With the best pizza on Grand Avenue, the wine bar fills with groups of shoppers, couples who meet after work to collapse-and-catch-up, families who appreciate a menu that offers everybody a choice and mom and dad a civilizing glass of wine. Later, the crowds come in two-by-two and the vibe softens, the lights dim, the conversation ripples, the nerves defrazzle. Just what a wine bar should do. (850 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651.224.5687)
Hard to believe that Toast has been open six years come December. It has felt seasoned since day 1 and yet feels fresh and new today. A tightly focused approach to the kind of wine served is one of the legs of that sturdy stool: "small family producers with an emphasis on sustainable, organic, or bio-dynamic farming techniques . . . who are working to preserve the indigenous grape varietals in each AVA or wine growing region" says the website of this highly personal wine bar. Europe dominates provenance; a recent list included 17 Italian, 10 French, and six Spanish wines, with only five from California and two each from Oregon and Washington (plus one from Minnesota, the creamy Alexis Bailly Seyval Blanc). And then there's the wine from Tasmania and Macedonia. Starting to think precious? Nope. Here are the other two legs of the stool: price and friendliness. Toast's wines are invariably well priced, with 90 percent of the 60-plus bottles under $40. The food is uncomplicated, fresh, and simple, with a serious emphasis on cheeses. Occasional winemaker appearances and a willingness to custom-design flights and tastings keep Toast a favorite slice of the North Loop. (Heritage Landing Building, 415 N. First St., Minneapolis; 612.333.4305)
Created by alums of the D'Amico restaurant training organization, Acqua has proven popular since opening at water's edge in 2009. Nicole Whetzel, who runs the wine program, gets a fair share of the credit with a list that combines the classic wines of the world with some that are a bit wacky (a recent list included a Sion Creek white from the Golan Heights in Galilee, Israel). Not in the mood to experiment? Then settle back at the stylish wine bar with a torrontés from Mendoza, Argentina, or a chardonnay from Napa. With 18 glass pours and over 50 bottles, Acqua has the broad selection that brings wine enthusiasts together to share and compare. Oh, and Nicole? She usually can be found pouring the wine, so guests can trust her to find the best of the list. (4453 Lake Avenue S., White Bear Lake; 651.407.7317)
Life needs a Bev's Wine Bar. Calm. Soothing. Adult. Romantic. Having brought the wine bar idea to the Twin Cities in 1995, Bev's has honed the perfect trifecta of product, service, and brand. The wine list goes from the pleasant gold standards -- A to Z Chardonnay from Oregon and Leaping Lizard Cabernet from Napa -- to the fresh idea, such as Lilly Pilly's late-harvest viognier. The menu changes seasonally, but keep your fingers crossed that their Amarone Classico, the perfect wine to drink late into a dark winter's night with someone you love, is around in February. For food pairings, it's just "Bites," but the very ones that work with a glass of wine: a few almonds, a bit of cheddar, maybe a small pizza. The chocolate torte could go steady with the zinfandel. Just off of Washington Avenue, Bev's is on the way to Target Field. During baseball season, maybe it should be a stopping point. (250 Third Ave. N., # 100, Minneapolis, 612.337-0102)
Bin impresario Rebecca Illingworth had every intention of creating a hangout for her Lowertown neighborhood when she opened in 2010. She succeeded in that plan -- Bin rocks -- and has watched it evolve into a destination for wine drinkers across the Twin Cities. One lure is the extensive "Taste" menu that lets customers try out a two-ounce pour for just $2 or $3. With 35-plus wines by the glass, one could pass a pleasant afternoon or evening trying out wines without having to ante up a huge grubstake. The "Bubbles" portion of the menu enchants with oh-so-reasonable price points but also with the opportunity to taste across a variety of styles, from Champagne to Napa. Underscoring the point of a hangout is the rich list of ports, all means to linger at the table. A limited but full menu works with the wine, especially the nine cheese plates described in loving and precise detail. And for those who think that not every food pairs with wine, check out the "Street Tacos" which, yes, turn out to be perfect with wine ... a little spice, a bit of crunch, some sparkle -- just like Bin. (400 Sibley St. St. Paul; 651.224-9463)
Want to see happy? Then scoot over to formerly food-starved, wine-dry Mac-Groveland and watch 'em lining up at the door of Scusi, the 2010 entry into the Blue Plate Restaurant Company mini empire. Scusi's wine list contains lively examples of the Italian wine cellar. From little-known Marche comes Casalfarneto's Fonteveccia. Well-priced wines from Campania and Abruzzo, Trentino and Piedmonte, and Tuscany and Sicily allow the curious to taste the different styles of the crazy quilt of Italian winemaking. The bar has a huge cool factor and, as wine bars go, sort of rowdy amp. Like its neighbor across the street, the Wine Thief, City Pages' No. 1 wine shop, Scusi organizes the 50-plus wines by style and mood. Feeling "Fresh, Crisp & Vivacious?" Perhaps it's an especially "Gentle, Silky & Elegant" day. There are wines for that. Snobs may smirk, but it's a good guide for customers to select what they want to taste that day. In addition, wines are available by quartino, mezzo, and bottiglia. A little sip of this, of that, and, avanti!: Ahead with the fun. (1806 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul; 651.789.7007)
All along the suddenly food-centric Grand Avenue things are humming, and the buzz may be loudest at King's. Think wine bar as community center with liquor license. It's becoming Kingfield's living room, with Monday night trivia smackdowns, Tuesday night date night (including a toothsome flight of three wines, plus three courses and dessert for two people, for $45), music, a book club, and Wednesday night half-price wine night. About that half-price wine? The impressive range and quality of the wine list will tempt with opportunities to sip and savor. For instance, a recent list included five pinot noirs from a clutch of top-drawer Oregon winemakers: Argyle, Roco, Torii Mor, Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve, and Penner Ash. At the Wednesday night price of $25 to $35 a bottle, collect a group of friends and compare some of America's finest ag products. Every night, the wine by glass and by bottle stands as a personal and innovative standard of excellence. (4555 Grand Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.354.7928)
Step through the screen door at Beaujo's front door and as it slaps shut behind, you are transported from peppy Minnesota to slow, dreamy Paris. This gem has been attracting wine lovers to their casual-but-(authentically)-chic bar à vin with a carefully edited list of interesting wines. All the usual suspects -- chardonnay, pinot gris, cabernet sauvignon -- have been rounded up, but the expressions are the best-of-show. Owners have dug up wines such as Guigal Cote du Rhone from the great 2007 vintage and Mer Soleil Late Harvest, a distinctive and flowery viognier. Not sure what to order? Create your own flight of wines by asking the barman for three glasses of your choosing. The sensitive palate that has kept Beaujo's in business for 11 years extends to the food. From mussels to pate to pan-fried walleye sandwich served with a green chili ginger aioli, the food works well with the wine list. (4950 France Ave S., Minneapolis; 952.922.8974)
Good wine lists are works in progress, changing to showcase the best of what's in the market and on the table. Ursula's list evolves in interesting ways because of the careful attention by owner Kurt Hegland to find the most intriguing wines to offer a discerning clientele. For the rest of us? Knowing that there is always something new to try on the wine list is irresistible. The newest list has a collection of rosés for sipping on the deck. A malbec from Cahors, a sampling of California zinfandels from each of the important wine-producing regions, and a pinot blanc from Alsace add distinction to an already notable list. Connoisseur and novice can enjoy the wine classes held every six weeks during the school year. If you can't wait for the classes, check out "Winenotes" on their website (www.ursulaswb.com). A periodic and amusing -- sometimes even funny -- commentary from Mr. Hegland, it showcases what's new on the menu, celebrity sightings, what staff are up to, and lots of wine chatter and discoveries. The food is the other part of this story. The well-regarded restaurant sends out wine-friendly food, prepared from local purveyors as much as practical. The best wine to pair with dinner? Ask Hegland for his pick -- he's almost always on site. (2125 Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 651.429.9600)
Lucia's Wine Bar is easy, unpretentious, and authentic. The tiny space nestled between the storied restaurant and the hopping Lucia's to Go whispers of sweet trysts and lovely conversations. With 10 tables indoors and 14 on the patio (weather permitting) and another six each at the bar and in the hall, there is only un tout petit peu of space. Once cozily ensconced, don't be put off by the eyeing line of guests positioning themselves to snare the next open spot. Alas, it might be a wait. The long talks, the charming looks need their own time, and the staff knows that love grows and talk flows while wine is sipped and shared. The list changes with the season and with availability. An early spring list was studded with wines from California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as New Zealand and Australia, but most are European and, of that happy conceit, French. The work of Victoria Novelle, a 15-year Lucia's employee, the backbone of the list is easy-sipping wines. About a dozen are available by the glass, with another 20 or more available by the bottle. Not sure what you want? Try the dandy three-ounce pours. Novelle's selections can all be enjoyed alone or with food. They fit the ambiance, inviting guests to linger on a rainy night or a sunny day. The Small Plate menu has just what you want, regardless of when you wander in -- and that can be as late as midnight during the week and 1 a.m. weekends. Hungry for more? The restaurant's dinner and lunch menus are available during service. (1432 W 31st St., Minneapolis; 612.825.1572)
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