What’s the Best Wine List in the Twin Cities?



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One of my friends has friends coming in to town for the RNC, and they wanted to know who has the best wine list in the Twin Cities. Well, figuring this out has been part of my job for the last decade, and it’s a question that has grown ever more tricky as the Twin Cities food and wine scene improves and diversifies.

Basically, the problem is: What are your criteria?

Here are my thoughts on the best wine lists in town:

For Napa Valley reds: Manny’s Steakhouse.

For French wines: Vincent in Minneapolis, and Meritage in St. Paul.

For Spanish wines: Solera

For Italian: Hands down, Osteria Il Nonni (which is attached to the best Italian wine store in the state.) www.inonnirestaurant.com

Best wine list on a budget: St. Paul’s Ngon Bistro, or the restaurant attached to the wine shop at France 44, where you can bring any wine in from the huge store.

Longest list: the one at Cesare’s Wine Bar in Stillwater, which is chock full of verticals (that is, different vintages of the same wine) as well as lots of big names and true rarities. Longest-in-town: W.A. Frost’s, which is a fun list to read if you’re the kind of person who thinks it’s “fun” to read a wine list, because it’s full of unexpected bottles and deeper vintages.

Best wine bars:
In Minneapolis, Toast, in the Warehouse district. Why? The wine list is creative (terroir focused, and specializing in older, generally less-know European wine traditions) and has a distinct point of view (reflecting Scott Davis’, formerly of Auriga’s, taste, he tends to prefer complex wines over very ripe ones.) In St. Paul, the wine bar at Heartland. Why? Again, creative list reflecting a personal point of view (reflecting co-owner Mega Hoehn’s off-the-beaten-path, food-directed tastes).

But here’s the problem when you’re considering restaurant wine lists: Few people pick their restaurant for the wine list. When I, personally, tend to be looking for a restaurant based on the wine list what I’m usually really asking myself is: “All things being equal (excellence of food, price I’m hoping to pay that night, convenience to whatever else I’m doing) which wine list is good enough to draw me towards restaurant X versus restaurant Y?”

Then, here’s what I end up with:

Best inexpensive restaurant with very good food, and a very good wine list: Café Barbette or the Bryant Lake Bowl, and the wine-bar at Lucia’s.

Best moderately priced restaurant with excellent food and an excellent list: Heidi’s, the lounge at La Belle Vie, Vincent, or Meritage.

Best expensive restaurant with phenomenal food and an excellent list: La Belle Vie.

And I suppose: Best organic and no-added-sulfite list: Spoonriver.

But of course, that’s just what I think. Anyone else care to chime in?

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