The 2018 Twin Cities Wine Awards Winners!

THE BEST OF THE BEST in the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Minnesota wine scene! Congrats to all the 2018 winners!

To celebrate our strong locally owned and operated independent wine scene in Minnesota, we launched the Twin Cities Wine Awards in 2018. Sixteen categories to help recognize the best of the best when it comes to wine lists, sommeliers, wine shops, and more!

We will be celebrating the winners in style on August 27th 2018 at the St. Paul Athletic Club ballroom during the Twin Cities Wine Awards Grand Tasting. DJ Steez will be on hand to keep the party jumping, and we will recognize the winners with their official awards. In addition we will present a very special “Raise A Glass” award to an individual that has helped shape our local wine scene for decades.

The Twin Cities Wine Awards were conducted through public voting from May 28th to June 27th, 2018. Over 18,000 votes were cast across all categories. Huge thanks to all who participated!




Most trusted consultant at a local wine shop
WINNER: PETER VARS of Thomas Liquors in St. Paul (33.5% of the votes)
Runners up: Joe Cassel of Solo Vino (9.6%) and Erica Rokke of Zipp’s (9.1%)

Well deserved, Peter Vars has proven to be one the greats in shaping our local wine scene. His passion, attention to detail, knowledge, and enthusiasm is legendary. When it comes to Champagne in particular (and Oregon Pinot Noir, and Greek wines, and … the list goes on) there is nobody with the knowledge base that Peter brings to interactions with the public day in and day out. Congrats Pete!


Best wines made by a former Minnesotan (must be a winemaker)
WINNER: BILL HOOPER of Weinbau Paetra, Willamette Valley (34.7% of the votes)
Local distributor (contact for info on where to find the wines):
Runners up: Nate Klosterman of Argyle and Knudsen Vineyards (14.3%) and Gabrielle Schaffer of Gamling and McDuck (13.5%)

Bill Hooper is the ultimate example of a local-kid-done-good in the winemaking world. From his humble start as the wine buyer at Zipp’s Liquors, to various jobs on the wholesale side, to moving to Germany and learning winemaking, his story is truly grand. His wines are distinctive, awesome, hand crafted, and can cause even the most jaded wine drinker to pause and consider something wonderful: that truly great wine always has something to teach you.


Best wine list, suburbs
WINNER: NINETWENTYFIVE of Wayzata. Wine manager: Peter Plaehn (31.5% of the votes)
and their wine list:
Runners up: Gianni’s Steakhouse of Wayzata (22.7%) and Bellecour of Wayzata (15.9%)

Special congrats to the top three winners for putting the Wayzata wine scene on the map in a big way! And HUGE congrats to the new wine list at NineTwentyFive, organized by Minnesota’s only Advanced Sommelier, Peter Plaehn. It really is an incredible list, hitting all the fun corners and nooks and crannies of the wine world, while also delivering Big Bang for those looking for top grade Napa Valley selections. It’s an intellectual list without being pretentious, a hard line to walk. Congrats to Peter and the staff at NineTwentyFive.


Best wine list, Minneapolis
WINNER: MONELLO. Wine manager: Alex White (30.9% of the votes)
and their wine list: (scroll to the blue bar, click “Beverage,” then “Download Menu”)
Runners up: Bachelor Farmer (12.0%) and Terzo (8.9%)
Boom! While there are lists in the Twin Cities that hit hard on the wine geek factor, and there are lists that tee up big names (with big prices), rare is the list that brings interesting producers, neat regions, and fun varieties together with VALUE in mind. In terms of the holy grail combination of elegant top-level dining with a plethora of amazing under $75 bottles on the list, Monello takes the prize. Want to spend a bit more? Rarely will $100 bring you as much as it does here (Bandol for under $100? Barolo for under $100? Please, yes!).


Best wine list, Saint Paul 
WINNER: MERITAGE. Wine manager: Desta Klein (25.4% of the votes)
and their wine list: (scroll to “Click Here for our Wine List”)
Runners up: W.A. Frost (25.1%) and Octo Fish Bar (19.8%)

The tightest race in the entire awards, Meritage took the trophy by only three votes! There may be no other restaurant that puts more resources into their wine program than Meritage, including having wine director Desta Klein spend three months in Bordeaux learning more about that region. Ten years since opening, Meritage continues to be the go-to destination for top level dining in the cities. Their French-focused list is always full of hidden gems from the better distributors in town, and their buying power allows them to corner the market on many wines. But good times don’t need to cost an arm and a leg: pony up to the bar, get a half dozen yummy oysters, and enjoy a $36 bottle of Cognettes Muscadet!


Best sommelier (working the floor at a restaurant)
WINNER: ALEX WHITE of Monello (32.4% of the votes)
Runners up: Peter Plaehn of ninetwentyfive (12.1%), Erin Rolek of Bachelor Farmer (11.9%), and Nico Giraud of Bellecour (10.9%)

How do you choose best Sommelier? Especially when we have the type of talent we do in the Twin Cities. Any of these four (and more!) deserve the prize, and all of them bring passion, curiosity, service, and attention to detail to a higher level than seems possible. Alex White is a sommelier you can trust when you are watching your budget but want to live the good life for a night. Give him some simple parameters (body, style, budget) and let him work his magic. Even better, let him loose on you with course by course wine pairings. Alex will make a wine night you will never forget. Don’t forget to Uber!


Best wine bar
WINNER: DOMACIN of Stillwater (32.7% of the votes)
Runners up: Troubadour Wine Bar of Uptown (28.9%) and Riverview Wine Bar (8.2%)

Travel + Leisure magazine recognized them as one of the top 25 wine bars in the country, yet many in the Twin Cities have not yet experienced Domacin. Perched up the hill and off the main drag of Stillwater, this is a true wine bar gem. Over 650 wines are available, including a huge selection of large format bottles. Gather 10-20 of your closest friends, head to Stillwater, and dive head first into a 3L bottle of 2005 Barbaresco by Vigin for $420! Just hanging by yourself? Order up a 2007 Domaine Rossignol-Trapet Bourgogne for only $36! Values abound, and Domacin is the type of wine bar many of us desperately wish was in the urban center. Alas, relish the drive, enjoy the scenery, explore Stillwater, buy some antiques, and realize that any metro region anywhere in the country would be lucky to have a place like Domacin. 


Best outstate restaurant wine destination
WINNER: NEW SCENIC CAFE of Duluth, near French River and toward Two Harbors (52% of the votes)
Runners up: Crooked Spoon, Grand Marais (9.9%) and Cru at Grand View Lodge, Nisswa (8.1%)

Hands down one of my favorite restaurants in the state, and a top destination for anybody in the wine industry. Why? Because of the best priced wine list of any restaurant. Owner/Chef Scott Graden prices his wines to move, simple as that. Pricing that any other restaurant simply can’t compete with. Then on half price wine nights, pricing that no retailer can compete with. Combine that with a great view of Lake Superior, a top notch cookbook available for purchase, the warm and friendly staff, and the two red chairs in the front garden, and you have one of the top destinations in the Upper Midwest. Being in Duluth but not enjoying wine at New Scenic Cafe is like going to the Boundary Waters and not getting into a canoe. It just doesn’t make sense.


Best locally owned multi-location wine shop
WINNER: TOP TEN LIQUORS — wine buyer: Bill Abrahamson (39.9% of the votes)
Runners up: Haskell’s (28.5%) and Kowalski’s (15.2%)

When Total Wine moved into the Twin Cities, it was like a bomb went off in the local wine scene. Stores started closing, wine shops had to re-do their business model, and any old school ‘liquor store’ in the suburbs saw business go immediately downhill (by some estimates Total Wine now controls 40% of the local wine retail market). Most existing stores sucked it up, most are still complaining, and then there’s Top Ten. By investing in their store and staff, by hiring Bill Abrahamson (one of the best in the business), and by working with cool small suppliers to bring in limited wines and hidden gems, they quickly carved out their own niche. One visit to their stores shows an attention to detail second to none, and one question to their staff shows they value knowledge and passion. It’s great to see what they are doing and we wish them continued success!


Best locally owned single location wine shop: suburbs
WINNER: THE WINE SHOP OF MINNETONKA — wine buyer: Ryan Sadowski (34.4% of the votes)
Runners up: Sunfish Cellars (18.8%) and Cedar Lake Wine Company (9.9% — as a write in!)

We have so many great wine shops in the Twin Cities. It’s easy to lose count! But in the western ‘burbs, on the corner of Minnetonka Boulevard and Highway 101, right next to Spasso restaurant, is The Wine Shop of Minnetonka. What makes them stand out? It’s rare for a shop to have both depth and breadth when it comes to the balance between esoteric and ol’ reliable. But The Wine Shop does it. “Curated selection” is an overused term, but it applies here. If you want to know what’s going to be hot a year or two from now, visit The Wine Shop. If you want a great bottle of fill-in-the-blank-well-known-region, visit The Wine Shop. Want a super fancy and super affordable night? Check out the Spasso car service, buy a bottle at The Wine Shop, and enjoy it at Spasso!


Best locally owned single location wine shop: Minneapolis
WINNER: FRANCE 44 — wine buyer: Rick Anderson (33.9% of the votes)
Runners up: Surdyk’s (13.4%) and North Loop Wine and Spirits (9.1%)

Congrats to one of the best wine shops in town! When France 44 underwent their massive renovation/rebuilding/expansion about 20 years ago, many called it too ambitious. Too much space, too much wine, would there be enough business? Well, build it and they will come. France 44 has established themselves as leaders in the local wine scene, with a top level staff that, like all the retail winners, work hard at finding the new and awesome (moving away from the predictable and safe). 


Best locally owned single location wine shop: St. Paul
WINNER: THOMAS LIQUORS — wine manger: Peter Vars, proprietor: Mike Thomas (39.3% of the votes)
Runners up: Solo Vino (29.2%) and The Wine Thief (8.4%)

I was so happy to see the Thomas family win this prize, mainly because I go way back with them as both a customer and a sales rep (from 2002-2010 when I worked for World Class Wines). During my years of calling on Mike Thomas he showed the power of positivity, of honesty, and of balance. While other wine buyers around town were strong arming their reps, forcing them to work obnoxiously hard to gain even the smallest foothold of sales, Mike took the high road. The result? Not only did he get the same prices and deals as the ‘bullies’ but actually got even more based on the positive relationships developed, proving that the good mojo always beats the bad.


Best place for a good glass at local airports
WINNER: VINO VOLO, MSP TERMINAL 1 (40.1% of the votes)
Runners up: Surdyk’s Flights MSP Terminal 2 (34.6%) and Lake Wine and Cheese MSP Terminal 1 (18.3%)

Vino Volo came to the MSP airport just a few years ago and brought with them a few key things. First, a business model of success incorporating apps, great staff, great wines, and independence per location. Second, they hired some of the best in the business including Lou Spector, one of the top wine minds in the state. Third, they brought in managers that ingrained themselves into the local wine scene. Free wifi? Yep. Great flights of wine ahead of your own flight? Yep. Comfy spaces to hang out ahead of a trip? Yep. Well done, Vino Volo.


Best locally founded and owned wine importer
WINNER: NEW FRANCE WINE COMPANY (30.5% of the votes)
Runners up: The Wine Company (29.5%) and Domaines and Appellations (12.7%)

We in Minnesota are lucky to be the home of about two dozen wine importers. These are the folks that travel the planet, tasting endlessly (it’s far more work than you realize), sign contracts in foreign languages, and enable the miracle of bringing in wine from the corners of the globe to our little state (and sometimes only to our little state … there are many wines that are only in Minnesota and cannot be had in Chicago, New York, or California!). Importers matter! By the smallest of margins New France Wine Company beat out The Wine Company in the best locally founded wine importer category. This was a horserace of epic proportions, both companies and their employees turning up the heat in the final week via social media and email campaigns. The winner, New France, might not be well known to many but they are leaders locally in procurement of fantastic wines (focusing on the wines of Europe). Local sommelier brand name Bill Summerville works there, as well as superstars Eric Freeberg and Erin Ungerman (amongst others). Founded in 1990 by former San Francisco resident Rob Rudolph (who can still be found at the office every day), New France is to thank for the Minnesota availability of some of the greatest names in the world of wine, all sold with scrappy enthusiasm and integrity.


Best Minnesota winery, outstate
WINNER: FOUR DAUGHTERS VINEYARD of Spring Valley, Minnesota (just south of Rochester) (35.7% of the votes)
Runners up: Cannon River Winery (17.6%) and Chankaska Creek (13.6% of the votes)

Point of confession: I’ve never been here, and I’ve never had their wines! But you better believe that I’m curious as can be and look so forward to visiting the property. So many people have told me so many wonderful things. Can’t wait to learn more about them. Be sure to check out the website.


Best Minnesota winery, seven county metro area
WINNER: SAINT CROIX VINEYARDS, Hwy 36 toward Stillwater (49.6% of the votes)
Runners up: Alexis Bailly Vineyards (24.9%) and Parley Lake Winery (10.2%)

As the Minnesota wine industry goes from infancy and early years into establishment and growth, there are a few wineries that all must tip a hat toward, and one is Saint Croix Vineyards. Paul Quast and Peter Hempstad are leaders in the development of cold climate hybrid varieties and their work with the University of Minnesota have led to the exponential increase in quality of Minnesota wines in the last ten years. It’s a gem of a visit, just off highway 36 and attached to Aamodt’s Apple Farm. 






  1. Thanks for the shout out Jason, but I think this means I’m gonna have to shave before work everyday…


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