The Twin Cities Wine Awards Winners 2019

Over 10,000 votes were cast in the 2019 Twin Cities Wine Awards, and the winners were announced on August 19th, 2019, at Black Dog Cafe in Lowertown St. Paul.

Our son, Spencer, at the Black Dog Cafe following the Twin Cities Wine Awards ceremony. In the background the fabulous jazz trio Red Planet took the stage.

Congrats to all the winners in the Twin Cities Wine Awards 2019!

Best Minnesota Winery: Carlos Creek Winery, Alexandria MN
Located not only in the beautiful lakes regions of Alexandria but also within one of the smallest AVA’s in the country (the Alexandria Lakes District American Viticultural Area), Carlos Creek is one of my favorite wineries to visit and one of the most progressive when it comes to making dynamic and dry wines. Their Petite Ami, Crimson Pearl Rosé, and Petite Pearl have all been featured in the TCWE classes. A well-deserved win!

Best Wine List, outstate Minnesota: New Scenic Cafe, North Shore
The jewel of the North Shore dining scene, and arguably one of the top five (or three?) restaurants in the state. Owner Scott Graden curates a pitch-perfect wine list with incredible prices, making this a regular destination for wine lovers in Minnesota. On Wednesday night the miracle occurs: half-price bottles and glasses, from an already low price, resulting in the cheapest prices you’ll find in the state (restaurant or retail) on those wines. Arrange for a driver!

Best Wine List: Gianni’s Steakhouse, Wayzata
Tucked on the main drag of Wayzata, Gianni’s Steakhouse quietly pumps out some of the top food in the region and gives wine lovers joyful glee when paging through the extensive wine list. Led by legendary chef Steven Vranian and owner Terri Huml, their selections not only feature best-of-the-best wines (DRC, Chateau Musar, Penfolds Grange, Shafer Hillside), but dozens of under the radar gems, especially when it comes to Pinot Noir and Cabernet. Combine that with serving arguably the best steak in the state and you have a wine destination the Twin Cities can be proud of. Kudos to Steven and Terri!

Best Wine Bar: Terzo, Minneapolis
The Broder family should have bronze statues made in their honor. To have one family that transformed and redefined a neighborhood simply through food and hospitality is the success story every city wants to have. The corner of 50th and Penn Avenue South has been, for decades, a destination for the pasta lover via Broder’s Pasta Bar. Terzo gives the opportunity of a tradtional antipasti, primi, and secondi format with a wider range of offerings (and yes, pasta is available). Cuddle up to the sleek wine bar at Terzo and you’ll get access to one of the top Italian wine lists around, and if Charlie is in the house, one of the top Italian wine minds. The by the glass list is a work of art.

Best By the Glass Program: The Bachelor Farmer
Best Wine Service: The Bachelor Farmer
Best Sommelier: Amy Waller, The Bachelor Farmer
When Eric Dayton opened his restaurant in the Warehouse District (hey youngsters … that’s what we used to call the North Loop) he transformed our dining scene by raising the bar when it came to vision and precision of concept. The wine program, developed for years by somm superstar Erin Rolek (who has sadly departed our state for a great adventure in Los Angeles) is now in the equally capable hands of Amy Waller, winner of Somm Slam 2018 and winner of this year’s Best Sommelier award.

So what are they doing right? When it comes to by the glass service, details matter. At The Bachelor Farmer, you’ll never get lip prints on your new glass of wine. You’ll never have a server that doesn’t know how to open a bottle (surprisingly, this is a common thing at many restaurants, including high end). You’ll always find curiosity and confidence coming from a professional. You’ll find a range of offerings that are outstanding on their own but positively explosive with the food. And most of all you’ll see the pride in what they do. Amy Waller and her team elevate wine service to another level, a level they dare the competition to come near. Kudos to them for the trifecta win this year, and it’s well deserved.

Best locally owned single location wine shop, suburbs: Excelsior Vintage
There is something so fabulous about Excelsior Vintage. They eschew the idea of pomp and snobbery. No fussing with a fancy website. A weekly post on Facebook mentioning some bottles being opened will do, thank you. What Greg Varner does (in the same way as Dave at Brightwines and Russ at Cork Dork) is to let you discover them. You have to seek out Excelsior Vintage, but once you’re in their orbit it’s hard to resist the gravity. Tons of great selections at good prices, with a personal touch that the big box stores can’t compete with. This is the kind of wine shop every bucolic small town on a beautiful lake needs.

Best locally owned single location wine shop, Minneapolis: North Loop Wine and Spirits
This category is the most competitive, simply based on the huge number of top-grade wine shops in Minneapolis. They all have their attributes, they all have something they do better than others, but over the last couple of years, nobody has weaved it together quite like the team at North Loop. Yes, location certainly does help (especially with free parking in the hottest neighborhood in the cities), but in the end, it’s the team plus the inventory that matters most.

At North Loop, there are industry vets and certified sommeliers always working the floor, with a directive from owner Lisa Impagliazzo to be honest with their opinions on the wines. Nobody tastes more wine in the supply chain than this staff. Every sales rep, every wine, with nearly every employee, makes for a second-to-none educated staff that can show you anything from a KJ Chard substitute to Grand Cru Burgundy. The shop dogs are hilarious, and it’s always a good time at their Friday night and Saturday afternoon wine tastings. Congrats to my friends at North Loop Wine and Spirits!

Best locally owned single location wine shop, St. Paul: Solo Vino
Think back to October of 2001. We were still reeling from the horrors of the month before. We were hooked on our Forest Glen Merlot and buttery Chardonnay. Rosé was pink, and pink meant sweet, and sweet meant bad. The economy was shaken by the dot com bust. And at the same time, quietly, a new wine shop opened on Selby Avenue in the Cathedral Hill district called Solo Vino. Owner Chuck Kanski weathered many storms over the coming years, including the Great Recession and opening of the-mega-store-that-shall-not-be-named, and yet he persevered with a clear mission: finding the best under the radar wine gems for the public.

In many ways, Solo Vino became the blueprint for the future. Rosé isn’t a thing? Let’s make it a thing! You’ve never had a dry white from Portugal? Well, here’s ten to choose from! Got a Burgundy taste on a Budweiser budget? Welcome to our bargain southern France section!

Solo Vino broke the mold, reshaped it, and brought a wine-first mentality to a thirsty public. The energy of Chuck Kanski is second to none, but his values became clear in a StarTribune article when he held up a photo of his daughter and said he’s not opening his shop on Sundays. Gotta have priorities.

Best locally owned multi-location wine shop: Haskell’s
When the-mega-store-that-shall-not-be-named arrived in the Twin Cities, the crosshairs of their scope was focused on Haskell’s. As the most established chain of wine shops in the region, they were the obvious target. A few rough years were ahead for them, but they have popped out not only intact but stronger. Focusing on their strengths (their staff, their neighborhoods, the local connection) Haskell’s has continued to provide some of the best wines to the most discriminating wine palettes in town. They still travel often to France to seek out their gems, and an hour spent at any of their stores will reveal all sorts of wines from these missions, tucked into corners and lost behind cases. If Indiana Jones was a Somm, this would be his playground.

Most trusted retail wine consultant: Doug Hultgren, North Loop Wine and Spirits
To me, this is the most important award of the year. Customer service, trust, humor, a great attitude, and deep wine knowledge are not often found wrapped together in one person. Doug Hultgren (aka “Tall Doug”) at North Loop brings together all the best attributes of service and knowledge, but also with a confidence that can only come from working in an environment where he’s allowed to have his own opinion. Maybe that’s why I consider this the most important award, for it’s not just the person but it’s the person PLUS the store that makes it possible.

I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again: who you buy your wine from matters. It matters because those that have earned our trust, and sell with integrity, and keep the profits in the community, deserve our dollars. The future of our local wine scene is in your hands with the simple decision of where to shop.

Thank you to all who participated and voted in the 2019 Twin Cities Wine Awards. Onward to the big 2020 awards, coming next summer!

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