We have not been able to attain peace on Earth and goodwill toward men (or women), but that doesn’t keep us from making wish lists with admittedly lesser goals.
So here’s mine on the wine front for 2020, which I hope at least will bring goodwill toward wine.
More, please: After years with less than a handful of local wine bars that actually are wine-centric emporiums rather than coffee shops with intoxicants, we had three (count ’em!) open last year.
The Tasting Room (1434 W. 31st St., Mpls., 612-910-3045, thetastingroommpls.com) is a worthy successor to its predecessor, Lucia’s Wine Bar. A well chosen wine list at all price points complements a warm, intimate vibe.
The Vine Room (756 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-300-3534, thevineroom.co) boasts a bright, sunshiny space, swell afternoon tastings a few times a month and a rotating wine list that goes especially, and splendidly, deep in California offerings.
Bar Brava (1914 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-208-1270, barbravamn.com) ponies up “natural” wines and other libations, plus great food, in the Near North neighborhood. It’s hard to define natural wines (basically little or no intervention or added ingredients), but they tend to come from the kind of small operations that locavores favor. Perhaps, as manager/wine buyer Jill Mott says, “Natural wine is where the farm-to-table movement was a few years ago.”
Natural or not, adding a few more swell wine bars this year would be more than welcome.
On the horizon: The University of Minnesota has developed and released some fine hybrid grapes, combining Old World expressiveness with tundra hardiness. I’ve tasted many stellar Marquette and La Crescent wines, as growers and winemakers learn how to tend to the vines and get the best results in the cellar.
But now we have a game-changer of a grape, about to come to literal and figurative fruition. Itasca, released in 2016 but not widely planted until 2017, is reaching the stage where wines soon will be in the pipeline (it takes three to five years for vines to produce really good grapes). I’ve tasted several renditions made from older U vines, and they were often worthy competitors to the albariños and sauvignon blancs of the world.
But people likely will only know that if:
Mother Nature cooperates: Perhaps there are more inhospitable places to grow wine grapes in the world, but it requires a hardy soul to take this on hereabouts. If it’s not polar vortexes (two in the past six years), it’s late spring frost smiting the buds. If it’s not mildew mania in June, it’s a foot and a half of rain during the buildup to harvest.
The conditions make it even more remarkable that the state’s vintners have made such improvements over the years. They completely deserve something that resembles a “normal” season. Or a handful of them.
Just go (or buy): Another wine region suffering of late from climate change is fire-ravaged Sonoma County. After the 2017 blazes, tourism dropped off mightily and, frankly, for no good reason.
Yes, it was wrenching to see the damage, the charred, flat land where homes, hotels and my favorite Sonoma restaurant, Willi’s Wine Bar, once stood. But most of the glorious landscape was unscathed, and the tasting rooms were open. Since wineries depend to a significant degree on tourism, the suffering extended way beyond the infernos.
There was no reason for those of us who love Sonoma to stop going, and there was even more reason for us to continue buying the wines. That holds just as true now, in the wake of the 2019 fires.
And now is a good time to revisit, or ramp up our purchases of, Australian wine. The unfathomable widespread fires Down Under (which have covered an area larger than Portugal) have wreaked havoc on the economy, but there’s another reason to explore Aussie juice: It’s better than ever. Since the Adelaide Hills region was the hardest hit, a good start would be to check out tasty offerings from d’Arenberg, Groom and Shaw & Smith.
No more tariff talk: I have my own theories on what’s behind these misbegotten attacks on wine via tariffs, but they belong on the editorial page, not here. In any event, no one has been able to explain why wine tariffs are even remotely a suitable or fair counterpunch to European airplane subsidies or digital taxes.
The semi-limited 25% tariff last October was bad enough, even if it barely has been felt here as yet. But the sweeping 100% levy currently under consideration would have had huge effects on consumers, smaller importers, retail outlets and restaurants, and not coincidentally would have cost thousands of Americans their jobs.
Imagine if other foods were slammed with this kind of price hike. Ramen noodle time!
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.com