Liquid assets: Ups, downs and 'bottoms up'

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2012 - 3:20 PM

A look at the year in wine.

The wine of the week: McKinley Springs Horse Heaven Hills Chenin Blanc 2009.

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A lot happened on the Twins Cities wine scene this year. And a lot didn't happen.

First, the actual occurrences:

New stores galore: Several swell outlets made their debuts, primarily in Minneapolis. Separated by just over a mile on Hennepin Avenue, gorgeous, marvelously stocked emporiums operated by upscale grocers Lunds and Kowalski opened their doors. Less tony neighborhoods also got stout additions: Stinson Wine, Beer and Spirits near "the Gulch" in Northeast and Elevated on Hiawatha Avenue. And no significant store closed.

So what's up with that? There's no indication that people are drinking more, just better. Several merchants have echoed what Byerly's/Lunds wine manager Bill Belkin told me last summer: "What we're seeing all the time is that people are tired of being poor and tired of acting like they are poor when it comes to wine."

New wines galore: Minnesota's unparalleled number of wine wholesalers continues to grow. One new one, Oeno, made a splash this year with wines from the northern tier of states, including some dandy stuff from Michigan. Meanwhile, industry veterans Annette Peters at Bourget, Joe Kotnik and Marc Mackondy at WorldWide Cellars and Dana Bonelli at World Class Wines are scouring the globe to scarf up new brands to import, and their standards are uniformly high.

All of which means there are (way) more tasty wines on local store shelves than ever before, and intrepid consumers can sample all manner of delicious juice from surprising locales.

A new law: Thanks in large part to the efforts of the indefatigable Jennifer Chou, the Legislature passed a bill making it much easier for licensed educators conducting classes, seminars and business events to buy and pour wines. New legislation also allowed stores to conduct their own classes/tastings for a fee, and savvy merchants such as Sorella have been holding some dandy pourings of higher-end wines for as little as $10.

A good year for locavores: New Minnesota wineries continued to open, and the product continued to improve. As growers and vintners learn more about what works (and what doesn't) and vines bearing U of M grapes such as Marquette and La Crescent mature, the future is brighter than ever.

And then there's what didn't go down:

Little action on the wine-bar front: The Twin Cities still has surprisingly few good wine bars. Best I can tell, the only one of note to open in 2012 was carved out of a store, Sunfish Cellars in Lilydale. I don't know whether a slew of new wine bars would prosper, but I'm genuinely surprised that the success of Swirl in Afton hasn't spawned more suburban openings.

Little action at the Capitol: After a major push in 2011 for Sunday sales, there was little buzz about spirits-related bills this year. Sunday sales will pop up again, with a push from some wholesalers, but the wine-in-grocery-stores movement seems to have stalled (and what we now have, with stores in adjacent spaces, is fine by me).

Liquid assets for one and all: The ever-ascending local craft-beer movement did not put a dent in wine sales or interest. Minnesota's own Ryan Opaz, now a Spain-based, world-renowned blogger, has an interesting take: The intense ardor for not only beer and wine but also distinctive coffees, teas and craft cocktails are parallel tracks with the same destination. "Flavor," Opaz said. "That's what people are seeking out with all these liquids, flavor."

Now that's my kind of trend.

Bill Ward • bill.ward@startribune.com

  • WINE OF THE WEEK

    MCKINLEY SPRINGS HORSE HEAVEN HILLS CHENIN BLANC 2009

    The experience: Chenin blanc, a staple in France's Loire region, has a checkered history on these shores, but that is changing thanks to efforts such as this one. With a gorgeous nose (equal parts fruit and floral) and vibrant green-apple and citrus flavors, this seriously refreshing Washington white boasts a nice roundness thanks to spot-on minerality.

    The setting: This wine's affinity for white meat, light or creamy sauces and especially seafood, from oysters to tuna, makes it a versatile dinner-table offering.

    The back story: McKinley Springs' wines debuted in the Twin Cities this year via a new distributor, Oeno, owned and operated by a brother-sister team, Anthony Abdallah and Amy Mason.

    The tab: $14, available at Eden Prairie (Center Drive), Skyway, Solo Vino, Sorella, South Lyndale, the Wine Market, Victory 44 and Lola's Lighthouse (Waconia).

    BILL WARD
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