It's hard to imagine Russell Fay raising his voice much past library-acceptable levels. He's a laid-back and accommodating figure -- the antithesis of a nose-in-the-air sommelier -- and this demeanor is reflected in his refreshingly unpretentious, personal and intimate Nokomis-area wine store. The Cork Dork Wine Co. (4726 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., 612-721-9463) is a 400-square-foot room sandwiched between an alteration shop and Carbone's Pizzeria. Outside the signage is sparse, inside the decorations are minimal. His counter is plain and his wines are still in their boxes. The flooring is cork (appropriately), which Fay happily admits has prevented the demise of a few bottles.
It's a bare-bones aesthetic that mirrors his wine selection: straightforward and honest, nothing fancy, no gimmicks. The store offers 70 to 80 "Cork Dork-Approved" bottles touching nearly every major grape and style. Fay believes that it's his job to weed through the seemingly endless choices to bring his customers wines that really deliver. "I taste everything that comes in here," he says. "I guess I'm a savvy shopper. I look for the right tasting wine, but it also has to be priced right."
Open for just over a year, the store is almost entirely stocked with wines between $10 and $18, with just a few bottles reaching into the $30-$40 range. Fay is a veteran of the Minneapolis restaurant circuit with a knack for customer service. The level of personal touch each bottle receives is evident in the small pieces of poster board located behind each case. They are smattered with thorough information on each wine, often hand-written, including everything from Wine Advocate ratings and tasting notes to local news media and blog writeups. The prices are rounded to the nearest dollar and displayed prominently, a nice aid to those strictly shopping on price. No customer is likely to leave confused.
Fay began meeting food- and beverage-industry members while working as a doorman and valet at Minneapolis hotels. Working as a waiter in his friends' restaurants, his wine-buying days began during stints at Pane Vino Dolce, Cave Vin, the Craftsman, Mission and Heartland. It was as a waiter that Fay cultivated his ability to guide people to the right bottle. "I just enjoyed it, you know, the pleasure I'd get from people liking a wine that I chose for them from a really vague description of what they like. If someone was trying to impress friends and they had me pick out a wine, I enjoyed it when it was a success."
Fay personally enjoys Bordeaux and is getting more into Italian wine, but is most fond of wines from southeastern France's Rhône Valley. The region produces dark-fruit flavored grenache- and syrah-based red blends and whites ranging from smooth and simple to heavy, nutty and floral.
Fay mentioned the effect of the film "Sideways" on merlot and pinot noir sales, commenting that he felt bad for producers who were making good merlot, since there was obviously so much bad merlot out there. That's the problem he says his store aims to solve.
Would-be urban chicken farmers have an opportunity this weekend to tour local coops and chat with folks who have already taken the city-bird plunge. Details on the Parade of Coops tour can be found at sites.google.com/site/twincitiescoop tour.
The Heavy Table team writes about food and drink in the Upper Midwest five days a week at www.heavytable.com.