So, do you want the good news first, or the bad news or the weird news on the local wine front?
Most of us facing this query opt for the downbeat disclosure, so here goes:
My favorite Twin Cities wine bar has closed.
Last week, North Loop haven Toast Wine Bar poured its final glass of fermented grape juice. With an ever-evolving but always fascinating and accessible wine list, plus some super flatbreads, cheeses and the like, this was the optimum spot for relaxing, talking and savoring the good things in life. That would be wine, food and people, not necessarily in that order.
If owner Scott Davis were looking to launch another vinous-oriented restaurant, here’s hoping he has more cooking freedom than in the Toast space, with venting and other options limited by the building’s historic-preservation status.
In the meantime, wine lovers have another seriously swell option in the neighborhood: the bar area at recently opened Red Rabbit (201 Washington Av. N., Mpls, 612-767-8855, redrabbitmn.com), where Jason Kallsen pulled together a stupendous wine list, with plenty of opportunities for exploring all manner of wines on the cheap. A block or two away, Bev’s Wine Bar (250 3rd Av. N., Mpls., 612-337-0102, bevswinebar.com) offers up a romantic setting with a less ambitious beverage program.
On an even more positive note — hey, I’m a “glass half-full” kind of guy — the indefatigable Davis of Toast and Paul Werni will continue to craft some of the region’s best spirits at 45th Parallel in New Richmond, Wis.
A pitcher of sangria
As for the good news, sangria in many forms is becoming a favorite in Twin Cities restaurants. Some, including Hector Ruiz’s splendid coterie of eateries — Costa Blanca (2416 Central Av. NE., 612-789-9296, costablancabistro.com), La Fresca (4750 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-825-4142, lafrescampls.com), Rincon 38 (3801 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-4052, rincon38.com) and Cafe Ena (4601 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-4441, cafeenampls.com) — serve up a more traditional concoction (usually red wine, brandy, sliced fruit and fizzy soda or water). But they’re better than ever thanks in part to improvements in inexpensive Spanish wines.
Others, including Eat Street Social (18 W. 26th St., Mpls., 612-767-6850, eatstreetsocial.com) and Hola Arepa (3501 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-345-5583, holaarepa.com) are taking advantage of not only better wine but also the craft cocktail movement and the public’s embrace of fruit-forward beverages to brew distinctive sangrias.
Hola Arepa’s Birk Stefan Grudem makes 20 quarts at a time. “We usually try to think what you would serve at a large party or gathering at your home, then re-create it at the restaurant.” He also makes it seasonal: He just switched over from red sangria to white (see recipe below).
And he tries different spirits (rum, vermouth, Curacao), bitters to add some spice and late additions such as crushed passion fruit. Hola Arepa also serves a wine cocktail that is consumed straight from a Spanish porron pitcher.
Wine by the keg, and more
These wine cocktails are not the only newish summer trends in the local wine world (and I’m not counting rosé, since it took off here a couple of years ago and has shown no signs of abating). More consumers are embracing conveyances usually associated with beer: cans and kegs.
Few and far between are the Twin Cities wine stores that don’t have some cans on prominent display. Some are table wine, some bubbly or spritzer-type offerings. I’m a big fan of the Underwood and Fiction products, and I’m anxious to try others. Worth noting: The interior is coated so that there is no metallic taste.
Meanwhile, kegs continue to gain a taphold in this market. Wineries have solved a lot of the shipping/recycling challenges of years past, and Minnesota consumers have glommed onto the fresh flavors provided by wine served like this. They’re especially popular at places in Minneapolis parks near the water, such as Sea Salt Eatery and Sandcastle.
All in the name
One of the state’s better wineries, Cannon River, is under new ownership, and it shows in the labeling. John and Maureen Maloney built up the Cannon Falls winery and sold it last fall. Along the way, the Maloneys had found success with three wines that bore the names and sepia-toned photos of their grandmothers.
So much for that.
Now the winery has a decidedly different troika of bottles with new owner Ron Stowell, under the name Feisty Bitch, with splashy labels that substitute a grapevine for the “i” in the second word. It will be interesting to see how that plays in our often staid state.
Regardless, an eternal truth of the wine business is this: Consumers might grab a bottle with a cool label or risqué name, but it’s what’s inside that will determine whether they buy a second bottle.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com.
Hola Arepa Pineapple Sangria
Note: To make simple syrup, combine 2 cups sugar with 2 cups water and heat until sugar dissolves. Cool before using. From Hola Arepa, of Minneapolis.
• 4 bottles (750 milliliters each) white Vinho Verde
• 1 bottle (750 milliliters) Plantation Pineapple rum
• 2 c. simple syrup (see Note)
• 1 pineapple sliced and quartered
• 3 limes sliced
Combine all ingredients in pitchers or a serving bowl and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Serve in a wine glass with ice, using pineapple and lime slices as garnish.