I’m very particular about my wine bars. The best ones have to have wines I’ve never seen before; wines so good they’re worth driving across town for, and snacks to make your toes curl in delight. Here are my favorites. Or, at least they’re my favorites for right now . . . We’ll see how Russell Klein’s forthcoming Brasserie Zentral in downtown Minneapolis disrupts my schema when it opens with what they’re claiming will be the most ambitious wine-by-the-glass program in Minnesota. We’ll gladly be the judge of that!
Until then, it’s still a very wonderful wine-by-the-glass world:
Best wine bar in downtown Minneapolis? That’s easy, it’s the North Loop’s brainy, esoteric, but bend-over-backwards nice Toast. Want a glass of bubbly from Basque Spain, an inky red from Macedonia, Sardinian rosé? They got it! I love their antipasti plates too, it’s a very sophisticated, smart, fancy, and extremely laid-back place.
415 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-333-4305, toastwinebarandcafe.com
It sort of bothers me that winter won’t leave and thus I can’t get onto Frost’s elm-cathedral of a patio, but it is a good time to remember that Frost also has a grand Victorian bar with a world-class wine list with a gorgeous by-the-glass program. I’m particularly fond right now of the wine flights, for the cost of one glass of good wine you get to try three similar ones, say three Oregon Pinot Noirs or three oaked Chardonnays. It’s amusing, instructive, and a really fun way to get started on the best cheese program in Minnesota, which Frost also has.
374 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, wafrost.com
Up on the hill and off the main drag in Stillwater, there’s a whole world of wine in this friendly, unpretentious little spot. The glass options change all the time and the staff knows them in and out. You can find an energetic Riesling, a violet-scented Cab Franc, and so much more. And it’s all paired with pretty and well done wine-focused plates such as a beautiful beef carpaccio, which is so nice next to a rich Cabernet Sauvignon.
102 S. 2nd St., Stillwater, 651-439-1352, domacinwinebar.com
The oyster bar at Meritage is one of the most delightful places to drink in St. Paul, not least because of sommelier Nico Giraud’s wine list. It’s a beautiful list, with elite and interesting French offerings (premiere cru Meursault by the glass!) as you might expect from a French spot with a French sommelier. But Meritage also has elite and interesting offerings from California, such as a Minor Cabernet, and Austria, like a Höpler Gruner Veltliner. Put a glass next to the $5 happy hour roast marrow bone with toast . . . It’s beautiful. Most important, Meritage just has one of those lists that’s so full of intriguing and delicious options that, as a wine-head, you want to drop everything and go there.
410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stpaul.com
The new all-Italian wine bar from local Italian legends the Broder family boasts a 1,000 bottle list from all over the Italian boot; from the rustic south to the prestigious north, and all points in between. The glass list, some 50 options every night, spans substantial territory too, from cheap and easy carafes to highly prestigious offerings like 20-year-old Montepulcianos. And the food is perfect: Gorgeous house-made mortadella, the world’s fanciest prosciuttos, textbook vitello tonnato, and gorgeous little Italian desserts.
2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-0330, broders.com/terzo-vino-bar
Terzo Vino Bar photo by Katherine Harris