Lucia's Wine Bar
The wine bar revolution has been fought and won in the Twin Cities. If you expect more from a wine list than a glass of $14 California chardonnay, there are spots that source wines from all over the globe and present them in ways that allow wine lovers to sample the most for their money. The culinary offerings range from simple and satisfying to elaborate and foodie-driven. The common denominator is well-edited, inventive selections of wines that will broaden your repertoire while winning over your palate.
1624 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-486-5500
It’s not strictly a wine bar, but Lurçat offers such a serious wine program that it might as well be one. The classic Fawkes Building space is thick with plants, floor-to-ceiling windows, and high ceilings. The wine list is huge and divided by region. And you have some cool options: a taste, a glass, or a 10-ounce pour. The taste is a great way to try new things and then drink what you like in one of the other sizes. The servers are friendly and helpful and their recommendations are spot-on.
Best Wine Bets: The Rias Baixas albariño and Chanson chablis were two of my favorites. This list boasts a deep and oft-changing selection of Spanish and French wines.
Best Food Bets: We all know the miniburgers and fries are hard to beat, but if you can tear yourself away, the ahi tuna pizza is fantastic as are the duck pot stickers.
BEAUJO’S WINE BAR AND BISTRO
4950 France Ave. S., Edina, 952-922-8974
Beaujo’s is casual, fun, and slightly hip. I was the only guy in this place, which could bode well for smart men who like wine. It’s small, but not cramped, and the food is as good as the service is friendly. Beaujo’s offers half-glass pours, so you can try several wines. The menu is restaurant-style, meaning short in small plates and items built for sharing. The wine list is basic with a few gems so ask for a recommendation. This is one of the most expensive wine bars in town, but consider the neighborhood.
Best Wine Bets: The list is strong in “big reds” and minerally whites from Spain that pair well with the food.
Best Food Bets: Soups are fresh and delicious.
BEV’S WINE BAR
250 3rd Ave. N., Mpls., 612-337-0102
Bev’s is just off Washington Avenue behind JD Hoyt’s and is one of the few true warehouse spaces left in the Warehouse District. The appeal here is the building and scene. The space is dark and sparsely decorated. On the ever-changing but ordinary wine list there are fifteen reds and whites to choose by the glass and twenty more by the bottle; there are no tasting pours or flights. Glasses are Riedel, and I appreciate the effort to use the good stuff; too many places don’t. Food is an afterthought. The real appeal of Bev’s is the downtown vibe—on a nice night, the big doors swing open and you feel part of the city.
Best Wine Bets: The focus is on wines people have heard of and can order without intimidation, from a simple Chianti to a sauvignon blanc from Chile.
Best Food Bets: More of a “hang out and relax with your friends” destination than a foodie spot, but the olive tapenade with French bread is fine.
850 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-5687
While known for fantastic desserts and a good quick lunch, Cafe Latte has a little wine bar in the back that has a life of its own. With twenty-five wines by the glass, there’s something for everyone. The fairly standard list is approachable, but not as interesting as some. No flights or tastes are available, but you can ask to try a wine before ordering it. The crowd includes families, girls on a night out, and couples too. The sound level mitigates against intimate conversation. Food is fresh and fun: salads, pizza, and sandwiches. It’s a great stop for dinner or just a glass of cabernet and a huge piece of chocolate cake. Service is quick and friendly.
Best Wine Bets: The list is straightforward: all the big varietals at a moderate price. German riesling and New Zealand sauvignon blanc were my favorites.
Best Food Bets: Great pizzas and fresh sandwiches, but dessert is still what Cafe Latte does best.
1806 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul, 651-699-3536, heartlandrestaurant.com
The space is long and narrow, with a true European neighborhood vibe. I love the feel—it’s lit just right, warm and inviting. The wine list is well thought out and has some cool stuff for the adventurous, served in quality crystal (it does make a difference). Food is amazing, described and commended by the staff in everyday terms, but it’s chefy fare, the best wine bar food in town. Service is knowledgeable.
Best Wine Bets: This list includes an excellent selection of Italian and French offerings. The staff knows food pairings—so ask.
Best Food Bets: Lamb short ribs or red pepper–sweet corn bisque. Actually, eat anything Lenny Russo and his staff put in front of you, then go home—very happy.
Wine bars will forever be judged against my first. It was the late '80s and Lucia Watson had expanded her popular eatery and opened a wine bar just two blocks from my rental. It was an oasis from the Uptown bar scene. Vintage mirrors. Flecked gold-leaf ceilings. Bud vases and candles on the tables. I ate up the relaxed, bohemian vibe. Quiet enough that you could have a conversation. Noisy enough that you couldn’t overhear those at the table practically touching yours. And the music—who knows what it was—but it wasn’t the pop sounds of the era. Lucia’s and the now-just-a-memory New French were favorite girlfriend gathering spots. And if a guy one of us was dating suggested it—well, major bonus points. It’s where I grew up. I had never been to Europe. Heck, had never been to New York. I learned about real wine while nibbling artisan cheeses, fresh baguettes, and homemade soups. It’s where a postcollege girl evolved into a young urban woman.
Twenty years later, Beaujo’s in Edina is the meeting spot for us first-tier suburban moms. It’s our Calgon-take-us-away moment. And Bev’s in the North Loop is a sexy hideaway for a nightcap with my husband after we’ve escaped another downtown event.
That Uptown girl still lives in my soul. —Jayne Haugen Olson
LUCIA’S WINE BAR
1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., 612-825-1572
When you walk into Lucia’s, it feels familiar and welcoming, warm and inviting. Tables are close-set, the music is right, the lighting is just enough. Lucia’s offers six whites and six reds in a three- or six-ounce pour, as well as by the bottle. The wine list is simple, well thought out, and changes often. It is rich in unfamiliar labels, the majority from vineyards that practice sustainable farming and use organic methods. The same goes for the menu, which supports local growers, organic produce, and natural meats. I always leave Lucia’s feeling satisfied and really good about what I just consumed.
Best Wine Bets: The food pairings suggested on the menu are on point. Lucia’s features an eclectic list that is ever-changing. Well-chosen European whites, and often a rosé, are real finds.
Best Food Bets: If you get a chance to try curried vegetables, take it. It could be the most perfect fall dish yet.
MARX WINE BAR & GRILL
241 S. Main St., Stillwater, 651-439-8333
This just might be the respite you’re looking for when you need a break from antiquing. The décor is bright and hipper than expected. The bar-top is lit from underneath, and Marx keeps the wine (and cocktails) flowing day and night. The list boasts thirty-six wines by the glass, half of them red, half white, and I love that three are sparkling. (Half-pours would be a great addition.) The food is delicious, fresh, and shows off many influences, ranging from pastas and pizzas to Caribbean–themed fish dishes.
Best Wine Bets: The vast by-the-glass list covers the world, and there’s something for everyone. My pick was the Montecillo Rioja, a rich tempranillo with a lot of bang for the buck.
Best Food Bets: Marx’s caesar salad is one of the best I have had, and the roasted-garlic–rosemary olive oil is a nice touch for bread dipping. Pizzas are delicious as well, made from high-quality ingredients.
RIVERVIEW CAFE AND WINE BAR
3753 42nd Ave. S., Mpls.,612-729-4200
Riverview is neighborhoody, casual, and welcoming, with a warm interior and a fireplace. The wine list is set up for tasting—this is a real wine bar. There are twelve generous $10 flights of four wines each, plus on build-your-own-flight nights on Wednesdays and Sundays any four tastes on the list are $10. Wines come with a tasting sheet that you can take home, so you won’t forget what you tried. Service is fun and casual. It gets busy around 6:30.
Best Wine Bets: The flights are the way to go. Funky whites from Spain, Italy, and France were my favorites. Go on build-your-own-flight nights and mix and match your favorites.
Best Food Bets: Walnut, Gorgonzola, and beet salad and an antipasto platter with olives, cheeses, and cured meats.
SPILL THE WINE
1101 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-339-3388
Spill the Wine welcomes you the minute you step in the door. The staff is very helpful and has a lot of good suggestions. The wine bar is intimate and close. Wine flights are great, with a good pour of three different wines to try and compare. It’s a great way to see how wine changes with food. If you want to go straight to the menu, it is well laid out and user-friendly. The food is American and simple—from the fruit-and-cheese platters and pizzas to share to burgers and steaks. Spill the Wine offers a happy hour on weekdays with $15 bottles of wine. You can also join a wine club and for $25 get eight glasses of wine. The best part? If you find a wine on the list that you love and want to take home, just stop in the adjacent shop on your way out.
Best Wine Bets: Flights are my choice—they change monthly and feature a theme such as “South of the Equator” with an Australian, New Zealand, and Chilean bottling.
Best Food Bets: The calamari is perfect, with good spice; the hummus plate is fresh and flavorful, great with a sauvignon blanc.
TOAST WINE BAR
415 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-333-4305
The smallish, L-shaped wine bar is close, but not cramped. The list has some interesting choices, with a few things you haven’t heard of or tried before. The bar staff is great and helps pair wines with the food. The menu is limited, but there is an extensive crostini selection: Order one of each for $20 or pick your favorites for $1.50 each. The ingredients are fresh and well-chosen.
Best Wine Bets: If you want to try something new, a Sicilian red called majus is a nice complement to the robustly flavored fare.
Best Food Bets: Try the house-made beet-cured salmon, it could be the best you’ve ever tried. Soup is great as well.