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Words About Wine
A feature of Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page

Grand Vin de St. Paul

By Leigh Pomeroy

© Copyright 1996 by Leigh Pomeroy. All rights reserved.

Garrison Keillor tells a wonderful story about how Minneapolis came to be the dominant twin of the Twin Cities. It has something to do with a husband, a wife, a periodontist lover, and a tryst at The World Theater. It also has something to do with a pair of pliers, inadequate fire exits, and how long government takes to make decisions. ("The thing about democracy," intones Keillor, "is that it's made for people with lots of time on their hands." A particularly relevant thought at this time of year.)

Anyway, it was the combination of these factors that allowed Minneapolis to vault ahead of St. Paul, claims Keillor. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A Vine Grows in St. Paul

In most matters of the vine, Minneapolis is the place to go to find that obscure bottle or be seen at the latest "in" wine bistro. Yet few Twin Citians know that St. Paul offers a small but well-chosen list of wine lovers' destination spots.

Perhaps the best known of these is W.A. Frost & Company on Cathedral Hill. Housed in the historic Dakotah Building, W.A. Frost is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Its outdoor patio -- the Twin Cities' first -- is reminiscent of the European outdoor eateries so beloved by worldly travelers. Inside the restaurant is filled with oriental rugs, antique furnishings, and turn-of-the-century American oil paintings.

The extensive wine list features over 400 selections, 30 by the glass. General Manager Robert Crew modestly claims the best Bordeaux list in the Twin Cities, but he also seeks out the new and unique no matter where it comes from in the world. California examples include Alban Edna Valley Viognier, Peter McCoy "Clos de Pierres" Knights Valley Chardonnay, Lane Tanner Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, and Turley Zinfandels and Syrahs when he can get them.

He also has no fear in pushing lesser known European wines, such as the marvelous Riesling and Gewurztraminer from the Alsatian house of Lucien Albrecht, and two lively Swiss whites from Pierrafeu, a Fendant du Valais and a Morges Blanc.

Despite this impressive array of bottles, Crew explains that the cornerstone of his wine philosophy is to provide an outstanding selection of taste treats by the glass. Aside from a generous selection of Chardonnays, the list includes, among California reds, Les Vieux Cépages Syrah from McDowell Valley Vineyards, and Cotes d'Oakley, Cline Cellars' proprietary Rhone-style blend. Even more interesting is a 1992 Douro from Duas Quintas, a rich, warm red from Portugal's Douro region, most famous for producing Oporto (port wine).

While We're in the Area ...

Just west on Selby one block from W.A. Frost is the country French bistro Tulips. Of the two, Tulips is the relative newcomer, but it has already claimed a heady spot in the Twin Cities food and wine scene. The reason? The famous garlic festival it throws to celebrate Bastille Day every year. The rest of the year 'round it offers fresh soups, a great garlicky Caesar salad, and entrées such as walleye in an herbed walnut crust with aioli, sea scallops with Béarnaise sauce, and sautéed boneless breast of duck with a Marsala-orange glaze.

To complement the cuisine, sommelier Martine Graupner has designed a modest but well chosen wine list reflecting the restaurant's French-American heritage. "I'm in love with wine," says Graupner in her charming French accent. "There's something mystique about it."

A traditionalist in some ways, she particularly favors the Burgundies of Louis Latour and the Rhones of Chapoutier. But like Crew at W.A. Frost, she is not afraid to choose the out-of-the-ordinary, such as the aforementioned Albrecht Gewurztraminer ("A perfect harvest wine," she says), the Claret from Francis Ford Coppola's Niebaum-Coppola Estate, and a Muscat Beaumes de Venise from Domaine Beaumalric, a sumptuous dessert wine from southern France.

Though not always at the restaurant -- she runs her own French antique shop, Ma Maison, located about ten blocks west on Selby -- you can find her there often on Saturday nights when customers are known to bring in brown paper- bagged bottles to play "Stump the Sommelier". How accurate is her palate? She never misses, I'm told by a Tulips aficionado.

The Great Grand Way

Selby Avenue hardly has a lock on St. Paul wine. Downtown there's The Saint Paul Grill, while Grand Avenue features the Table of Contents, The Lexington, and, if you're in the mood for pizza, Sidney's. Grand Avenue also features three super little wine shops, Four Seasons Liquor and Grand Avenue Liquor toward the east end, and Thomas Liquor down by St. Thomas College (and not far from Ristorante Luci, for those who love Italian food and wine).

At Thomas Liquor, father and son owners Jim and Mike Thomas also rely on Graupner's charming expertise. Their focus is on California, Washington, and Oregon wines, particularly those that are not well known but offer good value. Prime examples are the 1994 Duck Pond Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the 1994 Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel, the 1993 Monthaven Napa Valley Cabernet Franc, the 1993 Glass Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 1994 Chateau Julien Monterey Merlot, all under $10.

Although Mike Thomas claims "you don't have to go to France" for good bottles at reasonable prices these days—he also pushes Australian wines and Spanish Riojas—one of his most popular values is the engaging French 1995 Domaine de Puoy (pronounced "pwee"), a lightly off-dry white made from Ugni Blanc, the same grape that provides the base for Cognac.

So with that let's toast St. Paul, Garrison Keillor, and periodontist lovers everywhere. Pass the Puoy, please!

Mankato writer Leigh Pomeroy can be reached via the Internet at leighp@ic.mankato.mn.us. His article, reproduced above with permission, appeared in the October/November 1996 issue of Midwest Home & Design, a publication of Minnesota Monthly and
Minnesota Public Radio.

A Word About 'Words About Wine'

If your love of wine inspires you to want to write an article or essay about the subject, or if you've had a wine-related article published in print that you'd like to share with wine lovers on the Web, I'll be happy to consider placing it on the Web in this new feature of my Wine Lovers' Page.

Although I can't offer to pay for submissions at this time, I'd like to see this feature become a showcase for serious wine journalism and essays in a format longer, more thoughtful, and less transient than message board discussions.

I'll be happy to consider both previously published work (as long as you retain copyright rights) and unpublished work, and while I reserve the right to reject submissions on the basis of content or style, I'll make every effort to be generous in those judgements and err on the side of inclusiveness, in order -- I hope -- to build a good collection of quality Words About Wine. If you'd like to propose an article now or show me one that you've already written, please feel free to send me E-Mail.


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