Red Wine of the Week | Red Wine Reviews

Reds and Rosés you can grab in the Twin Cities for under $15. Expect a new wine to be revealed each Thursday(ish).

The Savvy Lush’s favorite wine shops in the Twin Cities.

I’m often asked, “Hey S.L., where should I buy wine in the Twin Cities?” I usually answer this question with a question.

“Where do you live?” because let’s be honest, you’re going to shop where it’s convenient. There are several stores all around the metro. I hope you have your go-to haunt with friendly staff who know you and your palate so well you rarely walk out with a stinker.

If not, or you’re wanting to switch things up, I recommend my favorite wine shops in the Twin Cities.  (The only one that didn’t make the cut was Costco – this is hit or miss. Don’t ask for help because it won’t be helpful; you have to do your own research but that research can yield you some great deals!)

Morelli’s – East Saint Paul

  • Morelli’s isn’t going to blow your mind. It’s not full of sexy gimmicks, or newfangled splendor. It’s a no frills, get in and get out kinda haunt. But, they’ve been doing it for decades and that’s gotta count for something. From what I could tell, it does. Likely [and appropriately] grandfathered in as both a deli and a liquor store, this cash ONLY place is delightfully old school down to the cute old man who delivers your libations to the car. Grab some Chianti in a fiasco (straw basket) and hit the freezer aisle for a made-in-house frozen pizza.

Solo Vino – Cathedral Hill, Saint Paul

  • Chuck and company will entertain you as much as they’ll direct you toward a wine you’ll love. Their rustic yet tidy shop is open and spacious allowing for a sizable tasting bar and room for your pooch to crotch sniff. Plus, they may have the largest Rose selection in the city. Chuck is a huge proponent of the “drink pink” movement. Want to know more? Their Rose Fest is on May 16.

Thomas Liquors – Grand Avenue, Saint Paul

  • An unpretentious store on Grand Avenue [no, really], Thomas Liquors isn’t a boastful booze mart- but it has every right to be. Peruse the narrow aisles and you’ll find an impressive selection of wines. I love it because of their knowledgeable staff. If you stop by, ask Peter for a recommendation, then thank me later.

Little Wine Shoppe – Como Saint Paul

  • This cozy little place isn’t joking when they call themselves “little”. Wee is more like it. This place reminds me of little bottle shops in Italy. They have a modest selection, but make no mistake: this place is about the people. Everyone is greeted with a hometown smile and impeccable service. Pam is a sweetheart. You’ll want to open your bottle right then and there.

Zipp’s Liquors – Seward, Minneapolis

  • Zipp’s has changed since my days of buying ½ barrels of Michelob Amber Bock. It’s just undergone another facelift and the store has never been better. Now under the direction of Somm. Erica, the selection is vast and never stale. She gets exciting new things in all the time. Belly up to the new tasting bar, and sip on samples.

South Lyndale Liquors – Southwest Minneapolis

  • This is a place I don’t get to often but when I do, I ask myself, “why don’t I come here more often?” Mitch is a personable and down-to-earth dude. It ain’t fancy but hot-damn do they get some bitchin’ wines! Ask Mitch for a Beaujolais reco or something he found on his recent trip to Italy, and he’ll gladly oblige.

Hennepin Lake Liquors – Uptown Minneapolis

  • Cute and charmingly cramped, this should be your go-to booze destination in Uptown. They feature a surprisingly diverse selection of vino, beer and now they even take credit cards! Way to be so “21st Century” guys.

Sentyrz Market – Northeast Mpls

  • This is the Northeast equivalent to Morelli’s. Booze and food married together, but done Eastern European style. Sure, you get some yokels buying up Fireball 100 and Colt 45, but Peter has a quietly impressive wine collection. I steer clear of the produce, but go in back to the meat market for a hunk of pig, then grab some Pinot to wash it down.

Byerly’s Ridgedale – Minnetonka

  • There are very few things that get me to leave the city. Byerly’s Ridgedale is one of them. This shop comes with Rodney Brown: a friendly, bellowing man who prides himself in caring for his customers just as much as he cares about wine. Remember, wine is personal. Do you let any Tom, Dick or Harry cut your hair or give you a physical? No, hell no. This is the shop to get privy about new or rare wines, deals on limited stock and any time Rodney says a wine is “stupid good”, I buy it. I’m such a push over.


A Tale of Two Chianti Classicos: Borgo Scopeto & Badia a Coltibuono

Cost: Average price $17 (on sale $12.99)

Where buy now: Sorella Wines, Surdyk’s

Grapes: Sangiovese

Region: Tuscany, Italy

Vintage: 2010 & 2011

Borgo Scopeto & Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico
Borgo Scopeto & Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico

I love me some Chianti. I don’t care what it’s like outside, inside, in my head or in my bed. I.Love.It. Today, I’ll tell you a tale of two Chiantis (both “Classicos”). Just when you think you’re getting the hang of this Italian wine thing, little nuances pop up.  What’s the difference between plain old Chianti and Chianti Classico?

Brass tacks

Italy: a country in Europe.
Tuscany: a region in Italy.
Chianti: a region in Tuscany.
Chianti Classico: a subregion of Chianti

Deep Cuts

Italy: a country full of beautiful people, places and things [food].
Tuscany: romantic sunsets with the redolence of Cyprus , often associated with rolling hills, wine and olive production.
Chianti: wine that is made with a minimum of 75% Sangiovese grapes. (Note that blending white grapes with Sangiovese grapes is permissible.)
Chianti Classico: wine that is, at minimum, 80% Sangiovese grapes blended only with other red grapes. In addition, Chianti Classico rests in oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months. You will also see a black rooster seal on bottles of Chianti Classico. This is known as Consorzio Chianti Classico, a group of winemakers whom want to uphold the quality of their wines and their region.

Let me introduce you two a couple Chianti Classicos I love and are under $15 (on sale, at least).

Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico (2010) – Blend: 90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, 5% Colorino.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico (2011) – Sangiovese.

Both of these wines exhibit that typical red ruby hue. Gun to my head, I’d say Badia a Coltibuono was a touch deeper in color.

Borgo Scopeto needed to open up about 15 minutes and it exhibited more of a blackberry jam fragrance. It also tastes of dark berries (with less of that earthy layer) and is chewier- definitely more “cat tongue” going on than the Coltibuono. This Chianti was a touch thinner in texture and excited the sides of my tongue. The finish was decent, but dissipates quicker than the Coltibuono.

Coltibuono fragrance was blackberry fruit with a layer of earth, both of which are evident in it’s taste as well. It boasts deep, rich flavors and layers that went swimmingly with our freshly grilled New York strip. This wine excited all areas of my tongue and has a nice, lingering finish.

Take the “Pepsi Challenge” and decide for yourself. Perhaps you’ll find a fave or find each of them pleasing. Regardless the challenge, make sure you have some nice aged Parmigiano Reggiano or Asiago. If you want to veer away from Italian cheeses (blasphemy!) most any hard cheese with some crystallization will do. (Just go see Certified Cheese Professional, Liz, at the Northeast Lunds.)

Other yummy pairing morsels include: roasted veggies (I love roasted cauliflower), grilled steak, lambchops (PS- Costco’s lambchops rule with some salt, pepper and a lil’ Rosemary), lasagna, cannelloni, ravioli, manicotti, eggplant parmesan, any red sauce smothered item, chili, pork roast and hamburgers. A while back, I ate bánh mì with Jason Kallsen’s Twin Cities Wine. Here he is schooling me about the Chianti Classico region.

Jason Kallsen
Jason Kallsen

This is the best part of Chianti: it doesn’t require “fancy”. This is a wine you can dress up or dress down. Walk to your nearest gas station (who are you kidding, you’ll drive), pick up a Heggies “6 pack” pizza and pair away.

What is Heggies? Read Chris Clayton’s Twin Cities Business article.

As a wise man once said, “If it’s good to you, it’s good for you”.

Portuga Vinho Branco, Rosé & Red Wines

Cost: Average price $11

Where buy now: Solo Vino, Zipp’s Liquors, South Lyndale

Grapes: Vinho branco: Arinto, Ferñao Pires and Vital. Rose: Castelão and Camarate. Red: Castelão, Touriga Franca, Cabernet, Syrah

Region: Portugal

Vintage: 2013

What do you know about Portuguese wine? Scratch that, what do you know about Portugal? Admittedly, I’m quite ignorant in the Portuguese department. I only saw one travel program on Portugal and it mainly focused on the Azores islands off the mainland: Portugal Azores
Now that’s a bucket list item!

Well, I’ll leave it up to you to do your own Portuguese exploring. I’m not going to get all Rick Steves on your ass. What I will do is let you in on the Portuguese wine exploration I’ve been doing as of late.

It all began when a friend and I went to a Portuguese wine dinner at Cafe Ena some time back. I remember that each of the wines we tasted (which are too many for me to remember – seriously, I couldn’t keep track.) all tasted wonderful. It had that unique ‘terroir’ taste to them. Now, it could also have been the dreamy Mediterranean wine makers pouring and explaining their wines that had me enchanted, but I’d like to think I was mainly judging from my upper lips.

But where could I find more of these wines around town? Well, I’m delighted this line of wines from Portuga have made it across the Atlantic to the local scene. Without hesitation, I tried the white, rose and red. All of them are bang-for-buck Savvy Lush picks, I knew I couldn’t write about just one.

Like a typical tasting, let’s go from light to dark. I’m going to list the grape varietals but I’m not going to attempt to give a pronunciation key. Have you tried to speak Portuguese? It’s a tougher language than you might think. I believe it’s a cross between Spanish and French. (To my ears, it sounds like Barcelona accented Spanish, but only when the tongue is held firmly between the index finger and thumb.)

Portuga Vinho Branco (aka Vinho Verde)

Portuga Vinho Branco
Portuga Vinho Branco

This is patio wine pure and simple. What do I mean by that? I mean with it’s lower alcohol content, and chilled temperature, you could sip this all day long on the patio. (No one has to know how ripped you are, and it may help you tolerate that yippy neighbor dog.) It’s bright with a slight hint of effervescence. It smells fresh, a bit grassy, a bit citrusy and a bit rounded- an easy pairing with Summer foods. I’ll boldly assert that it pairs well with an asparagus frittata.

Portuga Rosé

Portuga Rosé
Portuga Rosé

I mean c’mon. It’s a rosé. I’ve only met two rosé’s in my life that I balked at, ever. This is not one of them. This is a wonderful blend of Castelão and Camarate. No oak flavor, just easy to drink with crisp minerals dancing around the tart strawberry deliciousness. Drink it alone, or with, well, ANYTHING.

Portuga Red

Portuga Red
Portuga Red

A blend of Portuguese Castelão, Touriga Franca, Cab & Syrah. Hell yes, this is yummifull! Red berry fun, light vanilla & spice. It’s smooth & medium bodied. Soft tannins but enough to give this wine some heft. If you like Zin, give this a try. Great with BBQ, grilled mushrooms, or what I had, garlic bread (and not even the good homemade stuff, I’m talking the $1.99 Coles garlic bread from the freezer aisle. You know, red packaging with loaves that bake up all buttery, salty & greasy?)

So you see, I’ve literally-ish drank the Portuguese kool-aid and I’m in on its seduction. These wines are right in my wheelhouse: delicious daily drinking on a dime. I hope I’ve persuaded you to give one if not all of the Portuga wines a taste. If I were a true hipster, I might say “Portugal is the new Spain”. However, it might be more fun to say it whilst holding your tongue.