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This week we’re introducing you to two more Top Ten wine experts – Morgan Hawley at Top Ten Vadnais Heights, and Mark O’Connor at Top Ten Chanhassen. Curious about which spirits Minnesota does best or how to pair asparagus? You’ve come to the right place.

Q&A with Morgan Hawley, Top Ten Liquors Vadnais Heights

Morgan was born in Los Angeles, raised in Minnesota, and has spent over a decade on the East Coast between DC and NY. He has a Court of Master Sommeliers level 2 certification, a WSET level 3 advanced certification, and he’s studying for his WSET diploma. Before working at Top Ten, he worked at Twin Cities restaurants Tilia, Bardo, and Hyacinth.

What is your favorite everyday bottle?

For bubbles, Piazza Grande Lambrusco Rosé. For whites, Kobal “Bajta” Orange Wine — yes it’s an orange wine, but it’s white wine at heart! For reds, GD Vajra Langhe Rosso ticks all the boxes for me: fruit, earth, structure, good with or without food, this wine is a purely and singularly Italian expression of delicious.

What bottle would you choose for a date night?

If we’re going all out, it’s gotta be Krug ‘Cuvee Prestige’ because it’s always the right time for bubbles; otherwise the Long Meadow Ranch Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir. They pair with almost everything, and can steal the show if the food doesn’t!   

What’s your favorite fun fact about wine/beer/spirits?

There is a chemical compound that results from malolactic fermentation (the process that softens malic acids and is often the culprit behind a ‘buttery’ Chardonnay) that is the same composition as the additive used to make microwave popcorn buttery!

What’s the hardest dish to pair? What would you pair with it?

Aggressively ‘green’ vegetables like asparagus and artichokes; the answer is always Gruner Veltliner!

What’s your favorite wine/beer/spirits-related book, magazine, or publication?

Alice Feiring’s Dirty Guide to Wine opened a lot of doors of perception for me, and I recommend it every chance I get!

Q&A with Mark O’Connor, Top Ten Liquors Chanhassen

Mark hails from Grand Forks, N.D. and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with a first stage pin from the International Court of Master Sommeliers. Before coming to Top Ten Mark worked at Morton’s of Chicago, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Nicollet Island Inn, and Biella.

What’s your favorite bottle to bring to a family get-together? 

Vouvray

What’s your favorite vineyard you’ve visited?

Weingut Fritz Allendorf in Rheingau, Germany. Wonderful food and wine, very nice people! After dinner, when nobody noticed, I climbed up to their 100-year-old Pinot Noir vineyard, located on a terrace carved out of the steep hillside, in pitch black darkness to get a photo.

What’s your favorite fun fact about wine/beer/spirits? 

There is a wine region in South Africa called Agterkliphoogte. The best brandies come from undrinkably acidic wines. The best distilled spirits produced in Minnesota are local gins, which are world class quality. Pizza pairs at least as well with wine as it does with beer.

How did you decide to enter the wine/beer/spirits industry?

When I was about 12 years old I thought it was really cool that James Bond knew his wine and spirits, so I decided that I would as well. I started my first liquor store job at 21 years old.

What’s the most common misconception people have about wine? 

People almost always underestimate their palate. If you can tell the difference between a good burger and a fast-food burger, you can tell the difference between a good and bad wine. DON’T SELL YOURSELF SHORT!

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