conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


Learn to distinguish brilliant from brawny at wine tastings


July 2009

Wannabee oenophiles have a wide range of options in greater Milwaukee when it comes to informative wine classes and seminars, tastings and free or low-cost opportunities to drop in and sample. In addition, there is a steady stream of vintner visits to area restaurants hosting multiple-course wine and food pairings.

To expand your knowledge and sample some outstanding wines, check out the following:

Fratello’s Waterfront Restaurant
102 N. Water St., Milwaukee
(414) 271-1740

General Manager Brendan Moore may be the only Wisconsinite who is both a second-level sommelier accredited by the Court of Master Sommeliers and a certified sommelier from the Society of Wine Educators. Capitalizing on the success of last September’s five-course dinner prepared by chef Clarence Grice and paired with Seghesio wines, Fratello’s held two other events earlier in the year, including a Wine Maker’s Dinner. Check its Web site for upcoming event information.

Grapes & Grain
11301 N. Port Washington Road, Mequon
(262) 240-0206

Grapes & Grain wine director Rob Bunelli and the store’s tasting room director Kamryn Boelk have assembled a powerful package of events, holding a free tasting from 1-4 p.m. each Saturday and two themed tasting events weekly. The latter events, costing from $15 to $30, are held at 7 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. The store features a Vin Grin Wine Club in which members get a red and white vintage each month, with extensive details about the vintner, the winery’s production process and possible food pairings. In addition, Grapes & Grain offers one of the area’s only walk-in cigar humidor. It also has online newsletters for its devoted wine drinkers.

The Milwaukee Wine School
(414) 326-7736

A student of wine for more than a decade, Jessica Bell founded her Milwaukee Wine School in 2007 to provide "high-quality and unbiased wine education." She partners with retail outlets, restaurants and culinary schools for introductory classes on wine tasting as well as wine and spirit education programs. Bell also offers classes on the fundamentals of food and wine pairings. Most of her classes are held at Milwaukee’s Bacchus or Chicago’s Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in downtown Chicago.

Riversite Restaurant
11120 N. Cedarburg Road, Mequon
(262) 242-6050

If a measure of success for a wine program is counted in years, Riversite has uncorked a winner. Since 1992, the restaurant has hosted meals and wine pairings. For the past four years, the dinners have sold out, averaging 110 persons a seating, according to new owner Corey Schultz who took over from longtime owner Jim Marks last November. Every third Monday of the month, beginning at 7 p.m., guests can sample chef Tom Peschong’s culinary delights, along with four to six wines from a featured winery. A wine representative is usually on hand to explain the vintages, and the cost is typically $80-$95 for the event.

1758 N. Water St., Milwaukee
(414) 272-0205

For about two years, Trocadero has hosted its weekly Wine Lovers Wednesday, which features two to three reds and an equal number of white vintages that can be served by glass with a cheese plate or with a menu order. The staff can suggest pairings, says manager Whitney Stalker, who coordinates the program. Often, a wine vender is on hand to discuss the varieties. The emphasis is on French wines, according to Stalker, showcasing such labels as Jolivet and Pierre Chanier. The "evening" is informal, in a casual meal setting rather than in a class. Even lunchtime diners can sample the selections if they wish. Bottles can be purchased as well. Cheese and wine flights are also available. The Troc opens at 11 a.m., with the last meal servings at 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and at midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Thief Wine
Milwaukee Public Market
400 N. Water St., Milwaukee
(414) 277-7707

Thief Wine proprietor Phil Bilodeau offers themed tastings three to four times per month. The tastings require a reservation and offer samples of four to six wines, with informative hand-outs and a brief talk about each. Participants will learn important information about the grape varietals, the regions and what makes each wine so distinctive. The cost is generally $15-$20. In addition, Thief offers well-priced wines during its weekday happy hour. For example, on Wednesdays, Thief serves a 15 percent off all flights. On Fridays, one red and one white cost just $4 a glass.

Vino 100 Third Ward Wine Bar & Shop
102 N. Water St., Milwaukee
(414) 277-8466

Vino 100’s mission is "to provide a fun and memorable wine experience for all wine lovers," says co-owner Melissa Perrigoue. That entails store tastings, monthly cooking demos, a wine club and a five-part wine education series held several times a year. The store even groups wines by flavor profile, so novices as well as more experienced imbibers can learn about wine varietal and ideal food pairings. The facility also hosts bachelorette parties, bridal showers and similar activities that feature tastings and background sessions on wine and winemakers. Contact Vino 100’s Grafton and Wauwatosa locations for specific information on wine tastings at those locations.

Wine Cellar
12910 W. Bluemound Road, Elm Grove
(262) 754-9463

The Wine Cellar presents a hefty schedule of structured sessions, beginning at 7:15 p.m. on posted nights. During the $5 Fun Fridays, from 4 to 8 p.m., samples or a dozen or so wines from around the world are offered. Occasionally, the Wine Cellar organizes a pairing, with foods prepared by Catering by Bryant (Johnson). The store recently launched "Wisconsin’s Best Wine Club" and will be hosting a "Summer Sip" on Aug. 15, featuring at least 50 different wines from around the world. The shop is located in Elm Grove’s Autumn Grove Plaza, across from Bluemound Bowl. Private, in-store tastings can also be arranged for up to 20 people, making for interestingly different party possibilities. "Reading, tasting and being curious" are the primary components in the wine education process," says Joel Freeborn, who opened the shop in 2006 with his wife, Gail. "There is so much about wine: politics, geography, history. And it tastes good, too," he adds.

Waterford Wine Co.
1327 E. Brady St., Milwaukee
(414) 289-WINE (9463)

Waterford owner Ben Christiansen is passionate about wine; he loves to impart his extensive wine knowledge at his monthly Wednesday night classes. He also gets into depth with subjects such as "Beyond Organic — Biodynamic; but is it just hogwash?" or "The Heady Power of Amarone — one of Italy’s least understood wines." Whatever the subject, nine wines with a price from $28 to $150 per bottle are tasted and discussed. The cost to attend a tasting is typically $15 a head.

Whole Foods
2305 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee
(414) 765-2333 or (414) 223-1500

For good reason, "Wine Enthusiast" magazine named Whole Foods as its 2007 Wine Retailer of the Year. The user-friendly Enomatic wine system is the easiest way to sample labels on one’s own. Accompanying material describes the wines and indicates appropriate food partners. This sip ’n shop open container process, in which patrons can roam the aisles with their glasses, is naturally popular. The store hosts a Top 10 Wines Program and Vine Buys to help in wine selections, combining tastings with purchasing opportunities. Whole Foods has a team concept for its staff, spreading pairing knowledge over several fields, such as wine/beer/cheese/coffee in one department. The store also has posted in-house calendars and online information telling of wine classes, and is planning on restarting Friday night wine tastings soon.


This story ran in the July 2009 issue of: