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Wine city

Photos by Dan Bishop

December 2012

In Milwaukee, where 19th century beer barons like Joseph Schlitz and Capt. Frederick Pabst put Brew City on the map as a drinking town, wine has at last caught up. Wine bars are sprinkled throughout neighborhoods from Bay View to Brookfield. Winemakers swing into the region often on coastal tours, and any night of the week thereís a tasting poised to educate your palate. Boutique wine retailers are cropping up, too.

In 2008, Phil Bilodeau and Aimee Murphy relocated from Napa and Sonoma, where they worked at Grgich Hills Estate and Hanna Winery, to open Thief Wine Shop & Bar in the Milwaukee Public Market and Shorewood. "Milwaukee has grown a lot wine-wise in the almost five years Iíve been here, but still has a ways to go," Bilodeau says. "Thereís a desire and curiosity among wine drinkers to learn more and a willingness to try new things."

We called upon a handful of wine experts like Bilodeau and Murphy to weigh in on Milwaukeeís wine IQ and all things wine.

Nate Norfolk, sommelier at Purple Feet Wines, Pewaukee

Milwaukee As A Wine Town: The Bartolotta Group has attracted huge names to do events ó Chateau Montelena, Veuve Clicquot and Mouton Rothschild, to name a few ó and these are always well attended. But many wine consumers still arenít willing to push the envelope. I canít believe how many tastings I put on and people wonít even try something for free because they have a preconceived notion they may not like it.

Wine Trend Youíre So Over: Saying you donít like Merlot sets me in a rage. If a Saint Emilion Grand Cru made you break out in hives or Pomerol gives you a gag reflex then maybe you can say you donít like Merlot. If you think you donít like Merlot and you have never tried the last two styles of wine I mentioned, then you havenít really tried Merlot and passing it off entirely is just close-minded.

Favorite Unexpected Pairing: At c. 1880 I drank a dry Chenin Blanc from the Saumur region of Franceís Loire Valley paired with scallops (with sunchokes, scallions and a subtle white-chocolate sauce). The dish sounded almost impossible to pull off but was perfectly balanced.

Curt Robinson, owner of Union House, Genesee Depot

Favorite Unexpected Pairing: Port wine with barbecued ribs, a pairing I learned from a French wine nťgociant (wine merchant) in Burgundy, France.

Tips For The Wine Newbie: Try everything thatís offered to you, both food and wine. Savor the nuances of flavors.

Try different combinations. Listen whenever you get the opportunity to hear from a wine professional. Remember that tastes are as individual as fingerprints and enjoy what you like best.

Favorite Wine Under $50: 2006 Spelletich Cellars Bodog Red (Napa Valley, California, $30)

Heather Korte, sommelier and assistant manager, Mason Street Grill, Milwaukee

Evolution Of Milwaukee As A Wine Town: Wines not previously offered for sale have surfaced recently, such as Turley (a very highly regarded Zinfandel producer) and Blackbird Vineyards (Pomerol-inspired Merlot blends from Napa). Thief Wine Shop & Bar and Balzac have proven to be very successful ó even for a city that many had written off as an exclusive haven for beer drinkers. Just this year, Mason Street Grill hosted dinners with Joseph Phelps, Caymus, Blackbird Vineyards, Laetitia, Foppiano and Clos du Val. 

Wine Trend Thatís So Over: I am bored with the more heavily oaked, high-alcohol, candied-fruit flavored and outlandishly expensive offerings that garner lavish praise from some wine publications. These wines are just awful for attempting to find a happy marriage with food. 

Favorite Wine Under $50: Boom Boom Syrah (Columbia Valley, Washington, $35)

Phil Bilodeau, sommelier and co-proprietor of Thief Wine Shop & Bar

Favorite Local Wine Trend: Weíve been championing dry Rosť since we started, and itís really taken off. We used to have to work hard to convince people it wasnít white Zin, and now itís got a huge following among our customers. Food-friendly, refreshing, affordable and thereís a huge range of flavors and styles.

Favorite Unexpected Pairing: Lopez de Herediaís 1973 Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Rioja Blanco at a tapas bar in Haro, Rioja, Spain, in 2001. It was astonishing to see how well an almost 30-year-old oaked white went perfectly with what we ate ó cured meats, cod, egg-based tapas, potato, stuffed piquillo peppers, etc.

Tips For Wine Newbies: Start an informal wine group and taste wines side by side. Most people have a decent palate. They just donít have the vocabulary or experience to articulate it.

Word Search

Maya Angelou once said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." Luckily for writer (and M contributor) Jenna Kashou, sheíll be telling a plethora of noteworthy, eclectic stories over the next six months as The Pfister Hotelís newest narrator.

Kashou, the fifth narrator since the program began, will post blog entries about twice a week at, regaling readers with stories and anecdotes about the hotelís varied ó and often high profile ó visitors and guests.

The versatile Kashou is a Radio Milwaukee grant writer by day, and a hip party deejay by night. She has a degree from the University of Iowa in mass communications and Spanish, and a graduate certificate in digital storytelling from Marquette University.

"Itís such an honor to meet new people and tell their stories," says Kashou. "I canít wait to catalog all the intriguing characters at The Pfister."


This story ran in the December 2012 issue of: