of The Bartolotta Restaurants
back-to-school hoopla reminds me of the other three R’s. Sure,
reading, writing and arithmetic are important life skills, but having
mastered those lessons, you’re ready to learn the other three R’s
— research, read and request — to order wine at a restaurant.
the list, do your research. Decide on the table’s budget, desired
wine color and style or grape. Although seemingly obvious, these
decisions, along with simple buzzwords like sweet, dry, light, heavy,
fruity or earthy can help you narrow down the list considerably.
Next, read the
list and determine how it is organized. A well-executed wine list
groups wines by region, grape varietal, style and/or price, and then
utilizes standardized formatting for each wine to facilitate easier
navigation. For example, grapes may be italicized or prices bolded.
This exercise will help transform an overwhelming amount of unfamiliar
information into an organized map to your next wine order. Scan the
list, seeking "road signs" like major headings and
formatting techniques to find wines possessing the characteristics you
deemed important in your research. If the layout isn’t immediately
apparent, don’t waste your time — employ the third and most
important pillar, request help.
There is no
shame in asking for help. As a wine industry veteran, I always request
help. Why? Because I know any serious wine buyer should have tried
every wine on that list, while I, no matter how thirsty or dedicated I
may be, cannot taste every wine produced. Our conversations almost
invariably unearth tremendous values, esoteric gems or even unlisted
wines due to their limited availability.
restaurants — All Purpose, c.1880, Ristorante Bartolotta and Sanford
— maintain some of the city’s most extensive and finest wine
lists. I have included the cliff notes from my experiences with each
of these wine programs.
814 S. 2nd St.
Purpose offers one of the city’s most well-appointed esoteric wine
lists, with a whole section devoted to "Weirdos and Rippers"
— a wine nerd’s dream. My sister and I craved a full-bodied Old
World white wine.
Read: The bottle
list is organized by country, after being split among white, red and
Weirdo wines. Unfortunately, the Weirdos were out of our price range
that night, but we narrowed the remaining contents to two Italian
Anthony. At first, I was concerned when I learned Anthony, All Purpose’s
part owner, general manager and sommelier, had that Tuesday night off.
Would his team be able to advise on such an eclectic selection of
I shot the young
bartender a bullet, asking him to comment on the differences between
the 2012 Graci Etna Bianco and the 2008 Sartarelli Verdicchio. He
deflected it with grace, commenting that the former, a Sicilian wine,
comes from the northern slope of Mount Etna, giving the wine the high
acid we sought. Sure enough, the wine’s tropical fruit was
beautifully balanced by minerality and high acid.
I later learned
Anthony tastes wines with his crew on a daily basis, encouraging them
to take notes. The result is not only an impressive wine list, but
also an all-around remarkable wine program.
1100 S. 1st St.
admire c.1880’s commitment to being local, all the while retaining a
certain je ne sais quoi that makes it feel global and cool. From its
name, to the menu and decor, all the way to the wine list, the
restaurant cleverly draws on local inspiration. Circa exudes
"casual sophisticated," making it a favorite for date night.
My husband prefers reds I fondly describe as "elegant" —
dry with bright red fruits, fine tannins and high acid.
Read: The wine
list opens with two pages of wines with roots in Wisconsin. For
example, I spot one of my favorite value-driven sparkling wines from
California made by Milwaukee native Roger Scommegna. The rest of the
list groups the wines by grape, followed by a reserve list offering
more expensive options, old vintages and large formats.
Wolter. On the lookout for an elegant red, I narrowed the list down to
two Oregon pinot noirs from the Wisconsin-inspired list and a merlot
from Bordeaux. Wolter, c.1880’s general manager and beverage
director, offered stylistic contrasts between the two pinot noirs, but
then shared a little background on the Bordeaux, 2009 Mauvais Garcon
"Bad Boy." The wine’s attempt to rebrand itself provided
welcome fodder for conversation that did not involve mention of
diapers or school supplies.
7616 W. State St., Wauwatosa
hearing from various industry insiders that Ristorante Bartolotta’s
wine director had implemented impressive changes to its all-Italian
wine list, I enlisted a good friend with a preference for robust
Italian reds to join me for a little market research.
hundreds, some say thousands of Italian grape varietals, organizing an
Italian wine list can be challenging. Ristorante Bartolotta has
responded with ingenuity, offering several approaches to understanding
its wines. In addition to organizing the list by both grape and
region, there are regional features and staff picks.
Hasselbacher. I had worked with Hasselbacher many years ago when I was
the wine buyer at Bacchus. I looked forward to being on the other side
of the table, having him teach me about his wines. After exchanging
some ideas, he revealed that he had both a Brunello and a Barolo,
Italy’s two king wines, available by the glass. We reveled in the
opportunity to try two first-rate wines, all for the price of a half
With half our
wine budget still remaining, Hasselbacher offered a wine from one of
his favorite Italian grape varietals, Sagrantino, describing it as
very "cabernet-like" with its dark fruit and full body. I
enjoyed both the wine and the quick lesson on an unfamiliar grape.
1547 N. Jackson St.
Sanford’s owners, Justin and Sarah Aprahamian, continue many of the
traditions that have made their restaurant Milwaukee’s preeminent
spot for 25 years, including exquisite cuisine, James Beard
Award-winning chefs and my favorite, a wine list organized by price.
With salads and gazpacho to start, followed by heartier main courses,
my husband and I decided we needed both a white and a red wine.
followed by wine color, is probably the most deciding and yet unspoken
consideration when choosing wine. Milwaukee’s classiest restaurant
acknowledges this reality without cheapening the experience.
Zastrow. Having two young children whose internal alarm clocks buzz
around 6 a.m., I gravitated toward the half bottles, hoping to find a
white to start and a red for our main courses. Unfortunately, Zastrow,
Sanford’s wine director and a former student, was on vacation.
Sarah, a beacon
of kindness and sincerity, promptly brought over "The
Binder" with detailed notes on every wine. As expected, every
detail had been considered. The notes erased any concern I had had
about the potential age and vintage of the 2008 Tablas Creek’s
Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. Sarah even recommended decanting it, per
"The Binder." We enjoyed it tremendously and followed it
with a half bottle of Burgundy pinot noir. M