Adventurous wine spots are surfacing in Milwaukee, as this city’s savvy craft beer crowd explores the grape. “Our customers are looking for unusual bottles,” says Dan Grenda of Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, where the wine dinners sell out promptly and red wines by the glass come in hearty eight-ounce pours. The eatery is known for its artisan beers, and that versatility extends to its wines, too.
“We don’t even keep ‘standard’ wines on our list,” says Grenda. “We’re big fans of Robert Sinskey, especially his Point of View 2007 Cab, and of the Folk Machine’s Shapes and Shadows Pinot Noir 2010, which is only distributed in a few states.”
Milwaukee’s diverse wine bar scene mirrors the city’s nature. “This is an unpretentious town,” says Napa-trained sommelier Phil Bilodeau, who opened one branch of Thief Wine Shop & Bar inside the Milwaukee Public Market with his fiancée Aimee Murphy. Shoppers at Bilodeau’s bar can pair wedges of limited-release Wisconsin cheeses and freshly baked bread from neighboring stalls with under-the-radar releases like Some Young Punks’s 2009 Lust Collides Mataro from Australia’s McLaren Vale and its 2010 Monsters, Monsters Attack! Riesling from Clare Valley, with a label that’s straight out of pulp fiction.
In the gallery-lined Third Ward, Vino 100 is another wine bar and shop with a twist: It has a Wine Barometer rating scale that sorts bottles by flavor and body instead of by region. A cult favorite here is the 2007 TwentyFour by Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, a high-end ($149) Cab crafted in conjuction with winemaker Rick Ruiz.
Milwaukee is known as a casual place where the fine-dining restaurant Bacchus carves out space for a serendipitous glass from its expansive wine list. It’s a cost-conscious town where Vegas-style Dream Dance Steak offers its entire 600-bottle list at retail store prices.
To New York-born Marc Bianchini, owner of the industrial chic wine bar Indulge, Milwaukee is a livable, boutique-sized city where residents take time to appreciate flights he curates from 60 wines by the glass. Highlighted are three Ancien Pinot Noirs from different vineyards—Mink, Red Dog and Toyon—paired with handcrafted cheeses, charcuterie and jewel-like chocolates.
And like most cities, Milwaukee has its East Side Boho quarter near a university. In this case, the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where nearby Balzac has an irreverent New Orleans vibe, yet serves wine in Riedel crystal.
Many wines at this Indie haunt come from little-known regions, like Bodega Ariano Hermanos’s 2006 Don Nelson Ariano Tannat from San José, Uruguay. Prices are modest, with most bottles under $50 and more than 20 wines by the glass. On Wednesday evenings, half bottles are 50% off, and Sundays after 3 pm guests can “Raid the Cellar,” when every bottle under $60 is half price.