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Great Milwaukee Wine Bars

Mar. 14, 2013
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Sometimes in the city known for beer, wine aficionados may feel a little left out. But when you look at Milwaukee’s nightlife, you will see plenty of places to enjoy a glass (or bottle) of vino. Some have been around for a while, and some are brand new. They are each someone’s favorite. Comment and tell us your favorite place for wine at expressmilwaukee.com.

Balzac Wine Bar

1716 N. Arlington Place

Let me just say this concisely: what a great place! It has the feeling of an upscale tavern in the north woods, complete with wood paneling and several mounted deer heads scattered throughout. The feeling is warm and welcoming, contrasting the initial sense of exclusivity one might get upon entering. And of course, as the winner of the Shepherd Express’ 2012 Best of Milwaukee wine selection category, Balzac does not disappoint. Their selection is vast, so much so in fact, that even the bartenders are unsure of how many wines they carry at any given time because changes and additions are always occurring. Wine aside, the signature cocktails are superb and if you should feel hungry, the food is continental fare, presented elegantly, but plentiful enough to stave off your hunger. Highly recommended. Absolutely wonderful! (Maxwell Thiesenhusen)

Chez Jacques
1022 S. First St.

Beer gardens are an old Milwaukee tradition but a wine garden is something new. The popular French restaurant Chez Jacques has one in back, a fenced-in summer patio for wine tastings, dining and, on occasion, live music. Year-round, Jacques’ wine list includes more than 30 titles, all of them French, “covering all the different regions of France,” explains owner Jacques Chaumet. He has a special fondness for the region where he grew up, Languedoc. Formerly known for mediocre vintages at best, Languedoc has benefited from new initiatives. “We now make very good wines at good prices,” Chaumet says proudly. The wine garden will reopen in May, weather permitting. Meanwhile, enjoy a glass of French wine indoors with a crepe or a cheese plate. (David Luhrssen)

Jake’s/Charred Lounge
21445 Gumina Road, Pewaukee

Two great choices, one location—Jake’s, an upscale place for steaks, opened an inviting, casual social lounge called Charred in 2011. Charred takes up what was previously the front half of Jake’s restaurant and the extensive wine list is the same for both. With more than 100 bottles on the menu, there is surely a wine to please every palate and to pair with a full steak dinner at Jake’s or Charred’s lighter lounge fare. Happy hour specials (Monday through Friday) include $4 glasses of wine. (Susan Harpt Grimes)

Joey Gerard’s
5601 Broad St., Greendale
11120 N. Cedarburg Road, Mequon

Supper clubs and Wisconsin have a long history together. Supper clubs evoke images of fine dining, drinking and relaxation. Joey Gerard’s offers this experience to patrons, with all of the style and class expected from a Bartolotta restaurant. While eating here and embracing the traditional supper club experience is a real treat, simply visiting the bar for conversation and wine is enjoyable as well. The vibe is relaxed and welcoming. The menu includes several wines by the glass and 50 bottles for under $50 (plus 25 over $50). (S.H.G.)

Pastiche Bistro & Wine Bar
3001 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Pastiche is an intimate space, with just a handful of tables and a few seats at the bar, but it is a cozy and comfortable French bistro offering fine food. It also has an international wine list with dozens of options. The vintages are on the affordable side with the majority of bottles priced between $20 and $50. The selection is thoughtful, shunning the overpriced “big name” vintners and anything Gallo. Evening reservations are essential and the bar often doubles as a waiting area. But Pastiche also has a wine shop upstairs so it is possible to take a bottle home as a souvenir. There should be more bistros like this. (Jeff Beutner)

The Ruby Tap
1341 Wauwatosa Ave., Wauwatosa

The Ruby Tap is a comfortable, unintimidating place to enjoy wine. Connoisseur and novice alike will appreciate the establishment’s novel self-service approach to wine dispensing. Patrons pick up an “eno-card” that tracks their selections from the state-of-the art machine that pours 32 different wines in 1.5-, 3-, or 6-ounce sizes. This is a great way to sample many varieties, or design your own flight. There are also several wines on tap at the bar, as well as more than 70 wines by the bottle available for purchase. Daily drink specials can help shave a bit off your bill. (S.H.G.)

Thief Wine Shop & Bar
4512 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood
Milwaukee Public Market
400 N. Water St.

In wine terminology, a “thief” is the small pipette that extracts wine from a barrel. Besides being the zenith of housewarming gift shopping, both of Thief’s locations have a bar at which to relax with a glass or carafe of white, rose, red or sparkler. The chain offers a vast, eclectic and worldly collection, at every price point, served up by expert sommeliers. Its flagship location, in the trendy Third Ward’s Public Market, is the place to people watch, peruse shops, grab a meal and sit down for some taboo day drinking. The Shorewood location is a dimly lit, relaxed spot, perfect for a date. (Danielle Stevens)

Three Cellars
7133 S. 76th St., Franklin

Three Cellars is part wine (and beer) shop and part bar. Select a bottle from 300 different wines off the racks and enjoy it in the comfortable lounge or warm-weather patio for a small corking fee. Three Cellars also offers weekly wines by the glass. For those who don’t like to choose, wine flights of the weekly selections are available so patrons can try them all. Free tastings are offered Saturdays, 1-4 p.m. Happy Hour half-price wine pours Monday-Thursday 4-6 p.m. (S.H.G.)

Trocadero Gastrobar
1758 N. Water St.

Embrace the little Parisian in each of us and enjoy some wine on what is still one of the best patios in the city. With more than 30 wines available it could be challenging to pick just one to accompany a meal or tasty appetizers. The folks at Trocadero make it a bit easier by offering wine priced by the glass, two carafe sizes or by the bottle. If you can, take advantage of Wine Lover’s Wednesday when all bottles and the featured glass are half off. (S.H.G.)

Vino 100
219 E. Erie St.

Visit Milwaukee’s branch of Vino 100 for a pleasant, low-pressure wine tasting experience. Query the staff for help choosing the glass that’s just right for you, or peruse the elegantly worded menu, which organizes the selection by flavor and body. As the name suggests, 100 types of wine are available by the bottle at all times and, although the by-the-glass options are more limited, the menu changes every week so there’s always something new to try. Feeling peckish? Try the Pick-3 Cheese Plate ($13.95) for taste bud exaltation. Intimate and attractively furnished, Vino is ideal for a romantic rendezvous or drinks with friends. (Selena Milewski)


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