Most wine geeks subscribe to the belief that the more you taste of different varietals and from various wine-growing regions around the world, the more you know. Spend enough time in liquor stores or ordering off a wine list and it quickly becomes apparent that this can evolve into an expensive hobby. Fortunately there are ways to taste more with less money…and not compromise on the quality of what you’ll be drinking.
$20 and under:
Patronize Restaurants on Half-Price Bottle Nights
Address: 2457 S. Wentworth Ave., Milwaukee (Goodkind); and 101 W. Mitchell St., Milwaukee (Transfer Pizzeria)
Estimated Price: $15-$20
If your schedule is flexible enough to dine out during the week, then the savings on a wine-paired meal is huge. For example, at Goodkind on Monday the wine list is 50% off. This means you can enjoy a bottle of, say, Garnacha Blanca from Rioja, Spain, for $20—not $40—or a French import from Kermit Lynch Selections (the 2015 Domaine de Durban, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Marselan) for $20, too.
Transfer Pizzeria, on Tuesday nights, hosts two compelling reasons to book a table: a live jazz band and 50% off bottles of wine. This includes a Montepulciano from Italy for $15 (regularly $30) and Dr. Loosen, a highly rated Riesling from Germany, for $15 (also regularly $30).
With the average restaurant mark-up on bottles of wine being 200%, these are both a huge deal—and just two examples around town. Most wine-bottle deals tend to be Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, when the restaurant is slow.
$10 and under:
Sample Wines by the Glass
Address: 400 N. Water St., Milwaukee, and 4512 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood (Thief Wine Shop & Bar); and 1441 E. Russell Ave., Milwaukee (G. Groppi Food Market)
Estimated Price: $5.50-$10
Finding a restaurant or wine bar that strays from the big-name, large-production wine producers (hello, Robert Mondavi!) is a search worth every minute. Why pay $16 for a blah glass of wine, after all? You want to find a wine list that is curated by the sommelier (wine professional) or owner. That’s exactly how Thief Wine Shop & Bar works. Co-proprietors Phil Bilodeau and Aimee Murphy rotate the list often and intentionally source out lesser-known boutique producers. This means that for as low as $5.50 you can try a 5-ounce pour of a Grenache from France or Chenin Blanc from South Africa (both are on the Milwaukee location’s current wine list). Cheese plates are also available.
In the back of G. Groppi’s, tucked into this Italian grocer’s liquor section, is a wine bar that many people don’t even know exists…only because they aren’t walking farther back than the hot deli. Glasses of wine span the world’s wine regions and rotate daily. Recently, the selection included a New Zealand Pinot Noir for $6 a glass. If you love it, the great news is that a bottle is for sale in the adjacent wine shop.
$5 and under:
Happy Hour at Select Local Bars
Address: 4518 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood (North Star American Bistro), and 19115 W. Capitol Dr., Brookfield
Estimated price: $1-$5
Wine specials are almost always included in bars’ happy-hour deals. The way that North Star American Bistro’s happy hour works—on Thursday only—is that the earlier you arrive, the less you pay. From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., a glass of wine is $1; $2 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and $3 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. These are house wines, representing familiar varietals like Chardonnay and Merlot, and of good quality. Paired with $4 apps, dinner is pretty much served.
Attend a Wine Tasting at a Wine Shop or Liquor Store
Address: 1327 E. Brady St., Milwaukee (Waterford Wine & Spirits)
Estimated price: $0
Designed to draw you in with the promise of free wine—and then to shop at your leisure, perhaps picking up a bottle or two—wine shops and liquor stores will often host no-cost tastings. Every Friday at Waterford Wine & Spirits in the early evening are free tastings of wine at this Brady Street shop.