Stuck in a wine rut? Or just looking for something more interesting to pair with your next meal? We’ve got your number. For this series, we’ll be talking to some of the best and most well-qualified wine experts in Milwaukee and getting recommendations for wines that you should be drinking right now.
This week, we spoke with Katie Espinosa, unit director and certified sommelier with the Bartolotta Restaurants. Some of her favorite wines include Champagne, Riesling, White Burgundy, Red Rhone and Barolo.
Espinosa is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame who joined Bartolotta's in 2002 as a server at Lake Park Bistro. After moving on from Lake Park Bistro, she gained managerial experience (and wine knowledge) at Ristorante Bartolotta, as well as Mr. B’s Steakhouse. She joined the team at Bacchus in 2011, where she took oversight of not only the restaurant’s operations and staff, but also its extensive, award-winning wine list (which tops out at over 800 bottles).
On a personal note, Espinosa is married to another Bartolotta’s all-star, Chef Zach Espinosa, who currently oversees operations for all three new restaurants at the Mayfair Collection. The Espinosas have a dachshund named Mr. Riley.
1. Hugel Pinot Gris
"Dry but with a rich and slightly spicy nose. Notes of stone fruit, like apricots and peaches, along with honey and flowers. It smells like it could be sweet, but it is dry."
Drink if you love: Italian Pinot Grigio
"It would be good for an Italian Pinot Grigio drinker who wants something with more flavor and body. They are the same grape, but have different expressions in their different homes. I like this wine because it is easy to drink and just, plain delicious. It is good on its own, or with food and is a good alternative to the frequently too thin Pinot Grigios that are readily available. If you can't find Hugel, I also like Trimbach."
Pairings: "This wine would pair well with fish, pork, poultry, mushrooms, salad, fruit and fruit pastries.
Retail price: $20-$25
2. William Fevre Champs Royaux Chablis
France (100% Chardonnay)
"I have really fallen in love with Chardonnay and the direction many producers are going - elegant, restrained and (gasp!) balanced. This wine has all of those attributes in spades and has been a long standing favorite. Chablis is a region in France that produces almost exclusively Chardonnay and most sees little to no oak. The wines are steely, crisp and minerally with moderate levels of alcohol, which make them easy to drink."
Drink if you love: less oaky Chardonnay or grassier Savignon Blanc
"This would be a good wine for someone who doesn't like overly-oaked Chardonnay or even fans of grassier styles of Sauvignon Blanc. Unfortunately, Chablis got a reputation as bad jug wine in the 70s with no resemblance to the actual wine that comes from Chablis. They can get fairly expensive, but this one is very good and won't break the bank."
Pairings: This wine pairs well with oysters, shellfish, hard cheese and most things in the first or second course category.
Retail price: around $20
3. Ruggeri "Giustino B" Prosecco
"Anyone who knows me, knows we can't talk about wine long without mention of something sparkling. This wine is their flagship wine and completely over delivers. It spends about 9 months on the lees (the skins and yeast) gaining flavors and depth to produce a beautiful wine. The result is creamy with notes of brioche, hazelnut and lemon curd."
Drink if you love: Champagne
"This is a great substitute for Champagne, which is frequently (at least) 50% more expensive for even entry level wines."
Pairings: 'It can be drunk in the beginning, middle or end of almost any meal. It will pair well with oysters and shellfish, salads or middle courses, meat - both red and white and of course, cheese or fruit-based desserts. They also make an entry level prosecco called "Argeo" that is a perfect aperitif."
Retail price: $25
4. Santa Duc Cotes du Rhone
"This is a blend of Old Vine Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan. It is like a baby Chateauneuf-du-Pape, without the enormous price tag. It is hand harvested and became certified organic in 2012. It is a beautiful wine year after year. It is an old world style of wine - fruity and elegant with flavors of both red and black berries, earth, leather, dried herbs and lavender.
Drink if you love: full bodied Pinot Noir or Merlot
"I would recommend this wine for anyone who likes full bodied Pinot Noir, Merlot or other – usually more expensive – wines from the Rhone Valley, like Gigondas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Pairings: "It will pair well with charcuterie, pork, poultry, salmon, hard cheese and olives."
Retail price: well under $20
5. Bertani Valpolicella
"This is a blend of Corvina Veronese and Rondinella, both indigenous grapes that are grown in this small Northeastern part of Italy. I was just in this region two weeks ago and both the vineyards and wine are breathtaking. This has red fruit notes of raspberry, cranberry and cherry, followed by spiced plum with hints of coffee."
Drink if you love: Chianti or medium bodied Pinot Noir
"The Bertani Valpolicella would be a good recommendation for someone looking for a medium bodied wine with good fruit and structure like Pinot Noir or Chianti."
Pairings: "It is great with calamari, chicken, eggplant, veal, caprese salad, charcuterie and cheese."
Retail price: under $20
"This is their entry level Valpolicella, but don't let the price fool you. It stood up to its bigger brother, the Valpolicella Ripasso, which is more extracted and sees more aging. For a slight splurge, the Ripasso is beautiful and is like a baby Amarone della Valpolicella, the king of red wines in the Veneto."
6. Pico Maccario Lavignone, Barbera d'Asti
"This is 100% barbera from the heart of the Asti region of Northwest Italy. Barbera has grown well here for 100s of years and produces a rustic wine with flavors of tart cherry, red raspberry and pomegranate followed by cherry tobacco and fine grained tannins."
Drink if you love: Rioja, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Sangiovese.
Pairings: "It is lovely with grilled meat – both red and white, grilled vegetables and hard cheese. Barbera is also my favorite grape to drink with pizza and this is a shining example. It is often in the shadow of its neighbors Barolo and Barbaresco and frequently overlooked, but it provides enjoyment in its youth and is a match to a wide array of foods."
Retail price: about $20
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.