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Every year it’s the same. Summer in Milwaukee was made for beer and, I admit, my wine consumption goes down during the hottest months, but my grape yen returns like clockwork when the skies turn gray and the mercury begins its march downward.
That means by October I’m back to tasting what I always hope will be interesting and delicious wines (and whiskies). Here are a few of the examples I’ve uncorked lately.
Hess Select Pinot Noir 2016 and Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
The fifth-generation Hess winery in California offers up a two fine wines at reasonable prices ($20 each) that provide diverse experiences, as you’d expect. The 100 percent pinot is fruity and bright and silky tannins, while the cab blend (79 percent cab, 11 percent petite sirah, 4 percent malbec and 2 percent each of merlot, syrah and zinfandel) is oakier, more full-bodied with spicier notes. Have the latter with your roast on a cool day and enjoy the former, well, pretty much anytime.
Tom of Finland 2016 OUTstanding Red
This blend of petite sirah (47 percent), zin (26), cabernet sauvignon (25) and merlot (2) bears a label designed by Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, who is known to Americans via a biopic as well as high-profile works at venues like the Art Institute of Chicago and New York’s MoMA. His quaffable namesake wine is heavy on dark red berries, peppery spice and a dash of oak. Retails around $25 with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Tom of Finland Foundation, which is dedicated "to protecting, preserving and promoting erotic art."
Left Coast Rose 2017, White Pinot Noir 2017 and The Orchard Pinot Gris 2017
Three expressions of Willamette Valley that retail from about $18 for the pinot gris to $24 for the others. I was especially intrigued by the White Pinot Noir, which is quite heavy on pear, peach and citrus and has a lovely straw color. The Pinot Gris skews a bit more apple-ish and would be great with a pungent cheese board. The rose’ with its hints of tobacco and spice balancing cherry and orange would be quite nice with grilled fish.
Gaja Sito Moresco 2015, Antonelli Montefalco Rosso DOC, Le Volte dell'Ornellaia 2015 and Feudi San Giorgio 2015 Rubrato Aglianico
You had to know I wasn’t going to let you go without raving about some Italian wines, right? The ruby red Montefalco Rosso from Umbria is a blend heavy on sangiovese, with 30 percent split evenly between sagrantino and montepulciano, and boasts an alluring nose and is dry and cherry-focused on the palate. Pour a splash into your risotto pot and enjoy the rest with dinner.
The 100 percent aglianico comes from farther south, in Campania, and is spicier, with tangier licorice on the tongue and an intriguing hint of balsamic on the finish. It’s one that will get your guests talking.
Le Volte dell'Ornellaia is a nicely complex, but approachable and relatively affordable (at $30), super Tuscan-style blend of merlot, cabernet and sangiovese. It's bold, with great mouth feel, powerful but smooth tannins and nice fruit. This one will warm you up nicely from the inside.
Last, but by no means last, is Gaja’s sublime Sito Moresco blend of nebbiolo and barbera – the king and queen of Piemontese grapes – with a bit of merlot and cabernet. The acidity of the barbera makes this delicious mashup of violet and cherry and spice and plums dance on your palate. It’ll run you about $50 but once in a while you have to treat yourself. Drink it now or put it in the cellar for a few years and I suspect it’ll get even better.
1792 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Priced at under $30, this bold 93.7 proof bourbon is a heck of a deal. It’s got that combination of oaky vanilla and smoky caramel sweetness that you expect from your bourbon but it also relies on a bit of rye in the mash to add some spicy oomph, which gives 1792 that boldness I refer to. Some folks are turned off by that rye punch, but I like how it gives 1792 an edgy quality.
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Also clocking in under $30 is this 90 proof bourbon, which has a gorgeous amber color, less rye than the 1792 and is aged at least eight years. Where 1792 shouts in your mouth, Buffalo Trace’s sweeter profile, with a dash of brown sugar added to that vanilla on the palate, whispers. This one’s for folks who are in the mood for smooth and sweet.
Traverse City Whiskey Company American Cherry Edition
This fast-growing northern Michigan distillery draws on its region’s most famous crop: Montmorency cherries for this infused whiskey. Using TC’s smooth, oaky bourbon as a base, cherries from one of the three partners’ third-generation family orchard are steeped to add an impressive jolt of cherry on the nose, but just a pleasing hint on the palate. If you think you don’t want a flavored whiskey, put your preconceptions aside and give this a try. It also makes a great starter for a whiskey old fashioned.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.