By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jun 17, 2010 at 8:45 AM

After months of hoping to get to InterContinental's Wine Craze, held every Wednesday evening in the Clear lobby bar, I finally made it last night.

The hotel's Stephan Fitz, who is a passionate ambassador of wine, introduced me, OnMilwaukee.com's Sid Bedi -- a certified beer taster, but a wine neophyte -- wine expert Erica van Heerden and others tasted two reds from the Silver Oak family of vintners.

First up was 2003 Twomey Merlot -- made by Napa's Silver Oak team with grapes from the Twomey Valley -- which is apparently a hot seller in the $40-$50 range. This is the kind of Merlot that will force you to rethink your Merlot grape gripe.

It has unusual green olives on the nose and a pleasant smokiness on the tongue. But the great body (thank you kindly for the tannins Cabernet Franc!) and the clean finish are what will have you raving to your oeno-friends.

Next up was Silver Oak's acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon. Fitz says that Silver Oak sells out of its annual production of this astonishingly consistent wine year after year, at about $100 a bottle.

Part of its success, according to Fitz, is that Silver Oak will dump an entire vintage if it doesn't meet the winery's exacting standards. That makes for a reliable wine and a devoted following.

Great oakiness with a dose of vanilla thanks to the American made barrels. It's smoky, deep and rich, with hints of tart cherries, raspberries and molasses, but as a Barbera fan I loved the burnt rubber undertones that it shares with the traditional unoaked Barberas.

Add a satisfying astringency and mouth feel and you've got the evening's winner (if this had been a competition).

But the real winners were those of us sampling these wines, enjoying good company (and delicious appetizers) and witnessing Stephan's passion for wine and hearing his stories of Barcelona, a city he's equally passionate about.

Get your Wine Craze on every week at InterContinental. Next week there's a Brunello di Montalcino on tap, along with a sumptuous French selection.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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.