So you're ready to graduate from Jäger shots and PBR tallboys to wine, but your wine education begins and ends with having once half-watched Sideways. It’s cool, we’ve got you -- the truth is, one of the best ways to learn about wine is to taste as many as you can (we know, it’s awfully hard homework). So go out, young grasshopper, and cultivate your palate at the best wine bars Milwaukee has to offer.
Vino 100 is more of a wine store with a bar inside, but that's OK, since it's always better to try before you buy. They even sell the stemware you're drinking out of, just in case you want to precisely recreate your night out at home. There are always events going on here, and the patio is the place to be in summer. If you want to be the most amazing host in America, you can rent a private wine storage locker in the cellar, where you can keep some bottles handy for guests to sample -- or for your own after-hours consumption.
Ruby Tap is the choose-your-own-adventure of wine bars. You’re encouraged to create your own cheese and charcuterie platters for DIY pairings, and most of the wines are available from a self-serve machine along one wall. Pick your wine, pick your pour, and then go back for more without having to get a bartender's attention. It's the alcoholic version of a froyo shop, only, you know, boozy and chic.
Third Ward & Shorewood
You can take a break from the chaos that is the Milwaukee Public Market with a glass of wine at Thief. Wines are available by the taste, glass, and bottle in a range of prices, and for the indecisive, there are wine flights -- nab a cava from Spain, a chablis from France, and a Chianti from Italy, and you’ll have basically taken a tour of the Continent for under $15.
Balzac has been around since before wine bars were trendy thanks to its massive, well-curated wine list and a food menu filled with small plates and apps. You can get anything from halibut with kale to the ever-popular mac-and-cheese (which will totally pair with your chardonnay). Plus, if your date turns out to be a dud, the walls are lined with a mishmash of interesting items.
This no-frills spot speaks directly to lovers of wine, cheese, and/or chocolate lover. They have over 300 bottles available (that’s more than you need, really), served in a warm, industrial setting surrounded by cream city brick. The staff is super knowledgable about vino, so this is a great beginner wine bar. There's also a super rare, extra fancy Italian meat slicer in the kitchen -- so you should probably order some prosciutto.
The Black Sheep has changed formats a few times since opening, but they are now firmly cemented as a wine bar, and currently peddle 16 wines on tap -- plus some wine cocktails. They focus on small-production wines, so the selection changes frequently. Plus, they’re a full-service restaurant, so you can get everything from burgers to brunch along with your Pinot.
Though Pizza Man is, first and foremost, a beloved Italian restaurant, its wine list is truly expansive and one of the best in Milwaukee. All of these glasses (and bottles, and more glasses and bottles) make up a book that’s a dozen pages long, broken down into some categories you've probably never even heard of -- Arneis or Valdigiuie, anyone? Luckily, they also offer thorough descriptions, just in case you're a little lost on what will pair best with your artichoke a la mode pizza (yes, that’s a thing).
It's not unusual for a French restaurant to have a great wine list, but it is unusual that they also run a wine shop above the bistro. You can browse the selection while you wait for your table, then stop up after your meal and grab a bottle to take home. You might expect the wine list to be made up exclusively of French varieties, but it's an eclectic mix of vintages from around the globe.
1. Vino 100219 E. Erie St., Milwaukee
2. The Ruby Tap1341 N Wauwatosa Ave, Wauwatosa
3. Thief Wine Bar400 N Water St, Milwaukee
4. Balzac1716 N Arlington Pl, Milwaukee
5. Indulge708 N Milwaukee St, Milwaukee
6. Black Sheep MKE216 S 2nd St, Milwaukee
7. Pizza Man2597 N Downer Ave, Milwaukee
8. Pastiche Bistro & Wine Bar3001 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee
Vino 100, a large wine shop and bar in Milwaukee's historic Third Ward boasts an impressive selection of wine (duh), plus gourmet food and groceries. The convivial spot also hosts regularly tastings in addition to community events (comedy nights and live music are some of the items on their calendar). Most wines here retail for under $25, a true steal.
This neighborhood wine bar features self-service taps, a wide selection of craft brew, and plenty of savory snacks to munch on while you get your drink on. The cozy interior makes it the perfect place to hang out with friends, vino in hand. Stop by for regular regional wine tastings, or join the house wine club and test out new arrivals before everyone else.
The flagship location of this Milwaukee fave wine outpost boasts a massive selection of vino for all your imbibing needs. Located in the Public Market of Milwaukee's historic Third Ward District, this large retail store carries wine from all over the world, most of which you can try in their on-site bar. Be sure to check out nightly happy hour deals on carafes and flights.
Cozy, dimly lit, and covered with antique prints and photos, Balzac screams date night, offering a smattering of small wooden tables and chairs, plus an extensive wine list that pairs nicely with intimate conversation. The selection of wine, which includes too many vintners and vintages to count, is what brings people in, and the menu of small plates ensures they stay. Flatbreads, charcuterie, cheese plates, crab cakes, and the fan-favorite duck nachos are ideal for sharing.
Indulge is a super classy spot in Milwaukee's Juneau Town. Offering a gourmet selection of vino (over 60 by the glass and 300 by the bottle), chocolate, and charcuterie inside a candle-lit, brick-walled interior, this is the place to take someone you're hoping to impress.
This hip wine bar and resto in Walker's Point offers a wide selection of craft vino on tap, plus chic bar fare. Working off flavors from traditional Wisconsin fare, the menu features elevated comfort food classics like fried chicken and eggs Benedict. Open for dinner and brunch, Black Sheep also hosts nightly wine happy hour.
Though Pizza Man has been around for a long time, the pizzas at this popular spot with a charming deck and patio have evolved with the times and include newfangled toppings like arugula, lamb sausage, and the one topping that divides people most: cream cheese. Try it on the Artichoke a la Mode, its most popular pizza, or go green with pesto-sauced pizza topped with fresh arugula for a fresh, bitter kick.
Pastiche is a cozy 10-seater in Bay View with vino a plenty. Operating as a bistro on the bottom floor and a friendly neighborhood wine shop up top, experience all that Pastiche has to offer dining in or when you take a bottle home. The seasonal French menu pairs well with good company.