Category Archives: Wine Fellowship Group

Wine & Cheese Tasting Event at Fromagination July 13

–submitted by Mike Wilson


The Wine Fellowship Group met at 7:00 PM Monday July 13 at Fromagination for a wine and cheese tasting.  This is the third Fromagination event the Wine Fellowship has held over the years.  Rotarians, with spouses and friends attended, and the 23 attendees all had a terrific experience.  Ken Monteleone of Fromagination provided his employee Steve Schaefer as the “cheesemonger” and another helper for pouring the wine, and arranged for Andrea Hillsey, sommelier owner of Square Wine Company to supply and collaborate with the wines.

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The shop was arranged with beautiful platters of cheese, crackers, dried fruit together with bread and wonderful gougeres (French cheese puffs) to complement the wonderful selection of cheeses and wines.  These gougeres have been a trademark of the Rotary Fromagination tastings.

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The “menu” was Margaine extra brut NV Champagne (100% Chardonnay) paired with Marieke Golden Gouda; a 2013 Girard Sancerre was matched with a Lombardy Quader de cavra (aged in square pinewood crates for 35 days); and a 2009 Pecina Crianza Rioja with Manchengo a sheep milk cheese from Spain’s La Mancha using Manchega sheep with the traditional herring bone rind.

Wine 21These three combinations were followed by a 2011 Hunt & Harvest Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar cow’s milk cheese from Blue Mounds where the owner ages the cheese in real caves carved into the hillside.  This cheese is truly bandaged, and these cheeses take on the rugged appearance of the cave they were aged in.  The last pairing was a NV Quinta do Infantado Ruby Port with a cow’s milk Dunbarton Blue from Schullsburg, which is an English-style cheddar with a hint of Blue (small amount of Blue resulting from narrow piercings of the cheese for the blue, then pressing the cheese to prevent the usual proliferation of blue veining).

The descriptions of the cheeses and wines were excellent and quite different from other tastings and were immensely enjoyed by all.  Overall the wine and cheese combinations liked best by the group were the Crianza/Manchego and the Ruby Port/Dunbarton Blue combinations, but all were excellent.  It was interesting that these two wines were the least expensive of the tasting retailing at $21 and $18 respectively (the other wines averaged $32).

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The tasting ended with Ken providing a taste of Hooks 20 year aged cheddar – a real treat for us all! This cheese sold out immediately when released (two shops only) after a debut at a L’Etoile seven-course dinner for 70 people.  We got this small taste of a surprisingly creamy cheese with the calcium lactate crystals crunching like “pop rocks” in our mouths – all without having to pay the $209 per pound price.

There was lots of time for questions and answers.  Everyone had an excellent time, learned much about wine, and an awful lot about cheese. All this information provided in a most salubrious atmosphere.


Second New Zealand Wine Tasting on June 2

–submitted by Mike Wilson


Ten Rotarians with some of their spouses met at the Wilson’s to taste wine with a NZ influence.  This was a second NZ tasting as the first was oversubscribed. Because at least two couples (Wilson’s and Mixtacki’s as co-Chairs of the Wine Fellowship) attended both tasting’s there were changes in most of the wines selected but ~5 wines were common and the theme was nearly identical.

Mike & Carolyn Casey with Bill Montei

Mike & Carolyn Casey with Bill Montei

Mike Wilson selected thirteen wines from NZ and the world.  These included wines (wines with winemakers from both NZ and the USA – Washington and Oregon), and with a very large emphasis on Sauvignon Blanc (from NZ of course and also the Loire and California).  These SB’s  represent most NZ wine now produced (75% SB and 9% Pinot Noir).  We also tasted NZ Chardonnay and Pinot Gris which with SB and Pinot Noir makes up 94% of total wine production – an extraordinarily high percentage of the majority of NZ wine being of the four top classical varieties.  In some ways this results from NZ being a New World wine region, where there are no historical precedents of local native grapes having been  grown over the prior centuries.

Because of the early influence of Muller Thurgau (a Riesling and Chassalas hybrid) in the 1970’s when more than half the wine produced in Germany and NZ, and likely most other countries making white wines was made from this sweet, rapid growth, abundant yield grape that was the bane of classical wine drinkers (who were few and far between at the time).  I dislike this wine generally but we tried one from the heights of the Alto Adige (1000 meters) that was excellent with this minimally pink color.  It had been recommended by Pat Ducey at Steve’s University Avenue.

Steve & Meryl Mixtacki with Mike & Patty Wilson

Steve & Meryl Mixtacki with Mike & Patty Wilson

We discussed the history of wine making in NZ and the influence of the Dalmatians (from coastal Croatia) who came to dig up the Kauri tree gum, and then restarted the NZ wine industry that then prospered after the Muller Thurgau was finally dispatched.  An added wine (that the first NZ Tasting group had) was from a winemaker that came to dig gum but when that ran out, bought land in the 1930’s, and planted vines.  His wife remains the patriarch of Kumeu Vineyards (the region where wine making was reinvigorated) and his son is the winemaker and the only winemaker with a Master of Wine (~ 8 get this exam each year, and there are only 300 MW’s worldwide) making him quite unique. Jancis Robinson is a MW too.

We tried some Kim Crawford wines.  Kim is famous as being the first Virtual Winemaker of NZ (no vines and no winery) who with his marketer wife sold half of his 40,000 case output overseas to the UK.  He rapidly became winemaker of the year twice in NZ during the wine resurgence of the late 90’s and had top 100 wines in the Wine Spectator for many years from 2006 to 2010.  We discussed his sale to a Canadian Conglomerate (Vincor) in 2003 of the no longer virtual vines, winery and real estate for US$50,000,000.  There was a subsequent 2006 hostile transfer to Constellation which strictly enforced the Crawford name trademark they had purchased. The Crawford’s were no longer able to use the Crawford name, and not make/sell wine for 10 years.  Crawford now has land in Marlborough and Central Otago (the two prime NZ sites) and sells wine under the Loveblock label, with their name selection relating to the care they used in selecting and preparing the land and vines for their second wine making adventure and released their own Loveblock (not Crawford) wines recently.  We tried their latest SB and compared to their “sold” Crawford namesake wines, with their own wine naturally being the better!


Becky Steinhoff, Cheryl Wittke, Noel Pearson and Brian Basken

Lastly we tried two Church Road wines.  The original owner of this property was Tom McDonald a second cousin of Mike Wilson.  In the early 80’s Tom told Mike some of his stories and one that when Tom made Chardonnay in the 70’s there was no market for it so he kept some for himself each year and threw (blended) the rest into the dreaded Muller Thurgau. Tom began in the wine business at the Mission Vineyards run by the Marist Brothers that happens to be the oldest continuously running winery in NZ.  Tom bought the land next door and began his own business and is widely acclaimed as the Father of the Red Wine Business in NZ.  Mike Wilson received two bottles of red wine from Tom a year or two before his demise in the 1980’s (a 1968 and 1980 Cabernet Blend) which Mike returned to the Church Road Winery museum this year when the Wilson’s and Mixtacki’s traveled to NZ.  We tried an older Chardonnay and a “Tribute to Tom” Cabernet/merlot blend and the latter was both corked and wax sealed (NZ has 99% Stelvin “screw” caps usage).

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All in all, a nice tasting with a fun learning experience for all!

New Zealand Wines Tasted on May 26 by Wine Fellowship Group

–submitted by Mike Wilson


Rotarians and guests of the Wine Fellowship Group enjoyed the hospitality of Mike & Patty Wilson for a “Wines of New Zealand” Tasting on May 26.

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The tasting included:

  • Three Sauvignon Blancs (SB).  A Sancerre (original classical example of SB), a NZ SB made by Sineann whose Washington winemaker goes down each year to make and ship this back to the US, then we will try a Russian River Valley version of a “Fume Blanc” with a touch of wood.
  • Three Chardonnays.  A 2010 Nelson example (near Marlborough) from Neudorf a major producer there, a 2011 Auckland Kumeu Village wine with the distinction that the wine maker (the only one in NZ with a MW) is the son of a “gum digging” Dalmatian Mate Brajkovich who bought the land in 1940, and a 2009 Church Road Reserve from Hawkes Bay.  Three Central Otago Pinot Noirs with two 2012’s, one from Kim Crawford (now not able to use the Crawford name hence Loveblock) and Cashburn from the Bannockburn (Felton Road fame) region, and a 2013 from the itinerant Sineann winemaker.
  • Last three wines.  These are three very different wines, an excellent Muller Thurgau from the Alto Adige and the highest winery in the region, a Pinot Gris (the fourth most planted grape in NZ), and a 2009 Church Road Reserve Cabernet/Merlot blend.

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Photo 1: Joy & David Rice; Photo 2: Mary Janet & Karl Wellensiek; Photo 3: Julie & Keith Baumgartner

This tasting represented a very special theme:

The dreaded Muller Thurgau, SB from different countries, Chardonnays with one from an educated (MW equates with best tasting knowledge) descendent of the Dalmatians, whose mother still works for the business (a Grand dame), Two bottles from Church Road that I paid $20 each to ship back home from my second to last visit to NZ, Pinot Noirs including one from Kim Crawford, now being allowed to make wine but not use his name (nor will his winemaker son ever be able to label his wines with the Crawford name).

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Photo 1: Steve & Meryl Mixtacki; Photo 2: Mary Willmer & Steve Holzhauer; Photo 3: Ellie Schatz; Photo 4: Mary Willmer, Steve Holzhauer, Steve Mixtacki & Meryl Mixtacki

In summary, everyone enjoyed themselves and learned a little more about New Zealand!

Bring Your Own Bottle, Story and Snack Wine Tasting

–submitted by Mike Wilson

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The Wine Fellowship met at our home for a “Bring Your Own Bottle, Story and a Snack” tasting on January 29.  Thirteen tasters arrived with a bottle of wine and a snack together with the story.  Some of the stories included:

The best Syrah in my collection.
Please help me select a good wine for a “fancy pants” tasting.
A Michigan Pinot Noir.
Favorite best buys.

Each wine had a very interesting story.

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Photo 1: Ginny & Ken Yuska; Photo 2: Mary Janet & Karl Wellensiek; Photo 3: Meryl & Steve Mixtacki

All of the wines ranked well in quality (I rated them from 17.5 – 19.0 on a 20 point scale), no doubt assisted by the fun and gaiety had by all.

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Photo 1: Ellie & Paul Schatz; Photo 2: Cheryl Wittke & Ken Yuska; Photo 3: Meryl Mixtacki & Mary Janet Wellensiek

The pairings included:

A New Zealand and the very excellent Michigan Pinot Noir.
A Grenache and a Syrah.
Two Merlots.
A Bordeaux and a US Cabernet.

We feasted on multiple cheeses, a variety of crackers and breads, proscuitto and salami wrapped mozarella, hot quesadillas with salsa, spinach roll ups, spicy shrimp, and chocolate coated strawberries.

BrantWe welcomed new Rotarian Mark Brant and his wife, Tracy (pictured at left) to their first Wine Fellowship Event.  We were glad to have you with us!


From the Saone to the Mediterranean

–submitted by Mike Wilson, Co-Chair Rotary Wine Fellowship Group

photo34On Tuesday, the 11th of November, the Downtown Rotary Wine Fellowship Group went down to the Madison Club for a wine tasting themed, “From the Saone to the Mediterranean–Wines of Southern France.”  28 Rotarians and guests were present, and they had a great tasting.  14 glasses were placed on a 20 by 12 inch placemat that had all 14 wine labels reproduced in color, so each wine could be kept in the right place. Each taster could be sure which wine they tasted – and no “front and back” confusion occurring as is the case when tasting at the Wilson’s.

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In addition to the gigantic placemat resplendent with 14 glasses there was a five page description of the wines, with numerous other interesting stories and factoids.  A map of France’s wine regions (the focus of the tasting) was provided, and Kitty Bennett noted that if you split this map horizontally about halfway North and South through the country, then those regions above this line usually produced single varietal wines while those below this line usually produced blended varietal’s.  This was a fascinating observation.

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(Photo 1: Paul and Ellie Schatz; Photo: Tim Stadelman; Photo 3: Janet Piraino and Patty Wilson)

Also provided was an order sheet with the prices of each wine.  The cheapest wine turned out to be the wine most beloved by the tasting majority, costing $18 to purchase while the most expensive wine was a Chateauneuf-du-Pape (CNP) at $78, a bottle added to the samples by the Madison Club as the “Big Boy” wine of the night.

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(Photo 1: Ken and Ginny Yuska; Photo 2: Juli and Keith Baugartner; Photo 3: Mary Janet and Karl Wellensiek)

photo4We were all at the Madison Club as the Co-Chair of the Rotary Wine Fellowship group, Steve Mixtacki, had worked with Keith and Juli Baumgartner, regular attendees of both the Rotary and Madison Club wine tasting events, to see if Rotarians could have their own Madison Club tasting.  This event resulted from this collaboration.  The tasting was managed by Kitty Bennett (pictured at left).  Kitty is the the owner of PRIMA LLC, with a book of outstanding wines. Her portfolio has an emphasis on organically grown wines.   Mike Wilson had worked with Kitty in his Chez Michel days.

The first wine set the tone of the evening.  This was a Macon white from a great Pouilly Fuisse producer, and this Barraud Macon-Fuisse (a lesser version of Pouilly Fuisse) was a stunner.  At the end of the evening this was the rated as the “Best of the Bunch” by more than half the tasters – an extraordinary feat for such a large gathering and large number of wines tasted.  This wine cost only $18 but reflects the vineyards and winemakers of this superb winery.  The most expensive wine, the CNP, was rated best by several tasters.

Next, two red Burgundies of lesser appellations were tried – a Mercury and a Marsanny, with the latter having a true  “burgundian nose”.  We then tried two Beaujolais wines, both family run enterprises and classic benchmarks of their style.

photo24Now we slipped south into the Rhone.  We started with a white (Cairanne) and a Cotes-du-Rhone.  Next we tried two other Rhone wines, A Le Clos des Caillon CNP (home of the new French pope) and a Romaine de la Boissiere Gigondas.  Both were Rhone blends being south of that “horizontal” line described above.  CNP’s are required to have at least 6, and as many as 18, individual wine varieties. The Gigondas we tried had the typical Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre combination of this wine, a combination made famous as “GSM” by Australian marketing of their Antipodean blend. We also tried a Rhone Rose.

Next, we ventured into Provence and we had a another great Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carignan blend, and a Minervois made from old vine Grenache, Carignan, and Cinsault.  The Minervois had Anne Gros as part of the winemaking, ownership team.  Anne is a legend in Burgundy, and as half of this winemaking team, reflects a really serious efforts in place to demonstrate the potential of these regional wines.

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Lastly we had a delightful story of a “sweetie” wine made from Grenache. I loved this 10 year old wine that is aged for a year in a glass demijohn outside – a traditional process that is followed by 6-10 (in this case 9) years aging in large oak casks.

photo5The food supplied was excellent, and even included pickled asparagus spears that I could not stop eating.  All in all, a wonderful evening was had by Madison Rotary Wine Fellowshippers, and we all thank Steve Mixtacki, the Baumgartners, and the Madison Club for this FINE WINE experience.


Rotary Wine Fellowshippers Enjoy Another Great Event on June 24

–submitted by Mike Wilson

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The Wine Fellowship Group had a Bring Your Own (BYO) Event at Mike and Patty Wilson’s on Tuesday the 24th of June. There were 15 attendees, and each Rotarian brought a bottle of wine, their story to go with it and a snack to accompany it. Great fun was had by all!  I rated every bottle of wine as excellent (17.75-18.5/20 on my scale),for an extraordinary fleet of wines.

From left: Nona Hagen, Dan Dieck, Mike Casey & Carolyn Casey

From left: Nona Hagen, Dan Dieck, Mike Casey & Carolyn Casey

They started with three cold wines: a Santinori Assyrtiko to accompany a tapenade; an Alsatian Pinot Gris (Rotenberg from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht) with a Greek dip; and a Rose of Sangiovese from Amorosa (called Goia) with the winery being a large “Napa Castle” which was viewed from their parking lot on the successful Wine Fellowship tour of Napa exactly one year ago.  These were accompanied by feta and watermelon kebabs.

Next, two beautifully soft Pinot Noirs were tasted:  Acrobat from Oregon and Husch from the Anderson Valley.  Both were paired with great artisanal Wisconsin cheeses and a basket of cherries.  Just like the cold wines described above, these were excellent, and the tasting group was evenly divided in preference.

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(Photo 1: Mike & Mandy McKay; Photo 2: Juli & Keith Baumgartner; Photo 3: Patty Wilson & Cheryl Wittke)

Two “racy reds” were then tasted:  A Domaine de la Janesse Cotes Du Rhone with a colorful story of how it came to be selected (Dan Dieck’s son had sent a case from France) and an A Venge wine called Scouts Honor (a dog story, not Baden-Powell) California blend (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Charbono and Syrah).  Once again, the tasting group liked both equally well.

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(Photo 1: Steve & Meryl Mixtacki; Photo 2: Meryl Mixtacki & Mike Wilson; Photo 3: Mary Barbieri & Beverly Simone)

Finally the hosts provided two very different ports.  A 1960 Warre’s Vintage Porto as a traditional base, and a 1947 “Royal Reserve” Mazuran “Port” from New Zealand. This previously unknown vineyard in Henderson , NZ, has been producing Port for years.  The initial winemaker was a descendant of the Dalmatian Kauri tree gum diggers that emigrated to New Zealand early on for just this purpose, but when the Kauri trees were significantly reduced (now a protected tree) they switched to other work.  Dalmatia is near where the original Zinfandel vines have been located, and these immigrants formed the basis of the early New Zealand wine industry.  Chocolate covered strawberries and other chocolates were the accompanying snack made by Hostess Patty.  Here the New Zealand port was the absolute winner.  The 67 year old Royal Reserve is the very first Mazuran port Mike tried some 40 years ago, and was released for the visit of the young Queen Elizabeth in her 1952 tour of New Zealand as part of the new monarchs tour of the antipodean british Commonwealth.  Perhaps the Mazuran was rated so well as the tasters were informed that it now sells for NZ$700.

Our thanks to Mike & Patty Wilson for hosting another great event!

Our thanks to Mike & Patty Wilson for hosting another great event!

A great time was had by one and all!