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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

Sumptuous Spoils

Thief’s exceptional wines

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Standingbefore a looming wall of wine at the local wine shop or liquor store, you wouldn’t be alone if you felt overwhelmed when faced with the task of picking a bottle. How do you choose which one to buy? Do you base your decision on the type of grape used, the wine’s region of origin or the winery where it was produced? Do you trust the grade given by Wine Spectator? Or maybe your selection is based on a clever name or pretty label.

There is a store out there that can help even the most inexperienced of wine shoppers. “I look at our shop as a filter,” explains Phil Bilodeau, owner of Thief Wine Shop & Bar. “I taste thousands of wines and go through all the distributors and review all the portfolios. I put in the work to find those wines that are exceptional, distinctive and are at the right price. If it’s on our shelves, you know it’s good.”

Since opening Thief Wine Shop & Bar at the Milwaukee Public Market last July, Bilodeau and his fiancee, Aimee Murphy, have garnered quite a following for their distinctive selection of eclectic wines that span the globe. Both Murphy and Bilodeau have impressive wine pedigrees that have given them access to resources and the experience needed to operate a wine shop and bar with such an extraordinary selection.

In addition to running her own catering business, Murphy brings to the table skills she developed as director of hospitality at Hanna Winery in Sonoma County, Calif., as well as working in wine production at Testarossa Vineyards, a renowned Pinot and Chardonnay producer in California. Murphy passed the Level 1 course of the Court of Master Sommeliers, an organization of trained wine professionals.

Bilodeau is not only a certified sommelier, he is one of 16 candidates chosen from North America in 2004 for the Masters of Wine designation, the industry’s most rigorous and competitive certification. Bilodeau’s wine expertise grew during his five years as a wine distributor in Minneapolis. He spent the last five years in the Napa and Sonoma regions of California, where he worked for Grgich Hills Estate, Trefethen Family Vineyards and Sonoma County Vintners, a trade organization representing the region’s wines and wineries.

To reflect their insider experience, the owners named their business after a barrel thief, a tool used to extract maturing wine form barrels for sampling.

Milwaukee Public Market was chosen as a home for the boutique wine shop and bar because it combines a number of specialized shops with the convenience of one location. The retail shop stocks more than 500 wines with a focus on artisanal producers. Along with an interesting repertoire of wines from both classic and emerging winemaking regions, the Thief has a refined collection of beer, sake and spirits. To further serve their clientele, the owners offer curbside pickup. Customers buy their wine during the day, call the shop when they’re on the way to the Market and their purchase will be on St. Paul Avenue when they arrive.

At the wine bar, 30 different wines are available by the taste (2 oz.), glass (5 oz.), and flight (three 2 oz. tastes). The bar’s wine list rotates twice a month, including a compelling selection of sparklers, roses whites and reds. Along with daily specials, the bar hosts its own happy hour Monday through Thursday with its “4:00 Flights” when flights of wine are 20% off.

Thief has a small menu that includes cheese plates from West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe, curry chicken from Aladdin and an olive plate from Rupena’s (all of which are located in the Milwaukee Public Market). Customers are invited to bring food purchased from any other vendors and enjoy it with a glass of wine at the bar. Thief Wine Bar & Shop is currently hosting casual tastings every Tuesday evening. Upcoming events include “Sparkling Wine Extravaganza!” on Tuesday, Dec. 16, an opportunity to sample a wide variety of sparkling wines, including true Champagne.

Thief Wine Bar & Shop is located at 400 N. Water St. For more information, call (414) 277-7707 or go to www.thiefwine.com. Open Monday to Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday and Friday: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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