As Jim and his assistant poured a generous ounce of a Rudolf Muller German Riesling into each of our glasses, we passed the platters of fancy cheeses, crackers and grapes.
“Don’t eat grapes when you’re tasting wine,” warned Jim. “It’s an absolute faux pas.” Their very acidity clashes mightily with the carefully refined flavors of the wine, he explained. So of course, we had to try that … and of course, Jim was right. This would be the first of many interesting little wine lessons we would learn before the night was over.
To my left, Jeff Weyers, a partner in Commercial Horizons, chatted with Marty Lenss, Outagamie County airport director. Across from them, Wendy Gilbert of Insight chatted with Kim Sippola, marketing director at the airport, about their new direct flights to Denver. Our business partners from A2Z Design, Jeff Amstutz and Michael Miller, talked about the upcoming gala for “Wicked.” At the opposite end of the table, MBM president Fritz Merizon and his wife, Elizabeth conversed with Cossette’s wife, Susan. Back at our end, Brian Rasmussen of Insight and his wife, Jill, talked with Weyers as well as Jim Emmers and Dave Allen, my husband, of The Commercial Place.
Paul Klister, a partner in Commercial Horizons with Weyers and his brother, Bob Weyers, was in earlier and explained the connection between their development company and Red & White. As it happens, Klister and the Weyers met Cossette at his first location after it opened about four years ago in Buchanan, and together they decided that the new Commercial Horizons building on South Kensington, just off Hwy. 441 at Calumet, would be a bigger, better spot. They recruited Mary Beth Leopold to handle promotions at the wine store and tasting room. The plan, Jeff later explained, is to develop the plaza into a destination strip, with offerings attractive to the sort of people who enjoy, well, wine tasting.
Cossette continued pouring samples and we continued swirling and sniffing, tasting and rating. He shared more insider hints about wines: You will know your favorites by the sort of foods you like. Like pickles? You may prefer dryer wines and reds. Take cream in your coffee? Your palate may favor sweeter whites.
The lessons were fewer and shorter, the chatter and laughter increasingly louder as the tasting went on. (Impressed by Jim’s vast knowledge of wine making worldwide, Jeff remarked, “He even brought up the Spanish Inquisition,” which was a natural segue for our end of the table to begin reciting lines from Monty Python movies, starting with “NOBODY ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!”).
As we capped the evening with a wonderful Napa Valley Sirah, Jim explained the difference between a cork and a screw top: a screw top won’t ever leave you with chunks of cork floating in the bottom of your glass. And some local trivia: Alcan, which has a plant in Neenah, makes an aluminum screw cap that is catching on by vintners all over.
Jim also filled us in about the store’s monthly wine club (you get a red and a white for $25 or two reds for $40). Red & White also offers free wine tasting Saturday afternoons, and group wine tasting events every other week starting at $15 per person; private events are also popular. Local and artisan cheeses, tapenades, cheesecakes and truffles are available to complement the wines. To help curb cabin fever, Red & White launched its “Heritage Cocktail Series” on Sunday afternoons this winter, featuring house recipes for Bloody Marys, Old Fashioneds and Manhattans.
Quite a few of us purchased favorite wines we had tasted (prices ranged from $9.38 to $25 a bottle) and pledged to return soon.
“It was excellent – I especially enjoyed the Sirah; the atmosphere is fabulous,” Marty remarked on his way out. “I’ll come back with my family. I’m definitely not a wine person, but willing to learn.”