Molly Moran of Atwood Avenue’s Table Wine leads a group wine tasting: “I don’t want it to seem too daunting.”
Even before Molly Moran opened Table Wine, a boutique wine and beer store on Atwood Avenue, she knew events would be the cornerstone of her business.
“Madisonians love to do things,” says Moran, who owns the business with her husband, Conor, director of the Wisconsin Book Festival. “I think a great wine event introduces people to something new, lets them stretch their understanding a little. And for me, I get to engage with my customers.”
With all its depth and history, the world of wine can be intimidating. But events like wine tastings and classes can offer instructive, entertaining — and delicious — opportunities to learn, whether you’re still stumped by the question “White or red?” or you’re looking to broaden your knowledge about the nuances of terroir.
Table Wine offers two types of events at the shop: traditional tastings, where guests sample a variety of wines based on a theme, and something Moran calls “wine school,” which takes a more intensive, deep-dive exploration into a certain topic. The tastings are typically larger, more informal and social events, drawing about 25 to 50 people, while the wine school sessions are more focused and intimate, limited to about 10 people. Cost for the tastings is about $12, and wine school classes are typically around $15.
“My goal is for people to feel comfortable asking questions,” says Moran, who learned about wine while working in the service industry and by attending wine tastings herself. “I don’t want it to seem too daunting.”
Andrea Hillsey of Square Wine Co. focuses on hard-to-find wines from niche producers.
Events, which are announced on Table Wine’s website, Facebook page and email newsletter, cover a wide range of topics. Some are straightforward, like a session delving into the complexities of pinot noirs from around the world, while others are more conceptual, an exploration into the vernacular used to describe wines (with samples to match). Events are typically held two or three times a month, but things slow down a bit in the summer, Moran says. Even so, the response has been “phenomenal” since the store opened December 2015.
“It continues to be great to see new faces and event regulars,” she says. “We take great pride in mixing it up.”
At Square Wine Co., which opened on North Pinckney Street in 2012, owner Andrea Hillsey holds tastings regularly on Fridays and Saturdays. They feel like a combination of an open house social and a professor’s office hours: Guests can drop in and taste a few varieties while snacking on appetizers and mingling with other patrons, and Hillsey is on hand to share her considerable knowledge. The Friday night tasting runs from 6 to 8 p.m., costs $15 in advance or $20 at the door and features seven wines (and you get to keep your wine glass). On Sundays, the tastings run from noon to 3 p.m. and cost $10, but the fee is waived with a purchase.
“I want to be an everyday sommelier,” says Hillsey, who likes to focus on hard-to-find wines from niche producers. “I think it’s the responsibility of a small, indie wine shop to keep people up-to-date and educated.”