Wine Is on My Side, Yes it Is

You may or may not have heard that there is a group of AARP eligible musicians playing in Milwaukee tonight at the Marcus Amphitheater. And lest you think that I’m hobnobbing with Mick Jagger, sales Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood right now, fear not. Those cats are too cool to hang out with some bow tie sotted slob like me.

But given that tonight marks the real rockin’ start of summer with the Rolling Stones in town and is the occasion for the biggest concert of 2015 in Milwaukee so far (I say so far because I for one am holding out hope that these reports of the death of Frank Sinatra from years back are merely a myth and he will rise again and surely kick off his concert tour in Milwaukee), purchase I thought it might be nice to share with you the story of one Chris Ganos.

You’re probably scratching your head saying, “Chris Ganos? Did he play tambourine for the Stones?” No, I’m afraid the Ganos name will never be found on the liner notes for Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed. Ganos’ talents were more fluid. Specifically the fluid we all know and love called wine.

Chris Ganos was one of the first wine stewards at the Pfister, patient and he took his job seriously. He would work all day and then come home at night and study books on wine, fine-tuning his sommelier smarts. He worked with blinders on, committed to being the best he could be, offering guests at the Pfister an elevated and spectacular experience savoring the fermented grape juice. For Ganos, wine was what mattered, and in certain ways his world was limited to bottles, corks and glorious stemware.

Ganos lived a simple life. He was not a man of airs and for years he even took the bus to work everyday until he was convinced that it was okay for a family member to drive him. Approaching his job with dignity, he respected a higher code of hospitality and always worked to make guests feel like they were being treated like royalty while also helping to maintain a high level of professionalism in his place as a Pfister hospitality provider. He was a guy who cared, and he was careful to make sure that nothing went awry on his watch.

A day came during Ganos’ service when his mettle was tested. A group of men presented themselves and started to order some varying selections of wine. Their palettes were refined, and that impressed Ganos. What also impressed Ganos was the major tab they rang up as each new bottle was summoned forth. What was a little less impressive to the steward who took his job so seriously was their hair cuts.

Now remember, Ganos was a man who felt that the proper balance of refined service and hospitality with heart was essential. It took steely focus to do his job with distinction and to reach for the pinnacle of stewardship with each newly uncorked vintage. With that sort of resolve and dedicated drive towards a good experience for customers and hotel at stake, Ganos felt he had to discreetly bring the men to his boss’ attention.

“Boss,” said Ganos. “I’m a little concerned that those gentlemen won’t be able to pay their bill.”

“What?” said Ganos’ boss. “I don’t understand.”

“They’re ordering very good wine, very expensive stuff. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think they’re a little shady looking.”

Ganos’ boss chuckled. Ganos was a top performer, he had studied hard, and he was an honest and gentle soul. But what he possessed in love of wine and vaunted service, he lacked in good old rock n’ roll know how.

“Ganos,” said his boss, “don’t you know who those boys are. They’re the Rolling Stones.”

Just goes to show…never judge a man by the cut of his bangs.

Travel By Association ~ or ~ Travel Lite


Travelers. Travelers everywhere. Transient folks of every stripe walking, running, sitting, working, swimming, eating. Carrying luggage. Grabbing a cup of coffee. Adding sugar to their tea. En route toward somewhere. Arriving from someplace else.

Ah, airports. All of humanity distilled to a small area becoming a sudden, immediate culture. Unique and specific to that individual moment. The energy of not knowing what awaits on the other side of the tarmac touchdown chirp. I haven’t seen an airport in awhile but all the travelers inside this hotel make me feel as though I’m spending my time in a very relaxed version of one.

The experience of travel. Not just the carrot dangle destination, but getting there as well. I have these conventions, habits which only happen when traveling. I always try to arrive at the airport early to immerse in the vibe of transience, and chuckle about the seriousness of the TSA folks. After checking my luggage I order a Cinnabon roll slathered with frosting (reserved for airports alone). Then I might have a beer, even if the sun is out. I don’t have anywhere else to be and I’m not driving. Then I buy a new magazine, which I generally don’t read until reaching my destination. The reading material is only for the rare event that my neighbors prefer not conversing as much as I enjoy it.

There’s a curiosity and a titillation which exists inside places of travel or temporary residence. The immediacy that your only time to get to know all these people exists between now and your destination or connecting flight. A chance to learn from someone who may not look like you. They might only speak your language in words that provide the most * POP * to get their point across. They might not speak your language at all. They probably won’t share your political views, and will have completely different political issues in their city, or state, or continent.

I like having the time constraint of only the flight duration to try and understand another person.

There is also no accountability. You have no emotional attachment to another traveler, their past, or their future. Conversely, they hold none toward you. People are free to confide in one another regarding experiences or feelings they may not otherwise discuss openly with family, friends, or even their spouse. A person can tell a stranger all the details of their life they don’t care to be reminded of when they wake up the next day, fully rested to experience their new surroundings.

These things are all great, but what about when you can’t travel? When you’re busy.When a vacation is not in the budget. Times when work is too busy or you’re immersed in your studies. When family requirements may not allow for time outside the immediate zip code.

Despair not fellow hearts diagnosed with an incurable case wanderlust!

I invite you to indulge in something I refer to as Travel Lite. The Lite Beer of travels. This is travel by association. Chances are you’ve never met Doug from Virginia and heard his recommendations on California wine. Or Rick’s afternoon spent downhill skiing while in Dubai. Sandra’s experience working as a city planner in New York City. The bird dogs Ole has raised over the years. That time when the locals told Erica and Steve they weren’t crazy, that probably was a pointing dorsal fin, and that South America does indeed have freshwater sharks (as they dried with towels on the beach).

That is the lovely thing I’ve learned over the past few months. Any time you have a spare hour you’re able to stop in at your friendly neighborhood upscale hotel for a dose of travel lite. It’s as if all the best about travel has been brought to you. Except the food and drink is better and cab fare is cheaper than airfare.


The Work Behind the Wine

Heather doing what she does best: offering the right bottle of wine.

What is the meaning of life? I do not know and I’m quite sure many people are closer to having a conclusion than myself. The best I’ve managed to piece together is finding something you love and devising a way to make it pay your bills. Individuals who have successfully accomplished that have always fascinated me.

As an example I offer the sommelier. Their job is to become a walking wine database. How does one do this? Naturally, drinking wine is a large part of the job. But one can’t just become a lush and start wearing the expert cap. Uncountable hours of studying wine history and culture go into understanding not only wine but the very important aspect of pairing it with cuisine.

Heather Kanter-Kowal is Mason Street Grill’s in-house sommelier and assistant manager. For her wine is a way of life and a way of work. Last week Heather had a few minutes to sit down by the Mason Street Grill’s fireplace and tell me about the work behind the wine, her years getting to know the grape, and some of the exciting wines waiting for you at Mason Street. Click to listen below now or download for later.
The Work Behind the Wine by Ed Makowski

Bird Wines, The All-American Way

Heather Kanter-Kowal

Oh yes, viagra the most gluttonous, diet-busting, football-watching, truly American holiday of the year is upon us once again…Thanksgiving.  An extravaganza of traditional autumn foods in heaping excess, from the cranberry sauce, the candied yams, unhealthy the fluffy mashed potatoes, the pecan pies, the apple pies, the pumpkin pies, to the centerpiece of it all- the turkey (or tofurkey, however you choose to celebrate).  With so many varied culinary flavors at work, finding wines to enjoy with the feast is truly a pleasure.  Here are a few of my personal favorites, and keeping with the reason for the season, this list is just as all American as baseball:

  • Pinot Noir- The soft and silky texture of Pinot Noir backed by juicy cranberry, cherry and spice flavors makes it a slam dunk for something to sip with a drier bird like turkey.   Some of my favorites are from California, such as Sea Smoke, Steele, Au Bon Climat, Folk Machine and Belle Glos.  A few stunners from Oregon would be Argyle, Domaine Serene, Ken Wright, and Beaux Freres.
  • Riesling- Because it tastes better than white zin and you just might be able to convince your Great Aunt Hilda to try it.  The bright apricot and peach notes balanced by zesty acidity are a natural match to many of the sweeter flavors at the table, and prove to be thirst-quenching to the more savory dishes.  Try “Eroica” (think Beethoven) by Dr. Loosen & Château Ste. Michelle, Kung Fu Girl by Charles Smith, or Hogue Family Cellars, all of which are from Washington State.  For something closer to Milwaukee, Stone Throw Cellars from Door County also bottles a delightful Riesling.
  • Gewurztraminer- Think of Riesling, and then throw some exotic spices and a bouquet of dried flowers at it.  A fun alternative that is a tongue-twister to boot.  Say “GUH-vertz-trah-meener”.  Now you even sound German.  Don’t let the wine snobs tell you that the only good stuff is from Deutschland and France…Covey Run and Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington State make Gewurztraminer that is terrifyingly affordable and delicious.
  • Zinfandel- Yes, the RED one.  Juicy, jammy red raspberry and cherry tumbling over holiday spices.  Pick up Seghesio, Turley (if you can find it), Rosenblum, Ridge, or Four Vines…all from the Golden State.  This grape may have had Italian or Croatian origins, but this expression has been pure Americana since the Pre-Prohibition years.

Enjoy your holiday and please comment with any tasty pairings that you have come across!


Heather Kanter-Kowal

Wine Swirls again, with the Pfister Sommelier

A Case for Riesling

I have a confession to make.  I used to drink Moscato d’Asti, ask Riesling, Muscat from California on ice, wine coolers, and Stoli Raspberry with lemonade.  This is a pretty typical roster of beverages that any 21 year old female would enjoy.  I could not stomach a pilsner beer or a glass of Chardonnay, I only wanted to imbibe something that had the sugar content of a can of Pepsi.  No dry wines for me, sovaldi not ever.

Or so I thought.  One night, I found myself at a gathering with some other servers from a neighboring steakhouse.  The grand finale to this soiree was the popping of a bottle of Opus One 2001 to denote the host’s birthday which was the reason for celebration that evening.  The host insisted that I try a small glass, to which I initially  resisted, “I DO NOT drink dry or red wines!  Don’t waste your fancy wine on me!”  The second that delightful blend of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot hit my palate. I was a changed young wine drinker.  The lush and complex layers of chocolate, blackberry, vanilla, and cassis hit me like waves and I knew what it was really like to have a “Eureka!” moment.  I was a big, bad red drinker now, and only the boldest wines in the world would sway me.

It seems that many of us who become aficionados of the California Cabernet Cults start to get a bit snobbish when confronted with sweeter wines at some point.  Yes, of course we give a pass to Dolce and Chateau d’Yquem, but snooty when at Mom’s house and she pops open a bottle of Riesling that she proudly picked up at the grocery store.  Mom, I was wrong.  A few years ago, a great mentor of mine dropped by the wine shop that I was working for at the time.  She had a bag full of German Riesling from Dr. Loosen for me to taste that day.  I groaned, rolled my eyes, huffed and said “Fine.  I guess that I need to learn more about this swill”.

She patiently poured me the samples and tried to plead with me to have an open mind.  While she talked, I admired the way the rich golden juice stuck to the sides of my wine glass, what viscosity!  I inhaled and a wall of late summer flowers came to mind, along with fresh peach and apricot.  On the palate, the current of electric acidity cut right through the rich tropical and honeyed notes, leaving a clean yet intense sensation.  That acidity- just WOW! I could thought of a million things that this delight should be paired with: some sushi, a salad with a fruit component, Thai food, African peanut stew…the list was endless.

I had judged a grape in error for so many years because I had only sampled a few.  My mind was open now!  I learned that Riesling could be picked at different degrees of sweetness, truly expanding the possibilities for food and wine pairings.  Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and finally Trockenbeerenauslese from driest to sweetest.   The names J.J. Prum, Dr. Loosen, and Donnhoff are three that I always know that I can expect consistant excellence from.  Yes, some of the finest Auslese in the world may cost nearly the same as that bottle of Opus One, but there is a plethora of delicious Riesling coming from Germany, Washington State, Australia, France, New Zealand, and Austria that is more than affordable.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the big & bad red, but now I have an appreciation and adoration for something a little more graceful.

-Heather Kanter-Kowal

Heather Kanter-Kowal


Joseph Phelps Wine Dinner in Mason Street Grill

Join Chris St. Marie, National Sales Manager for Joseph Phelps Vineyards, as he guides you through an exquisitely prepared six-course dinner. The meal will be carefully paired with six elegant wines, including Insignia, from the vineyard. Throughout each course, guests are educated about these delectable, complementary pairings that bring out the distinct, delicious flavors in each culinary creation.

Enamored with the beautiful Napa Valley and contemplating a career change, Joseph Phelps bought the 600-acre Connolly cattle ranch in Spring Valley, and began planting vineyards in 1973. The winery was completed in 1974 and that same year the first Syrah was made, the first grapes were crushed at the new facility and the first Insignia was produced. Nearly four decades later, the flagship wine, Insignia, is recognized as one of the world’s great wines.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Reception: 6:00 p.m.
Dinner: 6:30 p.m.

$95.00 per person (tax and gratuity not included)

Please RSVP by calling 414.298.3131 or email before october 13. And let us know you’re coming on Facebook.

Wine Swirls again, with the Pfister Sommelier

My name is Heather Kanter-Kowal and I am the Certified Sommelier and Assistant Manager of the Mason Street Grill in the Historic Pfister Hotel.  This is the first post in a series about wine that I will be sharing with the Pfister community.  We will discuss different wine regions of the world, patient how to taste & evaluate wine, wine & food pairings, how to open a bottle of Champagne (safely!), and many other fun wine related topics.

A little bit of background about me… I started my career in hospitality twelve years ago here at the Pfister Hotel.  While working in Blu as a bartender when it first opened, nurse I realized that I would really need to learn a thing or two about wine if I was going to succeed in dazzling my guests on a nightly basis.  I ran out to pick up a few basic books about wine (and quite a few bottles!), doctor and spent my free hours teaching myself how to understand the wide world of wine.  My career took me to restaurants such as Osteria del Mondo, where Italian vino ruled the list, and Trocadero, which had an entirely French collection.  Along the way, I realized how much I truly enjoyed sharing the information that I had learned with my friends, colleagues, and most of all- my guests.

I studied for the Court of Master Sommeliers tests, which were an intense set of written, practical wine service and the most daunting of them all, the blind tasting tests.  I passed the introductory exam in Traverse City, MI and passed the Certified Exam four months later in Orlando, FL.  Becoming a Certified Sommelier opened the doors for me to work at the Immigrant Restaurant in the American Club of Kohler, WI, where I spent several years managing a vast international collection of lovely wines.

This past February, I was quite delighted to return “home” to the Pfister Hotel, and join the team at the Mason Street Grill.  I am excited to talk to our guests about wineries that they have been to, what wines would taste great with their meals, and to recommend where they can find their new favorite wines.  We are also hosting seasonal wine events, such as the Blackbird Vineyards Launch Party this September 26th and the Joseph Phelps Vineyards dinner on October 20th.

I look forward to sharing some unpretentious and useful wine advice with you!


Heather Kanter-Kowal

Heather Kanter-Kowal


Blackbird Vineyards: Wisconsin Launch Wine Tasting

Prepare yourself for an extraordinary evening at Mason Street Grill with wines from one of the most prestigious wineries in Napa Valley, cialis Blackbird Vineyards. Mason Street Grill welcomes the vineyard for its first Wisconsin visit, and invites you to an exclusive wine tasting on Monday, September 26, 2011.

Guest of Honor Paul Leary, Blackbird Vineyard President, will amaze you with his expertise in wine as you dine on exquisite hors d’oeuvres and passed appetizers created by our talented chefs. Guests will be treated to generous pours of specialty wines including Blackbird Rose ‘Arriviste’ 2010 and Blackbird ‘Illustration’ 2008. Individual wine bottles will also be available to purchase at retail pricing.

More about Blackbird Vineyard.
Founded in 2003, Blackbird Vineyards is an artisanal producer of Pomerol-inspired wines from the Napa Valley. Planted in 1997, the estate vineyard is located in the heart of the Oak Knoll District–a region appreciated for its moderate climate and deep, gravelly soils. Limited quantities are available through an allocated mailing list direct from the winery and in the finer restaurants and hotels around the world.

Monday, September 26, 2011
Reception: 6:00 p.m.
Presentation: 6:30 p.m.

$40.00 per person (tax and gratuity not included)

Please RSVP on Facebook and by calling 414.298.3131 or email before September 19, 2011

7-Course Nickel & Nickel Wine Dinner

Please join us for the Nickel & Nickel Wine Dinner at The Pfister on Wednesday, purchase July 20, 2011, in The Rouge Ballroom. $125.00  per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity).

Marcus Restaurants’ talented chefs – Robert Ash, buy viagra Mark Weber, David Zakroczymski and Brian Frakes – invite you to an exclusive wine dinner featuring celebrity vintner Beth Nickel. Together, the chefs will prepare a 7-course meal, paired with specially selected wines from the Nickel & Nickel winery in Napa Valley.

The reception begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m

View Menu

Reservations are limited, please call and reserve your space today!  800-558-8222 or email

Reservations are limited.  Based on availability.  Wine Dinner available on July 20, 2011 only.   Dinner is held in the Rouge Ballroom at the Pfister hotel.

Call 800-558-8222 for your reservation or email

Seating for One

There are so many corners to lose yourself in at the Pfister Hotel. Just when I think I’ve found the perfect nook, doctor I realize, there’s already a soft chair or couch there waiting for me—a clear demonstration that the staff at the Pfister know that cozy corners are a commodity.

The thing is, as part of my role, I am often at the Pfister alone. Many women may tell you they rarely go out alone. Maybe we go shopping, generic where it’s expected, or to a movie, where once the lights are down, it’s harder for people to see that you’re alone.

Male friends have laughed when I have said I wouldn’t stop in a bar for a drink alone. Women friends simply nod knowingly. So when at the Pfister, occasionally it’s nice to slide into a comfy cushion in an obscure corner and simply take in my surroundings.

I hope I don’t betray an entire group of people here, but occasionally, women deploy little tricks to ensure that they don’t get bothered, hit on or intruded upon when they’re cultivating their solitude in a glass of red wine at a bar.

First, I must recognize (and applaud) those who bravely venture out to fulfill their own relaxation or winding down techniques, whether friends have agreed to join them or not. And second, I need to let you know it happens far more often than you think.

I sat down in the lobby bar next to a couple who easily engaged me and we had a great time together. One of the stories the gentleman wanted to share was of the young woman who had warmed my chair not thirty minutes prior. The man said he’d offered her a drink and she said, clutching her wine, “No, I’m waiting for someone, thank you.”

After the wine was gone, the woman left. The gentleman’s wife returned and he said, as she sat, “Huh, poor girl, her friend stood her up.” The wife questioned his details and laughed. “Oh, she didn’t have a friend coming.”

Confused, the husband was then schooled (and then again by me after his retelling of the event) in woman-alone-at-the-bar logic. We tell lies like that to make ourselves feel comfortable, to ward off unwelcome advances and to feel socially secure in our aloneness.

Since that lesson, I’ve paid special attention to all the single ladies in the house at the Pfister and I must say—there are a great many of us. Just the other night, during those immediate post-work hours at Blu, I spotted a woman enjoying a glass of wine and clearly winding down. Oblivious to those around her, she faced her chair outward toward the city and calmly enjoyed her surroundings. There were a number of men seated alone as well, perhaps parts of conferences or folks traveling for work, but not a one of them approached her or disrupted her serenity. It could have been because most of them had their chairs facing the skyline as well and as the sun set  it was a pretty irresistible view, easily one that no pick-up line could compete with.

So I continue to applaud the brave women who, by whatever means necessary, whether it’s an amazing view, stellar confidence or a little white lie, secure for themselves a cozy nook to enjoy some time to themselves. I may notice you when I’m there, but I promise, I will not disturb.