Despite the recession (note to both political parties: it’s still around), a number of Chicago’s restaurants break new ground. They dazzle their patrons with culinary creativity – and establish a following despite often-bleak predictions. Meanwhile, the city’s reliable stand-bys maintain a loyal base of customers because they don’t cut corners on quality.
Whether a Chicago restaurant pushes the epicurean envelope or it’s one of the city’s cozy and traditional establishment, sommeliers and beverage directors are constantly tailoring their wine lists. The ultimate goal, of course, is to up-sell customers to higher-priced wines. However, times being what they are, it’s a delicate balancing act. These purveyors must be mindful of industry trends, deftly pair wine and food, and make sure customers are getting a good value.
That last point might still be the most important consideration: The economy is far from robust, and being cost-conscious is a grim reality. A number of wine directors are no exception when it comes to carefully allocating funds for their personal wine consumption. And they’re not shy about providing their opinions. Value Wine Chicago has once again obtained a few value picks from these local pillars of wine knowledge. (All prices are average retail.)
Shannon Tauschman, Restaurant Manager/Wine Buyer, Lawry’s The Prime Rib: “A wine that we’ve had much success with is Two Angels Petit Sirah. It has aromas of dark berries and violets with a bit of spice. For such a big, rich, fruit-forward wine, it is amazingly easy drinking. It’s the perfect foil for our prime rib. And at $12 a bottle, a perfect go-to recession wine.”
Jim Higgins, Co-Owner, Club Lucky: “I was having Pot Luck Dinner with some great friends, and we enjoyed the Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, Slusser Road Vineyard, Russian River Valley. It paired very well with most of the light fare that was presented on the table. Lean and herbal, it has intense lemon-lime, melon, grass and passion fruit flavors, plus great acidity. I ended up purchasing some for myself the next day. It is outstanding for the quality and price.”
Claudio Ulivieri, Wine Buyer, Stefani’s: “One of my favorite white wine selections is from Friuli, the Candoni Pinot Grigio. It has a fresh and fruity aroma that is very long-lasting, with a dry, mellow taste. This wine is great served as an aperitif or with freshly-caught fish, pasta and poultry.
“For a red, I would suggest the Da Vinci Chianti, ($13-14) which is well balanced with ripe plums and cherry fruit, plus a peppery finish. It’s great for both pasta and meat.”
Richard Malphrus, Wine & Beverage Director, Koi (Evanston): “When looking for value, I always start with newer wine regions, mostly because you are not paying a premium for a name. Two of my current favorites are the Sauvignon Blanc and the Syrah from the Chilean producer Natura. Both are true to the varietals, offer a nice sense of terroir and are organic. I recommend the Sauvignon Blanc with lighter sushi and steamed fish. The Syrah is actually softer than many would expect (from the Southern Hemisphere), and makes it ideal with spicy beef dishes or Korean barbecue.”