Chicago’s vibrant neighborhoods boast an array of restaurants with cutting-edge culinary expertise. However, some of the city’s most historic places are downtown. The Italian Village is one of these classics. Three restaurants in one, it has always been a destination for those who work in the Loop and the sizeable tourist trade. Not willing to simply rest on its venerable laurels, Italian Village – especially its flagship, Vivere – is still a pioneer in Italian cuisine. Wine Director Michael Taylor must constantly craft and tweak his wine list to accommodate customer tastes and the creativity of the entrées.
Taylor considers himself fortunate to have such an influence on one of Chicago’s most respected wine cellars, and at such a beloved restaurant. He oversees approximately 1,900 selections, rounding out a cellar that has more than 40,000 bottles.
Value Wine Chicago sat down with Taylor recently to discuss Italian wine, the challenges of pairing wine and food – and of course, the industry’s value sector:
Value Wine Chicago: What are some of your new wine discoveries? Have any Italian varietals that were once obscure become more popular?
Michael Taylor: Vernaccia is a nice white. I’ve been really getting into some Southern Italian whites from Campania, such as Fiano, Falanghina and Greco di Tufo. These are mineral-driven, steely white wines that deliver a lot of bang for the buck – just incredible. The Falanghina stands out to me. I found one just the other day for $12. Having these wines reminds me of the days when Grüner Veltliner was still fairly unknown. These wines are consistent from producer to producer, speak of terroir and have a great mineral aspect.
For a red, perhaps the most exciting one I tried this year was a Sicilian: Tenuta della Terre Nere. It’s a blend of two grapes – Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio. These are ancient grape varietals grown right near Mount Etna (an active volcano). It has great flavor of rich, ripe berries. You can almost taste the volcanic soil. I think of it as a Pinot Noir on steroids. Another interesting red is Bonarda, which is from Argentina.
VWC: What’s your opinion on Generation Y’s embrace of wine (and “critter labels”) and its aversion to stilted tasting notes and perhaps an over-emphasis on ratings?
MT: Anything that gets people interested in trying or drinking wine is a good thing. If a “critter label” is what got you into wine, that’s great. The thing you have to remember is, your palate is constantly changing. The things that excited me when I first started drinking wine aren’t the same things that excite me now. But, without those initial experiences, my palate wouldn’t appreciate all the new, different wines. Most people don’t typically start off with Burgundy or Barolo. They start with less-expensive, fruit-forward wines. The more people get into wine, the more they really want to hear about these different varietals, and aren’t afraid to try new things. There will always be a market for high-end wines, but I think people are really looking for values, and something different. We have hostesses in their early 20s who will ask me questions about wines, and I’m fascinated by how insightful they are.
VWC: What would you recommend as an ideal wine pairing?
MT: For reds, we have great duck entrée (Petto di Anatra con Pera in Sfoglia), and the pairing I really like is the St. Clair’s Vicar’s Choice Pinot Noir from New Zealand. It has high-toned, bruised strawberry and raspberry elements, which impart a bit of a cola aspect. You can find it for around $15 at retail.