All-American value drives Red Canary’s wine list

Americans are sometimes cajoled (coerced?) into shunning imported products or anything of foreign origin. When gas shortages and inflation fueled the sales of small Japanese cars, throngs of “Buy American” partisans would show up in behemoth Buicks to publicly flog Hondas. Not as long ago, France balked at the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and some politicians hyperventilated over a new name for deep-fried taters. (Hint: They didn’t choose “Pommes Frites.”)

But at the attractive Red Canary, a River West gastro-lounge, an All-American theme holds forth – only without the boisterous, jugular-veined jingoism. Rather, Red Canary is where the good-time indulgence of Americana is on full display. Large booths – comfy as the back seat of a 1970s Lincoln – accommodate pleasure-seeking customers who unapologetically enjoy a variety of Stork Club era libations.

Note: To read the full-length article, see Red Canary: An All-American for value wine – Chicago Budget Wine |

And, although Red Canary’s principals wouldn’t make a sophomoric scene of pouring bottles of Bordeaux into the Chicago River, the restaurant’s all-domestic wine list is a source of pride. It’s also populated with great value wines

Recently, Value Wine Chicago sat down with general manager Michael Churchward, and discussed the homeland-spun decadence of Red Canary, along with its niche within the industry of fine food and wine.

Value Wine Chicago: All of the wines on Red Canary’s list are domestic, and yet many are from Oregon and Washington, so there’s some distinction there. What was the philosophy behind building the wine list at Red Canary?

Michael Churchward: Our philosophy here is “Real American Comfort.” So, from the very beginning (Red Canary has been in business for 1.5 years), we wanted to have an all-American wine list. We told our reps we wanted it to be that way, too – even when we tasted varietals that typically come from [abroad], like Pinot Gris and Rieslings, which on our list comes from Oregon/Washington. We wanted to show – and we think this is important here in Chicago –that you can go out and truly impress your friends solely with domestic wine.

VWC: Other sommeliers and wine directors say that the recession has changed the way people order wine –or what they order –and that Millennials’ experimental attitude has dovetailed with this change in consumer habits. Do you agree?

MC: Yes! I think, from the restaurant perspective, if you have a list dominated by high-end wines, customers who are between 25-30 aren’t really impressed by that. They want something that will be less expensive, but still have a taste that measures up with [critics’ choices]. A lot of younger people are finding out you don’t need to be snobbish about wine to enjoy it, and obtain a great bottle of wine that won’t set you back so much. On Wednesdays, we do half-priced bottles of wine, and we find that a lot of the clientele on Wednesday nights are ages 25-35.

VWC: In your own words, how do you distinguish between value wine and wine that’s simply inexpensive?

MC: A lot of it boils down to taste characteristics that you come to expect. For example, if you’re going to evaluate a Cabernet Sauvignon, there are certain characteristics that a Cab should have. It has to be dry, with a long finish. It really has to stick with you after each sip. I start from there. If the wine is simply cheap, it’s not long lasting. I’ve had Cabs for [less than $15] that can really stick with you, in the way the really expensive ones are known to do. And, I recommend the 2008 Sharecropper’s Cab from Owen Roe in Washington State. I would say if a guy wanted to have a date with a girl – making her a great dinner and everything – and didn’t want to kill himself on an expensive bottle of wine, the Sharecropper’s Cab is what I would recommend.


About Thomas Caestecker

I have had the privilege to witness the wine industry through both the corporate and media lenses for several years. My conclusion: The value sector has the potential for real growth in the industry. Luxury wines are battered by the economy; inexpensive bulk wine is simply cheap. This blog's mission is to reveal competitively priced, under-the-radar wines.
This entry was posted in Full-bodied red wines, Washington State wines. Bookmark the permalink.

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