To be a wine director or sommelier at a critically acclaimed restaurant or plush steak house sounds great to the ear. But those who practice this finely honed skill know it can be exhilarating and grueling, too – often on the same night. One table raves about a Sauvignon Blanc’s citrus character; another grimaces about the wine’s sour notes.
Now, increase this experience ten-fold, and that’s what it’s like to be sommelier at an upscale hotel on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Obviously, with a diverse array of guests, hotels must provide something for everyone – and restaurants at the high-end ones need to set the tone.
For this job, a true conductor is required. Fortunately, the sommelier at Chicago’s Park Hyatt and NoMI – Aaron Sherman – has been classically trained for this calling. Literally.
Mr. Sherman once made a living as a musician, but a passion for the grape, place of origin and a finely tuned palate have unleashed a crescendo of wine expertise.
And, it’s appropriate that Mr. Sherman, who was a professional percussionist, also has the insight regarding wines that offer a real bang for the buck. Value Wine Chicago struck up a conversation with the Park Hyatt’s sommelier recently:
Value Wine Chicago: How do you go about creating a list that not only reflects industry trends, but the tastes of diverse hotel guests and Chicagoans?
Aaron Sherman: Chicago is an amazing venue for food and wine people. Even though it’s a large city with such a vibrant food and wine scene, people in the industry often know each other and it makes for a very collegial atmosphere. It’s a real community that stresses fun and accessibility for diners. Here, we have to cater to guests from all over the world, and many different cuisine backgrounds of varying sophistication. Our program is very comprehensive and aims to resonate with all these guests and their many backgrounds. The trick is to have a (representative) list that doesn’t become overwhelming, or a cumbersome tome of information. Here at the Park Hyatt, we find that our lounge is the part of the hotel that really caters to the local customer, the people of Chicago.
(Note: Click here to read the full Chicago Examiner article.)
VWC: Any new wine discoveries that you’re particularly passionate about?
AS: I had been looking for a long time for a Sancerre that would bridge the gap between a typical Sancerre and a Pouilly Fume. So, to split the difference, I added the 2008 Alphonse Mellot MDXIII Les Romains, which has a brilliant mineral structure to it – it’s just an amazing Sancerre. Great wines will periodically whisper to you, beckoning you to come back to them. At first, the aroma or flavor might be a little (perplexing), but you keep going back to it to experience it and read into it. The Sancerre does that, because it draws you into the glass rather than jumping out of it.
VWC: Please tell me your favorite wines – both a white and a red – that you would personally recommend, which cost less than $15 at retail.
AS: The important thing to stress is that there is value at all price levels. It’s achieved especially when a wine overachieves for what it costs. A great Cru Beaujolais wine really over-delivers for the price. So, for a red, I like the 2009 Pierre-Marie Chermette Moulin-a-Vent, and the Fleurie as well. They work really nicely with lighter grilled meats and lighter pork dishes, plus mushroom dishes that aren’t too heavy or overly structured. At home, I like to stuff mushroom caps with beets, onions and a bit of ground beef. Both of these Cru Beaujolais wines have a nice aroma of violets and nice blackberry flavors.
For a white, I recommend the Xarmant Txakoli 2009 (Spanish Basque-area white wine). I’m thinking a warm spring day with this one. This is a crisp, light citrusy wine that would be delicious with a light cheese plate or a cool, cucumber soup.