Abe Froman, Matthew Broderick’s brief alter ego in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, was the dubbed “The Sausage King of Chicago.” Ferris and his friends, of course, commandeered Mr. Froman’s table in a fancy restaurant, and thwarted any wine purchases by the sausage maven. (The cavalier teenagers drank soda pop, and paired it with… pancreas.)
Anyways, Abe Froman and other prime-beef-only executive types are often cast as the epitome of elite wine consumers: obsessed with Bordeaux futures, California Cab and 90-plus scores.
But let’s get back to the sausage motif for a moment. Yes, no matter their guise, sausages are often associated with polkas, beer and barrels – and the Beer Barrel Polka. But, a thriving North Side store has found a niche for selling great wine with its ubiquitous encased meats.
Gene’s Sausage Shop, a fixture on Belmont Avenue for years, opened a Lincoln Square location about two years ago. Shortly thereafter, it became the neighborhood’s go-to wine store. Owners Yolanda and Derek Luszcz are not only committed to quality and value in their wine offerings, but are passionate about wine’s lesser-known grapes and regions.
Far from being the neighborhood’s obligatory supplier of sweet Riesling or Schnapps, Gene’s Sausage Shop offers an eclectic, impressive collection of envelope-pushing conversation starters.
Value Wine Chicago sat down with the real sausage royalty of the city (minus the company of Ferris – although there were rumors swirling that he was playing hooky), and had a conversation about the wine industry from the retailer’s perspective:
Value Wine Chicago: Gene’s is known for its deli and European foods. How much has the wine department grown at Gene’s in recent months? What have you noticed in terms of consumer demand?
Yolanda Luszcz: You’re right about our deli, we are mostly known for making more than 40 varieties of ham and smoked sausages here under our own brand name. Then, more recently, we added beer, liquor and wine. About 3-4 months after we opened this location, we expanded our wine section just because the demand was so high.
Initially, we focused on all-European wines, but we’ve seen a rise in sales for South African wines, plus those of New Zealand. We still sell a lot of French wines, like Côtes-du-Rhône and Beaujolais. The Austrian wines, such as Grüner Veltliner, are very good sellers in the summer, to pair with crisp, summertime salads. For reds, the Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch from Austria’s Burgenland are doing quite well, too.
VWC: Tell me about your method of purchasing. Do you taste every wine that goes on display?
YL: Yes, I do the wine buying here, and taste with the salespeople when they come in with their samples. My brother and I both usually try to sit down and do the tastings with them. I also include some of our employees in the tastings when possible, because even if I might not like a particular wine, somebody else might enjoy it. Wine is a very personal thing. I can give my opinion, but I want the others’ input. Say I don’t like it during the tasting, but two others do like it – we might put it on the shelf anyway to see how it moves. One wine I really like, and had to insist on, is Furmint – a white wine from Slovenia.
VWC: What are some of your best-selling wines in the value sector (wines priced under $15)?
YL: La Vieille Ferme Rouge – that one really does well here. Both the Maipe Malbec and Torrontés are big sellers. Also, people really like the Spanish Montepalma, a white blend of Verdejo and Viura. Broke Ass Wine – a red blend from Australia that shows a donkey with a Band-Aid on its rear end on the label – was often a first purchase by our customers as a joke to bring to parties. But, people came back and told us how delicious it was. It sells for $6 per bottle, and on average, we sell five cases of it per week.
VWC: Any personal favorites?
YL: For white wine, my favorite is Albariño. We have the Benito Santos for $10. Traditionally, it’s paired with seafood, but I think it’s versatile enough to enjoy with just about anything. One lighter red I really like, though, is Yealand’s Pinot Noir, from New Zealand. I would pair that with chicken or Beef Bourguignon.