Answers from Our Experts (5)
How do you define a great wine program? The breadth of it? Does the selection match what you’re looking for as far as the style you want and what have you? There’s a new restaurant called Carriage House in Chicago. It’s not a very big list, about 50 or 60 selections, but each wine has a purpose; and you can tell that a lot of thought went into selecting a wine. It would be very easy because it’s a Southern-driven restaurant to go, “Oh, we’re just going to pick 10 wines,” but they did decide that wine is important and people enjoy wine; so they put together a very thoughtful, well-curated selection. It’s little bit off the beaten path, some of the wines, but I was really impressed by the sommelier there because each bottle has a purpose. I think they’ve done a really awesome job of selecting the wines.
Shebnem [Ince] ran a pretty awesome program over at The Gage, as well as Henri. She recently left, and Jason Wagner took over. I have no doubt that he will keep the tradition of very thoughtful wines that you normally wouldn’t encounter.
It’s really easy to say, “Ok, people like cabernet, people like chardonnay, people like malbec,” so it’s like we can make this easy or we can make this hard. We can make it easy and just put pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet on, and people will be very happy. But to take that extra step and extra effort of what’s new — maybe wine from the Languedoc, maybe wines from southern Spain, maybe there’s frappato from Sicily — just to keep it interesting and not the norm. But it does take a little bit more effort to run those programs because you do have to train the staff. You do have to take that the wines may not sell, so you might have to use a little bit more effort to get people excited about them as well. It just takes a lot more effort to run an interesting program because you do have to train the staff.
I think Urban Union has a great wine program. Spiaggia, it’s always had a great wine program, great somms. There’s a Belgian place called Leopold that has a startlingly good list. My partner in crime here at Perman Wine Selections, Craig Perman, just did the wine list at a new place that opened up in Logan Square called Fat Rice. That’s a fabulous wine list, of course, because he’s got great taste. Then there are places like Telegraph and Rootstock; they’re both wine bars but they have good food and great wine lists.
I like Telegraph — it’s quite focused on natural wines, wines that have a lot of sense of place. The sommelier there gets a lot of praise. I think most people forget about Pops for Champagne. I was just looking at their list; it’s one of the best champagne lists. If you’re looking for a Grand Award wine list, Tru is going to offer that. I think, for Chicago, we’re fortunate to have a big list like that — 1,800 selections. Those places you can go esoteric, classic or fun.
RM Champagne, which I just did. Telegraph has a great wine list. Sepia, which gets looked over all the time, has one of the most exciting wine lists in all the Midwest, in my opinion.
One of the best restaurants for wine is also among one of the most talked about. The Boarding House, which opened last winter, is the crowning achievement of master sommelier Alpana Singh, a household name among local wine snobs and then some. The ceiling of its dining room features a sculpture made of around 4,000 wine bottles, and while the menu has significantly less (about 500), it’s still impressive.
An oldie but a goodie, Bin 36 was Chicago’s first modern restaurant to take wine seriously, and its expertly executed menu still draws both loyal and new diners. At the base of iconic Marina City, it’s a big, downtown dining room with lots of little corners, and every item on the extensive menu of new-American staples references a specific bin, making pairing a cinch.