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« "Chicago In White" Redefines Fashion, Culture and Outdoor Dining for an Evening Worthwhile Overindulgence at Chicago Gourmet »

Chicago Gourmet Mon Sep 30 2013

Wine Heaven @ Chicago Gourmet

mainlawnchicagogourmet.jpgFor me, Chicago Gourmet was all about drinks, mostly wine. With seminars on Bordeaux, Burgundy, and New Zealand plus a cocktail demonstration, plus the Grand Cru, I didn't see how I would have time to eat much at all.

I did eat, thankfully, arriving early enough that I enjoyed the Great Lawn of Millennium Park before the crowds swooped in. A volunteer suggested I start with the Supreme Lobster & Seafood Company Tasting Pavilion as that would get overrun first. I was thankful for his advice because with all these white tents with dozens upon dozens serving up food or wine, beer, and spirits, I hadn't a clue where to begin.

For those that could and were willing to pay $159+ for tickets, Chicago Gourmet offered a fantastic and rich opportunity to not just eat, drink, and be merry, but to learn about high-quality cuisine and drinks as well. Wine in particular can still be a baffling, impenetrable subject, and its higher price point can be a barrier. But the wine world has shifted toward a more educational mode and away from the hoity-toity image of a man pontificating on right bank vs. left bank Bordeaux. With wine and drink industry professionals everywhere, this was the place to pick the expert's brain to either further your own knowledge or just try something new. I learned how scotch was made at the Glenmorangie booth-- and tasted all five scotches they had on hand (Ardbeg tastes like smoked salmon!). The gents over at Gancia talked tasting notes and recommended cocktails to make with their Prosecco (one trick is pomegranate seeds).

I later attended a cocktail demonstration ("Sips from the Silver Screen," where I learned that I should always carry a tiny vial of bitters for emergencies) and two seminars on wine, where I got to taste six kick-ass wines in a calm, cool, and blessedly air-conditioned room. Unfortunately, one of them was not the Bordeaux class, as seating was limited and I was late because of a quick trip to the bathroom. I did attend "Strolling Through Burgundy," with Fred Dame, a Master Sommelier who appeared in Somm. He's a delight -- a charismatic, funny guy who you do want to grab a drink with, but his quick and narrative approach made the material of this lauded wine region difficult to follow. The "Marlborough, New Zealand Master Class," taught by Master of Wine Peter Marks, felt more like an actual class with the Power Point presentation, but a fun one with sheep jokes.

nzwines.jpgThe crown jewel for the wine lover, though, was the Grand Cru. This separately ticketed event was held on top of the Harris Theater from 2-4 p.m. At least 22 wine and spirit vendors poured while a local chef paired with one of nine foreign chefs (through the Délice Network) to prepare small plates.

I have a love/hate relationship with such mammoth-sized tastings. I love them because they're a fantastic opportunity to sample a variety of wines, to hone the palate, and discover something new without spending a small fortunate buying bottle-to-bottle. Plus, it's another opportunity to talk to a professional in the wine industry, to learn more about Napa Cabernet, or whatever. My favorite learning moment from Chicago Gourmet was when the representative from Trinchero used his two Cabernet Sauvignons, each made with grapes from a different vineyard, to illustrate how the vineyard site (soil, sun, climate) affects the flavor profile of the wine.

However, there's just so much at tastings like this that any kind of learning quickly goes out the window, and the tasting turns into a classier version of an open bar. Instead of demanding "Another!" you ask, "May I try the Chardonnay?" before moving down the line. Which can be fun, of course, but there's a point at which all the wines start to blend together, and half the time you're more drunk than you realize.

The Grand Cru was disappointing in its lack of variety of wine. There were over forty wines but with few exceptions they were either Champagne, Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of the Chardonnay and Cab came from California, with a large chunk of those coming from Napa. I'm not knocking any of those wines (I was tickled to have a chance to try Jordan Vineyard and Stag's Leap and Cuvaison, among others), but in this huge event purporting to celebrate food and wine, I expected more diversity, not just the safe bets we see several times over on every restaurant wine list. I'm not suggesting throwing in crazy Greek wines no one has heard of, but what about Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or Syrah? If any big crowd would be receptive to a few of the less omnipresent wines, I figured it'd be the one that paid $216 per ticket. Why pay for the same ol' same ol? But of course, I am the girl who wanted to go to four drink seminars in one day.

Part of me does regret attending two hours worth of seminars and the hour and a half at the Grand Cru because I missed out on the chef demonstrations and time I could have spent eating my way around Millennium Park. But it's not all that often a chance comes along to taste top-notch wines with a Master Sommelier. I'll have to go to Chicago Gourmet both days next year to make sure I had time for food.

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Lisa Mattson / October 16, 2013 5:32 PM

Hi Christina,

Thank you for connecting with Brad and Chris from Jordan at the event. So glad you got to try the wines. Let us know when you're out in Sonoma and want to come visit us.

Lisa Mattson

Christina BrandonAuthor Profile Page / October 17, 2013 8:55 PM

You got it! Thanks!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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