September is Right for Wine in Chicago

The weather is cooling off, kids are going back to school, fall is just around the corner and this month is the right time for wine in the Windy City!  Two of my favorite fests, the Windy City Wine Festival and Chicago Gourmet, come around every year at this time and give us a chance to sample great wine along with food from local restaurants & chefs on the lakefront.  They are both different from eachother and definitely worth the experience.

The Windy City Wine Festival normally takes place in the first half of the month, this year on September 9 & 10, at Buckingham Fountain.  I went on Saturday afternoon (gates open at 3pm) and couldn't have asked for a better day- sunny and clear with a fresh lake breeze.  Tickets are $35 at the gate, $27 in advance, which gets you a souvenier cup, 10 drink sample tickets and the opportunity to purchase wine by the bottle at a discount.  The only hard thing was to figure out which wines to use the tickets on!  Some of the wines I tasted are A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir which is a great under $20 wine, Emilio Moro Malleolus Ribera del Duero is an amazing Tempranillo, Clos de los Siete which is one of my favorite red blends under $15, and Cline Cellars Cashmere which is a smartly priced GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend).  Some very good local wineries were onhand and pouring some interesting stuff.  Cooper's Hawk Winery had a very impressive Almond Sparkling wine made with Chardonnay and almond oil which reminded me of almond biscotti.  Lynfred Winery was pouring their Vin de City White & Red which are good value blends and Wollersheim Winery had a very nice Riesling and a decent Wisconsin Pinot Noir.  Pretty good food samples were for sale from Sullivan's Steakhouse, Markethouse, The Melting Pot and Caoba Mexican Bar & Grill.

Chicago Gourmet takes place in the latter half of the month, this year on September 23-25 in Millenium Park.  The weather was not as kind, as it was about 50 degrees, cloudy and rainy, which affected the grass surface making things very muddy.  That didn't stop everyone from having fun though as the wine was flowing and the aroma of small bites filled the air.  There was a great variety of beverages like illy coffee, Blue Moon beer, Lucid Absinthe, Pyrat Rum and Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer.  Oh, and the wines- Cosentino Winery, Domaine Drouhin, Newton, Casa Lapostolle, Chalk Hill, Grgich Hills Estate, Heitz Wine Cellars, Northstar, Silver Oak, Livio Felluga and Laurent-Perrier, just to name a few.  Food was being served by many restaurants like Benny's Chop House, Frontera Grill, David Burke's Primehouse, Gibson's, Market, Texas de Brazil, Fulton's and the upcoming Filini Bar & Restaurant.  And not to be missed, amazing chefs like Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno), Dirk Flanigan (The Gage/Henri), Jimmy Bannos Sr.(Heaven on Seven/The Purple Pig), Graham Elliot, Rick Tramonto, Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat) and Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) were onhand for cooking demos.  Another amazing experience!

Make sure to watch out for these events next year in September and I hope to see you there!

Valentine's Wine Give Away from Lynfred Winery & WCWG

Happy Valentine's Day!  In honor of the holiday we're teaming with Lynfred Winery to give away two bottles of wine!  Their 30th Anniversary Red (Cabernet Sauvignon blend) and White (Chardonnay) Cuvees will be in the hands of two lucky readers- they're great wines and retail at $30 each.  Here's how to win: leave a comment about what you'll be doing for the holiday and what you'll be drinking.  We'll select two winners on Friday, February 18, 2011.  Also, don't forget to leave your email address so we can contact you if you win!  Good Luck!

Friday Evening at Windy City Wine Fest '09

WCWG with Lynfred WineryIt was a beautiful Friday evening, and I had a plan- take the Green Line train to east Randolph Street, meet my wife just after work, and enjoy the Windy City Wine Festival.  Everything worked out as scheduled, and we headed to Daley Bicentennial Plaza, which has an amazing view of the city to go along with excellent greenery and flowers.  There was a short line at will call, where we picked up our wristbands and drink tickets, and headed into the fest!

We moved past the stage, where the demonstrations were being held, and decided to circle the park and booths before sampling.  While walking with our sample glasses, my wife received many dirty looks- she is pregnant.  Her only intention was to smell, taste, and spit the wine, but I fear there are too many judgmental individuals in our society.  Feeling uncomfortable, she turned in her souvenier glass for a bottle of water.  It's funny how those same people would say nothing if they saw a pregnant woman smoking or consuming unhealthy or "fast" foods, which could be harmful to a developing baby, while moderate consumption of wine during pregnancy has proven, through reseach, to be helpful in development.  Everything in moderation is the key to life, and unfortunately, a good portion of America has yet to learn this.

So we headed into the tastings, and I decided to go with Illinois wineries.  First was Cooper's Hawk winery and restaurant, located in Orland Park, IL.  I tried their house white blend of mostly Alsatian varietals, and it was a bit off-dry, fruity, and pleasant. 

Next was Illinois Cellars, which makes estate wines in Carrollton.  I tried their white Chardonnel, Apple Wine, and red Norton.  The wines are of decent quality, and when you consider the pricetag ($6.99/bottle), are quite a value for locally grown examples- definitely worth a try! 

We then saw Greg Fischer, of BevArt and Wild Blossom Meadery, from the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago.  Greg owns local bee farms here in both Illinois and Indiana, from which he gets the honey to make mead.  I've tasted much of his product before and it's fantastic, especially when heated or added to beer.  There was quite a line, so I said hi and proceeded onto my favorite Illinois winery, Lynfred.

Lynfred Winery is located in Roselle, IL., and makes wines from local and California grown varietals.  They have a miriad of styles, from sweet fruit wines like cranberry, peach, and rhubarb, to Viognier and award winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  Make sure to visit them and say hi to Christina and the crew (pictured above)!

As for the rest of the wines, I thought the selections were mostly pedestrian.  Many of the labels are nothing different from what I have seen widely available in your local Jewel-Osco or Dominick's.  That is not to say the wine was bad, but just that it was nothing special.

As far as the food goes, many very good restaurants were represented.  Markethouse, Zocalo, and Billy Goat TavernWCWG and The Hearty Boys were among the Chicago reps, with many other goodies from the 'burbs as well.  It was a huge pleasure to meet Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh (pictured to the right) of Hearty Boys catering, and soon to open (November '09), Hearty restaurant.  They are an awesome duo, and Chicago is very fortunate to have them growing in the city.  They even put on a great and informative cooking demo for all to see and learn.

The night was made even better after we left, as we were able to experience part of the performance from the Lyric Opera House in the Pritzker Pavillion.  Even though the venue was packed, we had a great time, and both Millenium Park and Chicago are awesome in the summertime.  

If you unfortunately missed this event, you can still catch the Naperville Wine Festival this coming weekend, or Chicago Gourmet September 26 & 27.  Make sure you enjoy everything Chicagoland has to offer, and tell me about it!

WCWG Lynfred Winery Tour and Tasting

img_0974It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, a great day for a trip to Lynfred Winery in Roselle, Illinois.  Thanks to a generous donation by Lynfred 2008 Grape Spitting Champion, Mike Miley, we were about to enjoy a free wine tasting at the oldest, continuously run, bonded winery in the state.  Our trip out was an easy one, as we took the Metra train at Union Station to Roselle, a 47 minute ride.  We were met by a big yellow school bus and were off to the winery!

Lynfred resembles many of the other Roselle homes from the front, with its large front porch and welcome appearance.  But when you walk around the side, you see just how large it really is.  It has become not just a winery, but also a Bed & Breakfast, and a bakery, making fine artisanal breads daily.  The building is gorgeous with balconies, outdoor seating, and grey stone walls covered in ivy.  It was started in 1979 by Fred and Lynn Koehler (whom it was named after).  What started as a retirement hobby became a success.

We walked inside and were greeted by a bustling tasting room, full of cheer and shopping.  Over fifty different wines are available for tasting and purchase, anything from Illinois Chardonel (a cross of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc), to fruit wines (Peach, Apricot, Cherry, Strawberry), sparkling wines and ports, and award winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  img_0987Much of the fruit used to make the wines comes from out of state, from California to Michigan.  Our tasting began with the 2005 Viognier, which is full and applely, with a touch of spice.  We then moved to the cellar tasting room, and were surrounded by barrels of aging wines.  We ran through a tasting of nine wines total: 2006 Chenin Blanc, 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay, Sweetheart White and Red Table Wines, 2006 Barbera (my favorite), 2005 Merlot, Blackberry Wine, and a Strawberry Port.  I could tell each one of their wines was treated as something special, as they all distributed great character, and lasting good finishes.  I don't normally get involved with wines made from fruit other than grapes, but I was very impressed as each gave more than I expected.  It was apparent the winemaker, Andrés Basso, took great care with each of his products. 

We were later taken through the winery by our tour guide, Matt.  He explained the winemaking process from grape to bottle, and was very knowledgeable of each Lynfred product.  The facility was immaculate.  The meticulous nature of the wine is a part of every aspect of Lynfred, from the cellar, to the detail of the design and architecture, to the soft and delicious baked bread.  It was an unforgettable experience and I look forward to more visits in the future.

img_0990After the tour, we headed over to Pilot Pete's.  It is located right next to Schaumberg Regional Airport.  We were able to see helicopters and Cesnas take off and land just outside the window, while we enjoyed lobster nachos, calamari, and the house blend red wine, created by Lynfred.

The event was a success and I want to thank Lynfred Winery (especially Matt), Mike Miley, Barb img_0981the bus driver, Pilot Pete's, and all in attendance.  I hope to have more events just as fun in the future!