By Anne Brennan
Like a lot of cities, it seems as if the craft beer trend is overtaking Chicago – but wine bars are alive and well throughout the city, too, from upscale downtown venues to cozy neighborhood spots.
Rebekah Mahru, City Winery Chicago’s beverage director, says she notices Chicagoans “are moving away from the super-concentrated, overpowering wines to wines of more balance and elegance.”
Wines from South Africa and Greece are creating a buzz, she says. The wines are “innovative, exciting and best of all, delicious. Greek wines are very food-friendly,” she explains. “I hate to use the words ‘up and coming’ with this region, as it has been making wine for thousands of years, but Greece is starting to emerge all over the city on by-the-glass lists and wine lists. While some of the grapes may be difficult to pronounce, the wines themselves are approachable.”
Hers is one wine bar that covers all the bases. “I feel what surprises most about City Winery is how much we do here,” Mahru adds. “On a given night, we could be teaching a class on Washington State wines in our Barrel Room, hosting a wine dinner with a winemaker from Piedmont on our mezzanine, have a sold-out show in our concert venue, all while our winemaker tops off barrels in the winery.”
Then you’ll find the celebrity spots – notably, the famous Eataly. Known as “Mario Batali’s place,” it’s like a wine and food shop on steroids. Created by Oscar Farinetti as an Italian food store and learning center in Turin, Eataly now is a collaboration between Batali, Farinetti, and Lidia and Joe Bastianich. You can eat there, drink there, and attend tastings and classes in wine, spirits, beer or “cheese and salumi,” or attend beer dinners hosted by local breweries.
And the wine bars are not all clustered in the downtown core. Webster’s Wine Bar, for instance, recently moved to Logan Square, a neighborhood northwest of downtown. “One of the main inspirations behind the move was that we really loved Logan Square as a neighborhood and wanted to be a part of a community that is very tight-knit,” says Carl Moberg, Webster’s sommelier, and supportive of local businesses and organizations.
If you’re in the Windy City, here’s a short menu of wine bars to explore:
This popular American contemporary restaurant, now in the West Loop, offers wine by the glass, tastings, classes and events. After imbibing, check out the restaurant’s store.
151 N. Jefferson, www.bin36.com
Pops for Champagne
This is one of Chi-town’s best known places to have a glass of bubbly with a big dish of romance. It’s conveniently located just off the shopping mecca of the Magnificent Mile.
601 N. State, www.popsforchampagne.com
Celebrity chef Mario Batali’s (and others’) ode to Italy is a great place to duck into for a nice glass of vino and pizza, or check out the many wine events.
43 E. Ohio Street, www.eataly.com
Webster’s Wine Bar
This romantic, European-style bar is a Chicago favorite where you’ll see more of the locals, now that it’s settled into its new Logan Square home. Wines here are selected for their strong sense of their “place of origin” and minimal intervention by the winemaker.
2601 N Milwaukee Avenue, www.websterwinebar.com
3rd Coast Café and Wine Bar. Cozy and friendly, 3rd Coast is a casual spot to relax in. The bar is in the glam Gold Coast neighborhood, just north of Michigan Avenue attractions.
1260 N. Dearborn, www.3rdcoastcafe.com
Not only do you get wine, music and food here, you can get an up-close look (and tastes) at the in-house winemaking process. Past headliners have included Roseanne Cash and Lindsay Buckingham.
1200 W. Randolph Street, www.citywinery.com