So what does a wine and food writer do in his free time, you ask? Or perhaps have not asked, since it’s pretty boring stuff that involves Google maps, TripAdvisor and numerous internet searches.
You see, what I do and happen to like doing is planning out trips. Trips that I may or may not end up taking, but getting all the details lined up can make for the happy waste of a rainy afternoon.
So what is it exactly I am planning? Winery visits mostly, but every day ends with a night, and every night deserves a little self-indulgence, so dinner plans take up an inordinate amount of my time! Specifically, picking apart menus and wine lists to see where best to spend my hard-earned money!
Sounds crazy, right? Guess what, I’ve got an even crazier idea: sharing the results with you! So check out my first installment of Pick It Apart, and please send me your picks for restaurant wine lists worth a look!
Since this exercise in virtual living really doesn’t require any actual wine travel, I’m going to start out by hitting up some of the great restaurants of Chicago. That should anger an equal number of East and West coasters, which seems to be the best plan of attack when one is in my position. At least then, those folks can duke it out and I don’t really have to get involved!
So let’s take a look at one of the latest darlings of the Chicago dining scene and get ready to pick their list apart!
222 East Ontario Street
I love the look of the menu here. Bistro moderne, with the best of the world represented. Before looking at the menu though, it’s time for the wine list. The version online has the disclaimer, "Our wine list is in a constant state of change and will be updated monthly," featured prominently so specific wines may no longer be on offer, but let’s break it down.
Wines by the glass
Yes, this is a well thought out by-the-glass program! A fine blend of food-friendly wines, mainstream selections and geek love (though I’m not convinced by the Michele Chiarlo Gavi. Really?).
Wines by the half-bottle
The half-bottle selection here is really strong and I love that. For me, a perfect dinner for two can include two half-bottles to allow for easier pairing with the various courses. This list has most of the bases covered, though with some pricy options, particular for Champagne and California reds, which I don’t think would be my first choice with this menu anyway. There are some great deals to be had here and these choices jumped off the list:
Pessac-Léognan, Domaine de Chevalier 2001 - $75
Rully Vieilles Vignes, Vincent Girardin 2007 - $30
Chorley-Les-Beaune, Joseph Drouhin 2005 - $35
Château Ormes de Pez, Saint-Estéphe 2003 - $55
As great choices though, I would have loved to see some more offbeat selections from the South of France, though that may be more a function of half-bottle availability.
Wines by the bottle
Once you get into the full bottles and larger, you might want to order a cocktail since going through the full list might take some time! Prices seem fair and you might want to start with a bottle of Billecart-Salmon or Rene Geoffroy bubbly instead of that cocktail.
White Burgundy is very well-represented with plenty of splurge bottles from the likes of Coche-Dury, Leflaive and Raveneau, though there are plenty of less expensive, delicious options on the list as well. Most of the remaining regions of France are also well-represented, though none are up to the level of Burgundy.
Moving beyond France, there are well thought out selections from throughout Europe, including several personal favorites of mine that seem like great values:
Hans Wirsching Riesling Kronsberg Trocken, Grosses Gewächs, Franken 2004 - $65
Cà dei Frati I Frati Lugana, Lombardy Italy 2007 - $40
Tiefenbrunner Feldmarschall Müller-Thurgau, Alto-Adige Italy 2005 - $75
The domestic white selections are a bit predictable, if well thought out, with two great exceptions once one gets to the "other varietals" list:
Roussanne, Qupe John Alban Vineyard Edna Valley 2001 - $55
Roussanne, Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel, Paso Robles 2005 - $75