This is a post on wine yet the header is a picture (or half a picture depending on your screen size) of the Turano Bakery man. I think he got quite a workout with people taking selfies with him. The wine seminars were only one part of the multi-faceted Chicago Gourmet Festival , “Food is Art” themed event that just took place this past weekend, September 23-25.
Every year the festival has added layers of events and experiences that it becomes a challenge to fit everything in. There was plenty of food and lots of nooks and crannies to explore. There were 10 tasting pavilions that each had 4-5 chefs serving bites and then 2 rotations of chefs through each pavilion during the afternoon. At the Supreme Lobster Pavilion Chef C. J. Jacobson of Californian cuisine Ema Chicago served tuna crude with crispy lentils, sun gold tomatoes, avocado and tumeric. Chefs Dirk and Terry Fucik of Dirks Fish and Gourmet Shop had a hearty shrimp and grits full of vegetables. All that shrimp in the Dirk’s plate is an indication of how their hearty soups are made, more fish and not all broth. Dirk’s soups are worth the trip to their store to buy them. Terry packs the soups full of flavorful, rich broth, tons of seafood and their plate at the festival did not disappoint!
Next to the larger pavilions were smaller booths along the perimeter of the grounds. Right next to the Supreme Pavilion was a booth for the Macau Tourist Bureau serving food from Fat Rice in Chicago. When I stopped by it was rice krispy treats with a Macau twist.
Next to them was the Gochujang booth serving pretty tasty barbecued short ribs in their sauce meanwhile a server passes me by with a tray of s’more cones.
All of these items were within the vicinity of the Supreme Lobster Pavilion. Multiply this experience with the 9 other pavilions and then you add in the Country Financial BBQ wing (no pun intended) which was its own BBQ universe and I think you get a sense of the food options coming at you. I didn’t mention the Main Stage which had live demos going on with Top Chefs and Food Personalities, there were book signings, and the Grand Cru session that required a separate ticket. The GC which I did not go to but have in past years, is a pouring of the “grand cru” label, cellaring/collector wines paired with gourmet bites from some of the top fine-dining chefs.
Surrounded by all the food options, I went immediately to bubbly and happily found the Roederer Estates booth. In the middle of the field were two very long sets of tents lined up with spirit and winemakers. I spotted top Argentian old-vine malbec producer Achaval-Ferrer who has a cult following of their very old vine malbec single finca and their bordeaux blend Quimera. Protocol Wine studio has conducted a Tuesday night #winestudio chat on Twitter this month focused on Achaval-Ferrer.
Oh, then there are the wine and spirits seminars taking place at the same time helmed by Master Sommeliers and leading spirit experts. I had attended these in previous years and found them really fun, I always learned something and a nice respite from all of the food and beverage craziness of the main festival, aka, you can sit down in air conditioning and get your food/beverage equilibrium back. Quite frankly, you can make an entire afternoon of these seminars. They are very intimate and really informational, top quality products are poured and sometimes you find a very tasty bite in front of you like this steak, caviar and salmon toast that was served at the Champagne “Raise Your Glass for a Fancy Toast” lead by MS Alpana Singh and the bite was created by Chef Ricardo Jarquin of Travelle Chicago.
I went to 2 of the 4 Sunday wine seminars that were held in the secret Choral Room that is found tucked in behind the main stage on the mezzanine level above the stage. I ran into friends from wine classes who are in the trade but work in Indiana and they were all set to take all the seminars they loved them so much.
The first one I went to was given by Fred Dame MS who is featured in the film Somm. He is the first American to have served as President of the Court of Master Sommeliers and his credentials and awards are miles long. So having heard so much about him and watched him in action in the film, it was really exciting to attend a class given by him, “Wines Favorite Pastime: Merlot!” I am a huge fan of french merlot and love the wines (the affordable ones) of Saint Emilion. After participating in the Wine Bloggers Conference this past August in Lodi, California I really learned to keep an open-mind about wine and not to make generalizations. This class ended up being a tasting of merlots made around the world which was fantastic.
We tasted Gaja Ca’Marcanda “Promis” Tuscany 2014, approx. $35 Rutherford Hill “Reserve” Merlot Napa Valley 2013 approx. $20, Northstar Merlot Columbia Valley 2013, approx. $30, Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Merlot Colchagua Valley 2012 approx. $15, Ernie Els Merlot Stellenbosch 2013 approx. $20, Chateau Lafleur-Gazin Pomerol 2012, $40.
Whether you knew nothing about wine or a lot, this was a really fun exercise just to taste the difference across geographical areas. Some of the wines were a bit more ripe fruit, some had more of an herbal component, some had hints of bell pepper. As part of his talk, Fred included a ton of factoids about merlot.
He was particularly keen on Washington State as an area to watch for up and coming wines. In between the facts he imparted bits of humor such as his advice as to “how to look like you know something about wine at a tasting“. First, stare into your glass with a pensive, solemn look which onlookers will take that you are finding a lot in the nose of the wine. Secondly, always cite an obscure fruit that no one can really reference. This was a really fun tasting for anyone to become more aware of how the taste can change across continents even if it is the same grape in the bottle. It ,also, was an opportunity to ponder the relationship of price versus taste. At the end of the class he mentioned that 95% of consumers drink the bottle within 8 hours of purchase which is pretty darn mind boggling to me. Since he has such a wine celebrity following, there was a line to take pictures with him (aka I did not get a picture you will have to trust me he gave the seminar).
The other two seminars that I missed of the day were, Presenter: Larry Stone, MS, Quintessa & Huneeus Vintners and Presenters: Joseph Spellman, MS, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery. There was just too much going on outside that I tried to intermix the two. I did make it to the last class of the day, Bubbly with Alpana Singh that I mentioned above.
Alpana is so knowledgable yet she delivered all the material in a really down to earth way and gave some great advice. She suggested upping your quality of wine level when it comes to BYOB at a restaurant. The markups for champagne can be pretty high at a restaurant, so why not spend for quality at a retail store where you aren’t paying the restaurant markup rather than bringing a lower quality bottle to a BYOB. Her favorite food and beverage pairing rose and BBQ. She got into the nitty gritty of how champagne is made and the differences between non-vintage, rose, blanc de blancs and multi-vintage. What better way to end the day than with bubbly and champagne at that?
The champagnes poured were: Moet “Ice” Imperial NV approx. $67 (strongly suggested to serve on ice), Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc NV approx. $80, Veuve Cliquot Rose NV approx. $70, Dom Perignon 2006 approx. $180, Krug “Grande Cuvee” MV approx. $170, Veuve Cliquot Demi-Sec NV approx. $60.
The choral room sat 40 people and the sessions ran 45 minutes, the time ran by really quickly. Lines formed probably 20 minutes before each session, although, some people like my friends tried to go back to back. At the same time as the wine sessions, fun, interesting spirits and cocktail sessions were taking place in a tent on the east lawn next to the Pritzker Pavilion. When I mentioned to someone in line I was considering posting about the wine seminars they said “no, don’t do that, these are a hidden secret of Chicago Gourmet, we don’t want too many people to know about it”. I wouldn’t say they are a hidden secret but they are well worth the money for a ticket to the festival. You have an opportunity to taste some quality pours of wine, learn a little something that will increase your experience and pleasure when it comes to taking a sip of wine.