We’ve lived in the Chicago area for most of our lives, with the exception of a few brief stints in Minnesota and an even shorter diversion in Arizona. With Millennium Park, the Mag Mile, a plethora of restaurants, the Cubs, it’s a place we’re proud to call home.
I remember riding the Tube in London, on a whirlwind tour of Europe after college graduation, and a man on the train wearing black leather pants, a black leather jacket with jet black hair and multiple piercings (I can still picture him vividly) struck up a conversation with me. Now, I was taught not to talk to strangers, but anyone that knows me will tell you, I’m terrible at getting out of conversations and I tend to wind up in these situations quite often. Sometimes this works to my benefit, other times it definitely does not.
As this gentleman continued to ask me questions with a very disinterested tone, I noticed my friends inching further and further away, while doing their absolute best not to make eye contact with anyone. Being the first time we were all away from home, riding a crowded subway in a foreign city was a bit intimidating. If I was looking to them to save me from this conversation, it was not going to happen. Truthfully, it was a rather inane exchange, mostly small talk, but when he asked where I was from his eyes lit up. He apparently knew some facts about Chicago. He knew it was called “The Windy City” because of our cold weather, and that the wind caused a fire to burn the city down in the Great Chicago Fire.
Well, I happened to know some facts about Chicago too, and one such fact is that Chicagoans are a proud lot. That’s when this turned from idle chit-chat to a serious conversation and this chap was in for more than he likely bargained for. Yes, our city burned down in the Great Fire of 1871, and while a southwest wind contributed to the spread of the fire, it was Chicago’s use of wood in building construction and a recent drought that really fueled the flames. Furthermore, that is not why it’s the Windy City.
As for our weather, yes we have cold winters (the last two in particular), but we’re no windier than most cities – certainly not the windiest. No, the origin of the name Windy City actually has nothing to do with our weather. In fact there are multiple theories as to the true origin, some relate to the World’s Fair, city rivalries and of course, where I tend to lean, politics. It’s no secret that Chicago has a rich history of often crooked, and always colorful politics – “machine politics.” Thus, the Windy City is said to have been coined such by the hot air often blowing from our politicians’ mouths. At this point, the leather clad English gent was no longer apathetic, but riveted. He had many more questions, and no doubt had our stop not have come up first, would have had several more.
Last week, Friend Sue and I had the opportunity to attend the Windy City Wine Festival in Chicago’s Grant Park, which also, in my opinion, was a bunch of hot air bellowing. Now, perhaps this seems a bit harsh, but I was disappointed. The 11th annual event was billed as an exciting evening with more than 40 wineries, live music and food. Presale tickets were $35 for 10, 1-ounce pours and $45 for 10, 1-ounce pours at the gates. It seemed reasonable and having recently attended the Wine Bloggers Conference I thought this would be a fun diversion in my hometown.
However, maybe it was because I was just at the WBC, that this was disappointing. The event is presented by a major bank sponsor. It also lists a few other sponsors, one of them a local grocery chain. Now, I like this grocery chain. I have no issues with them, but what the event did not mention in its promotions was that all the wines poured at the event were those sold at the grocery store. In some cases, representatives from the wineries were on hand to describe the wines being poured, but in many cases it was volunteers – some of whom had never tried the wine.
In fact, at one booth for a rather well-known name in California wines, I asked the rep if they could describe my options for dry reds (of which there were five). My friend and I were the only ones at the table, so it wasn’t a matter of needing to move the line, but the host seemed almost annoyed with my questioning, simply pointing to the ones they had available. I then asked her to describe one of them, to which she replied, “I’ve never had any of these wines before. I’m sure they’re all very good. What would you like?” Rather dumbfounded, I chose the Cab Sauv, and we left their table. You would think the hosts would at least have a tasting sheet or some knowledge of what they had to offer. And no, they weren’t all very good. At least not the Cab Sauv.
Disappointment in the tasting experience aside, we did have a wonderful evening. The City was putting on a show – comfortable temps, stunning cloud arrays and even a rainbow over Lake Michigan. It’s rare that I make it down to Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain, but when I do, it’s always a visual treat. We also did manage to find three decent wines, one of them quite excellent. It was an Italian wine from the Barolo region. A knowledgeable rep was on-hand to describe the wines (thankfully) and make recommendations. I chose the Barolo cru Briccolina DOCG, a 100% Nebbiolo. It was the 2007 vintage and a single vineyard bottle. One taste and I was shocked they were pouring this at the Festival. It had aged incredibly, was full, dry and very complex. I should have taken better notes on the flavors, but the aroma was wood and berries and it had a beautifully long, finish.
Another highlight of the evening was the Copper Oven Pizza. The pizzas were about 10 inches in diameter, so Sue and I opted to split one. It was no question which one we were choosing. Can you guess?
It was amazing! Salty duck bacon with sweet caramelized onions on a crisp copper fired dough. This might have to make its way to the Eat, Play, Love kitchens! I have a feeling we’d have a four spooner all around for this one.
The Festival also featured live music, which we enjoyed and several other food vendors with some delicious, gourmet options. Sue and I had a wonderful evening, catching up, shooting pictures of the city and sampling a few decent wines.
Overall, I would say if you’re looking for a beautiful venue, want to try some wines available at your local stores (which may come in handy when shopping next time) and are up for some live music, the Windy City Wine Festival is a decent option. Worth $45 at the door? Hmmm….Maybe if they included a coupon for food. However, if you’re wanting to discover new wines while learning about the winemaking process, terroir, or even simply the flavor and aroma profiles, this isn’t it.
Still, it’s hard to complain about a night spent in our Windy City. We often don’t take the opportunity to play tourist where we live, but when we do, I never cease to be amazed and am always proud.
But now, it’s time to play tourist elsewhere. I believe earlier this year, I referenced some changes coming to the blog and some exciting adventures on the horizon, well, we’re ready to divulge…in the next post. Stay tuned…