Wine Shop Tours: Chicago
Yes, this trip marks my third time in the Windy City in less than 7 months! Some might say that's crazy; some might say treat yourself------I stand with the group that treats themselves. There is never a shortage of things to do and sights to see when visiting this city. The moment I set foot on the train platform to be whisked away to downtown, the hairs on my body immediately raise and tidal wave after tidal wave of goosebumps ensue. It's like I've been hooked up to a nearby generator via electric clamps and had the voltage cranked up to its highest setting. A city that truly feels alive in every sense of the word. Hopefully it never loses that magic for me any time soon and I can continue regaling you with my trips there, ha!
My past excursions into Chicago have had a huge culinary leaning to them. Basically, I've been eating my way through the city one restaurant at a time with absolutely no shame. This time, I'm sipping and swirling my way through its retail wine shops. I was unsure of where to really start or who to reach out to since it was such a short trip this time around, and I'm not incredibly familiar with the Chicago wine scene. A lovely dinner at Elske (a Michelin Star restaurant that I highly, HIGHLY recommend) blew the door open for me with some solid recommendations to check out. Each of the shops the staff at Elske noted to me were unique & highlighted the neighborhoods they resided in. I left the restaurant amped up about what gems I'd find and the stories I'd hear from my fellow wine professionals in this city.
PERMAN WINE SELECTIONS
This was stop number one & boy did it set the bar high! The shop was adorned in a gentle palette of neon green and stone gray, shelves were kept modest and earthy with its handwritten section titles, and the charming staff added an extra "oomph" to my visit. Though the owner wasn't on hand for me to pick his brain, my inquiring mind was equally sated by Gabriel, one of the three team members managing this shop. After helping me select a bottle of Malbec for my dinner later that evening, he gracefully answered all my questions about the shop & the city's perspective on wine.
Craig Perman has over 20+ years of experience in the wine industry that culminated in the creation of Perman Wine Selections back in 2007. This man used to be a Sommelier at one of the best restaurants in the country, Alinea, so you know he's a hard worker with a skillful palate to boot. The 2007 location in the West Loop closed in 2018, and the current location near Old Town was born. They've got a huge "all world" focus in the selections with the intent of bringing you the best iterations from the regions they love. What I found interesting was the strategy of selling wine "backwards" as they put it. When they are tasting new wines with their distributors, they don't immediately order that wine to put on the shelf. Instead, they influence their audience via little newsletters to entice purchases (pre-orders really) of the product and then they bring the product in to find a home on their shelves. It allows them to avoid sitting on inventory and deliver the most competitive pricing to their guests. Which makes sense when many other writers referred to Craig's business model as that of a "wine concierge". Every bottle choice on the shelf was provocative & eye catching, and juice that the team supports wholeheartedly. ALSO, I must note that there was a whole lotta grower's champagne in the coolers and no big-name champagne houses in sight! It was rather glorious. I could wax poetic about Perman's all day and could have spent all my time at that single wine shop without regret. Gabriel gave me some solid food recommendations before I departed, including the life changing burger at Au Cheval to enjoy the Malbec I just picked up.
2018 Cosse et Maisonnueve "Solis" Malbec (Cahors, France) $16.99
Now this one was an interesting excursion for more reasons than one. Firstly, the shop exclusively sells natural wines. The shelf is littered with fresh summer reds, unfiltered orange wines and a litany of Pet-Nats. It's a business model I'd be scared of, but clearly the focus on only natural wine producers is working in their favor. The shop is located in the Logan Square neighborhood. I took a 30-minute train ride to get there and was surprised I hadn't been to this neighborhood in my prior trips. It's like Plaza Midwood meets NoDa for my Charlotte folks. So, with the demographic leaning hipster chic, I knew I would be walking into a little hole in the wall with funky labels and juice that hit all the buzz terms.
Let me preface by saying I'm not a huge fan of natty wines. They are usually quite hit or miss for me, especially when they veer into Kombucha-esque territory on the palate. The story of three friends, Mac Parsons, Bradford Taylor and Ann Marie Meiers opening this shop with the intent of bringing juice crafted solely by human hands is enough to make me open my mouth and let them pour me some greatness. Diversey takes the complexity out of the term "natural wine" and simply showcases producers who are focused on being stewards of the earth to create wines that are equally as honest. This was definitely a fun stop for me & I'll be sure to check out their sister locations on the west coast, Ordinaire & Psychic Wines.
2017 Lammidia Bianco Carbo (Abruzzo, Italy) $30
Honorable Mention: EATALY
Before anyone comes for my life, hear me out: this is the only chain that I'm obsessed with. EATALY is an Italian provisions market with a full-service restaurant, a cafe, butcher shop, cheese shop, gelateria, and the list goes on! They have an absolutely ridiculous collection of Italian wines at various price points for you to pick up with your fresh pasta or cured meats. I spend every morning at the little cafe, and just stroll around the two levels of the market after. It's a bit of a dream admiring the bottles of producers I've worked with before & some I've only discovered because of EATALY. Basically, I'm trying to justify that all chains aren't bad!
Definitely recommend checking out these spots on your next visit to the city of Chicago & feel bit by the wine bug in your hotel room!