On June 17th 2011 I had the privilege of attending Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town, at Chicago’s famous Field Museum. This was an interesting and fun experience for me on many levels. I did not realize until I arrived how long it has been since I attended a wine even that was not an “industry event.” By that I mean no one was stressed out, making sales deals, texting their coworkers and networking. Well maybe a little networking was happening, but the fun kind. It was refreshing to be amidst a group of people who all gathered for no other reason than their love of wine. I felt like an actress planted incognito in her audience while they enjoyed a performance of her. What fun!
The Scene: Walking in to the grand hall of the Field Museum you were greeted by a warm and informative staff, and handed the stem of the even Spiegelau, as you gazed upon a gigantic beluga whale installation that hovered above. My tasty journey was underscored by the mellow jazzy tunes of Joey Edwin. It stayed mellow, upbeat and inviting all evening. I am also a huge natural history fan so I found it extra exciting to sip next to the full skeleton of a T-Rex.
The Vino: This event had a wide range of goods from US favorites such as Charles Krug, Napa Cellars, Bennett Lane, Hall, The Hess Collection, and Chateau St Jean, to some exciting international vendors such as Yalumba of Australia, Mezzacorona of Italy, Austrian Wine of…. You guessed it, Austria, Lapostolle of Chile, Nestor Imports of Greece (this is becoming a thing in America) and my favorite, Herdade Do Esporao of Portugal. There was also a nice showing of bubbles throughout the floor and a healthy sampling of beers from Allagash, Samuel Adams, and Unibroue, and even mixed drinks and fancy teas. There was truly something for everyone. Looking at this selection from a consumer’s point of view, and how it lines up with a Wine Enthusiast event I thought it was very smart. Although there were some gems offered, almost all of the libations presented are easy to acquire in the Chicago market for the home consumer. How perfect! If you fall in love with a wine that evening you can easily go out and get it, take it home and enjoy it, while reading a review on it, and playing with all the wonderful toys that the Wine Enthusiast has to offer.
The Eats: I am not sure if the whale was the inspiration but sea food was definitely the star of the offerings. There were flavor packed bites offered by 30 of Chicago’s very notable restaurants and thirteen of them were seafood focused. This was a change for me from the usual “Pig” dominated menus I am used to in this city. Even the “Purple Pig” offered a beet and goat cheese salad instead of a divine swine bite. There was however one piggy dish that stood out and pleased the palate, the bourbon braised pork belly w/ peach jicama slaw from South Water Kitchen. My favorite fish dish was the Yellow Tail Tiradito w/ Jalapeno and Lemon-grass offered by Sushi Samba. It paired perfectly with Herdade du Esparao Monte Velho White 2009. Other exciting tables were Aria, Provence, Old town Social, Sixteen, IPO, Grahamwich, Bistronomic, and Coco Pazzo just to name a few. My only regret was not hitting the lounges and tasting stations on the second level sooner. There were some treats I was looking forward to enjoying, but alas they had run out by the time I got there. My sadness was quenched by a zippy glass of Schramsburg rose however.
South Water Kitchen SushiSamba
The Perks: If their bites were not enough to satiate your appetite the coupons the vendors were offering sure were. I have enough savings now, to have a fun, yummy and inexpensive summer. There was also a very nice swag bag with more coupons, the latest issue of the Wine Enthusiast, and the Wine Enthusiast gift guide. Other perks were the VIP option sponsored by the Wine Enthusiast and the Wall Street Journal. If you elected this option you got to lounge in the VIP area set up by The Wall Street Journal. It was a nice exclusive area with ample seating and tables, and a chance to taste some pretty yummy estate bottles. You also got to enter almost an hour before the general public, so that alone makes it a worthy option. And sipping prosecco next to Vince Vaughn was pretty great as well.
The Sum Up: This was a great way to kick off the summer for Chicago’s wine lovers. I highly recommend checking out other Wine Enthusiast events. As for next year, the only things I wish would be added are pairing classes in the “lounge and learn” areas. I know some people are there just for fun, however there are enough people who have a genuine passion for wine knowledge that would greatly benefit from a station of fun filled guidance. This would keep you from drinking one of Krug Estates massive Cab’s with a light delicate Yellow tail dish. And what cooler place to take a mini wine class, then The Field museum? I have on good authority that there are more than a few enthusiastic wine educators roaming this great city of ours. But all in all I will say that the Wine Enthusiast toasted our wine loving city just right. So to you Wine Enthusiast…..