Windy City Wine Festival

windy city wine festival chicago
Photo Credit: Moonlightbulb
When I was tasked with the job of covering the Windy City Wine Festival for UPchicago – I thought OK I think I can do this. I know I can be really good at sampling wines. This year’s festival took place at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park Friday, September 10th from 4:00-10:00PM and Saturday, September 11th from 3:00-9:00PM. I expected the event to have mostly older couples “out to enjoy a lovely autumn evening in the city over a dixie cup of Chardonnay.” That was sort of true, but there were also a lot of people in their twenties, the weather was perfect, and the event was very well put together.

Upon my entry, I was given 10 tickets for wine, a souvenir plastic wine glass (for tasting), and a ticket for a pint of Stella. Tickets for this event package were $25 in advance and $35 if you paid at the door. I think the best way to describe my night and this event, would be through some of the wines that I tried. I mean isn’t that what life is all about anyway? Wine, good friends, and a ton of laughs? I’m pretty sure some woman in the Midwest has that needle-pointed on a pillow or written in puff paint on a wine glass.

So here we go:

Stop #1 – Black Box Winery:
This was the first booth I stopped at — it was the fanciest, or at least the most branded booth. I sampled the Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand which goes for about $22/bottle. The wine was refreshing, crisp, with lovely citrus notes. Just the perfect thing to bring to a classy ladies night out or just wet your whistle on a balmy summer night. You’ll have all your friends at book club going, “Hey wait a minute, I can’t believe it’s not bottled.” I was so pleased to see that Oprah and the Today Show had given their stamps of approval on this one guys because how do you even function with out the experts tipping their hat to what’s what? (Sarcasm.)

So I continued on, had a few bites to eat, and was determined to find a bottle that would beg me to take it home. The tasting was fun, but the event was designed to sell bottles and it seemed to work. It’s like a bunch of kids at the zoo that suddenly feel compelled to give some of their allowance away for a gorilla made out of wax.

Stop #2 PKNT:
PKNT (picante) was a great stop. Here I asked one of the reps what wine he’d recommend. He replied, “Well, do you want to be trendy?” Um, of course. So I tried the Carménère. Although the wine was not meant to be spicy (as the brand name suggests) the red was very earthy with a bit of bite to it — very warming — and just $8/bottle. Not my fave, but it’s cheap and would be great with a burger or pizza.

Stop #3 WINEBOW:
Sometimes when I follow aesthetic, it can lead me wrong, but mostly right. So at the WINEBOW booth I went for Jam Jar, a lovely sweet shiraz from Southern Australia. It looks like a jar of Bonne Maman — my fave jam around — but it is not jam at all. I think this wine would be great with a super savory, but light dish. For example, a salad topped with steak, blue cheese, and red onion. The acidic yet jammy notes (btw every booth used the wine term “jammy”) would be well paired with such a meal. This wine was ultimately my favorite; I even split a half case with my roommate. Each bottle goes for $12. Buying in bulk got us a much appreciated discount.

Stop #4 Easley Winery:
Who knew there were vineyards in Indianapolis that made blueberry wine? In fact, the Easley wines are made in downtown Indianapolis. The wine I tried was actually quite good. I thought the blueberry would make things too sweet or “jammy,” but I enjoyed it. With Indy only a little over three hours away from Chicago, a visit to Easley could make for a great weekend get away. Easley offers tours of their winery on the weekends.

Make sure you check out Windy City Wine Fest next year! In the meantime, with the weather getting cool (soon to be below zero) look into some options like an Easley Winery tour and sample what local wines are available in the Midwest.

Another opportunity for wine and food is coming up this weekend at Chicago Gourmet which takes place in Millennium Park Friday, September 24 – Sunday, September 26. Admission is $150/day or $250/two days.

About Caitlin Fitzgibbons

Caitlin is an contributor with a bi-weekly column on people-watching in the city.

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