How to Learn About Austrian Wine in Chicago
This fine question was posed by a wine loving friend:
“I have decided to focus on learning more about Austrian wines in the next few months, and saw that you have a lot of them in Candid Wines on SevenFifty. I was wondering if there are any places you would recommend that carry them? (primarily retail, but a good wine list would be a reason to visit a restaurant as well). Thanks!
The happy answer is that there is a THRIVING culture of Austrian Wine in Chicago as I have discovered over the past year or so. As I started to compose a response to Jackie in my head, I realized quickly that a public post was in order. So,
Is There Good Austrian Wine in Chicago?
Yes, much of the very best of Austria can be found here in Illinois.
Austrian Wines USA has invested a tremendous amount of time and effort to support the work that has been done to bring an incredible range of Austrian wines to Illinois over the last ten or fifteen years. Austrian Wine is one of the best national wine marketing groups in the world, in my experience. Use their website like the reference tool that it is. Go early and go often during your exploration of Austria. I do. It’s a valuable tool that conveys large amounts of complex information in a readable, engaging style.
I would suggest starting on their Austrian Wine Law page – it’s a quick read, and I won’t test you on it, but by reading this first, you’ll be comfortable with some of the words and ideas you’ll need in your tool belt as you explore the differences between Emmerich Knoll’s Riesling Kabinett from the Pfaffenberg vineyard in the Kremstal (spoiler, that’s the answer to 6 ACROSS) and his Riesling Federspiel from the Unterloiben in the Wachau.
My own introduction to Austria and all of the Austrian wines Candid carries are thanks to Circo Vino. Sariya Jarasviroj Brown founded Circo Vino after years with Vin Divino and has unparalleled knowledge of and passion for Austrian wines. Take a look at their site and be sure to sign up for the excellent newsletter they produce – it is chalk full of info and stories about producers and regions.
So now that you are armed with a few resources, here are a few answers to your question about Austrian Wine in Chicago, but please keep in mind I can’t possibly name all of the great resources in Chicago.
Which Retailers offer unique Austrian Wine in Chicago?
I suggest starting, as I did, with a trip to see Nathan Adams at Red and White Wines on Milwaukee Ave. Nate has travelled to Austria on multiple occasions and is particularly adept at matching wine styles you know and love with related wines from Austria. Tell him you love Sauvignon Blanc and he may a lighter style Gruner from young vines in the Kremstal that fits the bill or perhaps he’ll have wine from the Steiermark in the south where Sauvignon Blanc is king. Whatever you find at Red and White you know that it will be energetic, cleanly farmed and well made. Nate is also a proponent of red wines from Austria, so his store is a good place to explore vastly underrated grapes like Blaufrankisch, Zweigelt and St Laurent. By extension, you can try Weninger’s Blaufrankisch at Boeufhaus where Nate leads the wine program.
Another resource in the city at retail is Plum Market. Anthony Minne leads a well educated wine team and has an impressive range of top wines from Austria. He has purchased quite a few different offerings from Knoll for the store and appreciates and can explain the differences between Smaragd and Federspeil as easily as the differences between vineyards sites like Schutt and Kellerberg.
If you find yourself in the Northern Suburbs, stop into Knightsbridge Wine Shoppe where Matt Gundlach has been expanding his offering of single vineyard Rieslings. His selection is particularly useful as he has also stocked up on single vineyard wines from Germany, and particularly kLaus Peter Keller. No better way to contemplate the differences between these teutonic titans of dry white wines than by opening a few examples, eh?
Should you prefer to have wines delivered to your home, log on to Flickinger Wines and check out their broad selection of Knoll and Peter Veyder-Malberg’s wines (and Peter’s wines are absolutely worth seeking out!)
Finally, the team at Whole Foods Kingsbury has a good selection of red and white wines from across Austria. As each store within Whole Foods is free to create their own set, not each buyer will focus on Austria, but there are some excellent, affordable options on the shelf at Kingsbury.
What Restaurants Offer the Best Austrian Wine in Chicago?
Arthur Hon at Sepia, I think, has to be at the top of this list. Arthur tastes everything that comes into the city, works regularly with the Austrian Wine USA group on events, and has put together a list that has some of the most surprising wines you can taste this side of Vienna. Looking for amphora aged, skin contact Pinot Blanc from a biodynamic farm on the shores of Neusiedlersee? When I tasted the one we sell from Claus Presinger, I had a strong suspicion a few bottles would end up on Arthur’s list.
As a follow on, when I shared the first draft of this with Arthur via twitter (follow him at @Somm_ArthurHon, follow us at @candidwines ) he quickly responded to let us know that he has 45 different Austrian wines for sale right now. That means you’ll have to make at least 5 or 6 trips to Sepia!
Matt Sussman at Table, Donkey and Stick is another Sommelier to seek out. His list is full of Austria’s best and it’s a spot where I will often seek wines from producers we don’t represent, even though Matt has quite a few of our Austrian wines by the glass. Over the summer, I had the chance to snag one of the last bottles of Fritz Wienenger’s Gemischter Satz from Vienna. That’s one that comes in through Winebow, but we were lucky to meet and taste with Fritz in the vineyard overlooking the city where I shot this quick video.
Don’t miss Matt Sussman’s “Terroir Tuesday” feature where he opens an incredible selection of wines around a theme each week.
Next, I think a large group of places deserve to be grouped under the umbrella of “Jeremy Quinn’s Disciples”. JQ, of course, ran the wine program at Websters Wine Bar for years when it was on Webster. He lead trips all over the world, including Austria, and the wine scene in Chicago owes him a debt of thanks. From the cauldron of education and exploration that was Websters under his tutelage has emerged a large and excellent group of Sommelier and business owners now doing their own thing and pouring many Austrian wines around town.
Websters is very much alive and thriving under Carl Moberg’s guidance at their new spot in Logan Square.
Jamie McLennan, Johnny Happ and Tonya Patt and their team at Rootstock Wine and Beer Bar carry many of the best in Austria by the glass and on their deep list.
Matty Colston is killing it at Parachute and is sure to have something Austrian at all times to pair with the incredible food their kitchen puts out.
(Who am I missing here – I know there are quite a few more. I will update!)
Finally, head to Vera where the overarching theme is Spanish, but Liz Mendez loves good wine, wherever it comes from. Vera’s list, managed by Sommelier Christy Fuhrman is not necessarily deep in Austrian references, but they seem to always have a few excellent choices.
Austrian Wine in Chicago: The Press is Talking!
There have been a number of excellent pieces produced in the past year highlighting Austrian wine in Chicago.
The Chicago Tribune has been a regular supporter for a long time:
Austrian Wine Enchanting:
More recently, the Trib has worked to correct the claim made by Ruth Ellen Church that “red wine from Germany and Austria…are inclined to be thin” which seems blasphemous when seen through a modern lens, but which was likely true at the time. Specicfially, this piece on the reds of Austria, highlighting Franz Weninger’s Blaufrankisch, and calling out Rienisch and Preisinger as well.
And here, a look at the whites:
And finally, John Lenart, writing for the Chicagoist asked a series of sommelier about the hottest trends for 2016. Christy Fuhrman at Vera points to single vineyard Blaufrankisch:
Happily, there are many, many more spots worth exploring for their Austrian selections. I’ll be sure to update as I have time!
Thanks for asking,