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I Wasn't Thinkin', I Was Drinkin'. I Was Learnin', Too!

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Aug 26, 2005 7:45PM

Months back a frequent commenter to the site made the claim that “eighty percent of the wine drinkers in America would be fine with a good box wine” in response to an article about a recommended pinot gris. While that number may be dubious and ignoring the possible oxymoronic phrase “good box wine”, the reader sowed a seed that’s now being reaped as this article.

We’ve all been somewhere like a party, gallery reception, or a BYOB joint where cheap bottles of wine are consistently uncorked, unscrewed, or tapped and drained before the foil is removed from the next bottle. The wine rack of Chicagoist’s Bridgeport bureau is stocked with varietals that range in price from seven to twenty-five dollars at any drug store. We claim a heavy emphasis on the seven dollar bottles.

For all that’s written about the subject educating yourself about wine is a true crapshoot. Is it proper etiquette to sniff the cork once a bottle is opened? Does the year a wine was vinted make a difference in the quality? Are you ruining that sixty-dollar bottle of chenin blanc if you’re only using it to make spritzers? Why does that muscadet in the shapely petite bottle not pair well with blackened meats? Every wine steward, sommelier, bartender, and amateur oenophile has an opinion. And we all know that adage about opinions, don’t we?

The best way to learn about wine is to drink wine. Should you acquire an interest and want to learn more you could take a wine class at a culinary school. But what do you do if you can't afford the tuition or don't have the time for school? There are other options available. You can join a wine club, attend tastings, or sign up for an independent class or seminar.

Chicagoist did some research and found a slew- a slew, by God- of local wine clubs and independent wine educators where you can learn everything from basic wine terminology to making your own wine. This doesn't even include the regular tastings offered at Sam's, Binny's, and Randolph Wine Center. So in the spirit of sharing, if you’ve wondered about such things as tannins, legs, appellation, residual sugar content, veration, or otherwise just don’t know your ass from an ah-so when it comes to wine, but didn’t know where to start, we have some recommendations following the jump.

Wine can be either a solitary or social endeavor, preferably the latter. The Windy City Wine Club, Uncorked Chicago, and the Lincoln Park Wine Club were all founded in the past two years by entrepreneur Tom Zullo as a means of both educating its members about wine and social networking. Uncorked Chicago has the best website of the three, with a comprehensive glossary of wine terminology, recommendations for wine drinking and searching for bargain wines, and a list of wine bars throughout the city. The e-mail list for all three sites is free to sign up and you’ll be kept abreast of future wine tastings, classes, and events sponsored by the clubs, like the upcoming Windy City Wine Festival in Daley Bicentennial Park.

Just Grapes has been around for a short time but has acquired a wonderful reputation for its wine inventory and also hosts classes and seminars. Just Grapes boasts the name recognition of Alpana Singh, the Master Sommelier at Everest and host of "Check, Please", as one of its wine educators. Just Grapes also has a tasting room where you can sample a wine before you purchase, and at reasonable fees. The Pilsen-based Chicago Wine School offers single-night seminars or five-week courses at rates that won't break a budget. As of June Chicago Wine School has been holding its seminars at off-premise locations; their five-week beginner and intermediate courses will be hosted at 404 Wine Bar on Southport starting September 12th.

Wine Diva Enterprises is the brainchild of wine educator- and frequent contributor to the Distinguished Competition- Christine Blumer. Ms. Blumer offers classes, tastings, and events for groups of all sizes. Her classes alternate between the Calphalon Culinary Center and the West Town Tavern. The Wine Diva's next course in late September will focus on Tuscan wines.

Finally, if you want to make your own wines you can head to far South Western Avenue- think “South Side Irish Parade” South Western- to Bev Art Brewer and Winemaker Supply. The fine folks at Bev Art offer winemaking classes, sell winemaking supplies including grapes, and bottle their own wild blossom meads and fruit wines. Bev Art lays claim to being the only winery located in the city. Their meads are truly the nectar of the gods.

Image courtesy of Bonny Doon Vineyard.