Stadium Sommelier – U.S. Cellular Field

One of my quests in life is finding a good, reasonably priced Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass.  This has proven more difficult than one would think and I’m still making my way through the restaurant scene to nominate the best wine-by-the-glass places. While I don’t expect much from sports arenas as this is not exactly their main objective, I figured I would add them to my search.

While at U.S. Cellular Field recently, I did a wine and spirits tour of the park.  Sadly their only red wine by the glass at the main drink booths has dropped in quality from last year.  This year’s offering is the Barefoot Cabernet which is one of my least favorite low-priced Cabs.

Not to be deterred, I circled the park and noticed a new bar-like establishment called Xfiniti at the far end near Section 111.  Noticing respectable whisky like The Glenlivet perched on the wall, I wandered in to see at least 8 different kinds of white and red wine bottles.

I’m not a huge white wine fan but Xfiniti had a Simi Chardonnay which is quite a nice selection for a ballpark.  On the red side, their only Cabernet offering was Two Vines for $9 (a California wine) but it was a significant step up from the steeply priced and lower quality $7.50 Barefoot.

Keep in mind that the average price that Americans pay for a bottle of wine in stores is $6.9 (the same price as a bottle of Barefoot Cab).  In any event, the Two Vines Cab was well worth the walk for a re-fill. There was also a Diseño Malbec which is another solid red wine ballpark selection.

Xfiniti was packed by the end of the game with people watching the live game behind them on bar TV’s in front of them.  This begs the question why you would go to a ballpark if all you want is a bar but the point is the place was doing great business and it was nice having a more diverse and higher quality drink selection.

Sox1On the positive side, if you’re a beer lover, there were a multitude of excellent choices. Hippishly-styled facades have popped up with a wide selection of beers and drinks.  Leinenkugel had 4 different kinds of drinks including Pink Lemonade and Honey Bear with a cool banner explaining what each was.

Sox2Midwest Brews had 4 categories.  Premium Drafts ($11.75) with Blue Moon Belgian White and I.P.A, Leinenkugel, and Summer Shandy.  16 ounce American Light Lager ($8.25) including Miller and Coors Lite, Old Style, and even two Ciders.

16 ounce Premium ($9.25) included Corona, Guinness, Half Acre Daisy Cutter Heineken, Pilsner Urquell, and Sam Adams Boston Lager.  12 ounce Premium ($7.50) included Brickstone APA, Great Lakes Eliot Ness, Molson Canadian, and Goose Island Green Line.  New Amsterdam vodka had their own booth as well with a variety of drinks including martinis and even adult snow-cones (a creative take on the trending adult slushy category).

People often ask me when faced with limited wine selections what the “safest” or best choice is.  As in most things, it depends.  “Quality” in wine is typically defined as well balanced and integrated, complex, and long in length. Balance and integration refer to the elements of acidity, alcohol, flavors, and tannins (if present).

In this case, the best quality wine was likely the Simi Chardonnay but if you generally prefer reds, quality can take a backseat to overall taste preference.  In my experience, lower-priced American whites can be more tolerable than lower-priced American reds for the simple reason that reds have tannins which often require aging (or heavy oak treatment) to be appealing at a young age. This oak can be too apparent in young wines and adds an almost sweet or vanilla note which can be cloying in nature.

There are many exceptions of course and price and quality do not necessarily have to go together.  There are also red grape varieties (Merlot and Malbec for example) that have lower tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon making them more appealing at an early age.

But for robust reds which require oak aging (and therefore cost more to make), the prices will generally be higher for a better quality wine. There are many other wonderful wines from different countries that cost very little and offer terrific quality but you aren’t likely to see those at a ballpark.

My next stops are Wrigley Field and the United Center.

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