With my office literally in sight of the front gates of the Festival at Buckingham Fountain it was a no-brainer planning to visit after work on the Friday (and first day) of the two-day Windy City Wine Festival. Unfortunately for the Festival the weather was not the best at this time, and I'm sure we weren't the only ones who considered going home and coming back on the (hopefully better weather) Saturday.
Ultimately we attended, and without doubt are glad we did. We amused ourselves with a lightish dinner and by about 7:30 the rain had all but stopped and by the time we walked over had completely stopped. The rain wasn't so bad that a good umbrella wouldn't have kept us dry, happy and close to the vendors had we chosen to head on over earlier but we're glad we waited.
There were two downsides to our revised plan...
- We didn't feel up to having a go at the tasty treats set up amongst the Wine Vendors due to already full bellies, but the fish tacos smelled great as they were put together and the pulled pork sandwiches looked great as they were paraded past us - a little less discipline and my 30 minute workout scheduled for today would have to be double that.
- We missed the presentations. Our goal was to get our palettes around a good handful of wines we've not seen before (and as it turned out we found one old favorite that we first tried solely on the name, but really really like the style of Shiraz it is - Woop Woop*) so it wasn't the end of the world but it would have been nice to sit down and listen for a bit instead of just 'bar-hopping'.
There were also two upsides to our revised plan...
- The night turned out awesome. An almost full moon, the fountain lit up, the city skyline doing it's thing behind us. It would have been great just sitting around the fountain by yourself this evening, but instead we got to do it with a glass of wine too.
- The band was going the whole time we were there. The Lloyd Dobbler Effect played a great mix of covers everyone knows and their own original stuff. More of the 'dancers' came out to play as the evening progressed. No dancing for me, but it was nice comforting music to have going on around us.
So, you walk through the front door, pick up your tasting glass, your tasting guide, your pen and off you go.
Not so quickly!
There's a lot to try, even if you only do the wines and nothing but the wines. There's also a beer tent that should be visited and does a roaring trade. There's also the food, the guys selling cigars (not my thing, btw), the pretzel guy, the VIP tent if you're so endowed, the non-adult beverage providers. There's lots to see and do.
You do need a plan. 10 tickets for 10 tastings is the deal, but you can buy more tastings for next to nothing. When in tasting mode, my palette starts to run out of gas at about 10 tastings in so it seemed like 10 tastings would be the goal (we actually did a few more) of the evening. I think they have about a thousand to try. Ok, they advertise 270... Which 10 will it be?
Having not thought to do some research before heading on over we found a nice bright spot in a corner and attacked our list. Gotta get a hold of some Côtes du Rhône, wanna do some white and red and bubbles, wanna mix up the varieties, should try some different price points, gotta do mostly new stuff to us.
OK, now what? It actually turned out pretty easy to do all of this within our quota for tasting. In fact, we had multiple choices for each category (which you'd expect from
1000270 to choose from, right..). We didn't have any darts to help us with the final elimination process so we went with the tried and true method of selecting unknown wines - we picked the ones with fun names. Yes, your definition of fun might be different to ours, but it worked. Absolutely nothing that couldn't be completely finished and no regrets. There may have been a couple of the less interesting named wines that we prefered, but for now, we can't confirm nor deny that suggestion.
The people on the other side of the tasting tables work hard, and we appreciate their efforts. They were all happy to talk about their wines in general or answer specific questions, but it was hard to get a lot out of them due to the demands of all the other tasters waiting patiently behind us. We bear them no grudge and were happy to talk amongst ourselves. If you don't have a plan of attack, and you are hoping to get more inside knowledge, rather than just your own impressions, perhaps head for the tables with the shortest, and if possible, no lines.
And, when you find something(s) you absolutely positively cannot bear to be without, your guide doubles as an order form.
The Festival continues today (Saturday 10th) from 3pm - 9pm and with it already looking like a great day we're considering heading back to get a view of the place during the day and see the presentations. If you don't already have tickets they're still selling them at the door - just head on over to Buckingham Fountain, the entrance is on the west side.
We zigged and zagged all over the place to do the wines in the order we thought would help our palettes out the best and on this (late coming) wonderful evening it was a great way to enjoy the evening and the fountain and the wine.
This was fun, and absolutely stress free once through the gates - a great way to enjoy some wine, learn about some new ones and enjoy the Chicago outdoors by the lake. I'll be back here soon to fill you in on what we actually tasted - I just need to get my notes in order...
* - free Australian Pronunciation lesson provided at no extra cost... please don't pronounce it as if you are saying 'oops', it's much shorter as in 'book'.