We were fortunate enough to get media passes for this year’s Chicago Gourmet held in Millennium Park on Saturday and Sunday, September 25-26. Without these passes, this event would not have fit into our budget. Tickets were $150 per day, plus an additional $175 to attend the Grand Cru tasting. There was a lot to try at Chicago Gourmet, but the price seemed pretty steep. Here are some of the highlights of our experience:
The overall highlight had to be the Grand Cru tasting. I don’t remember seeing any other events with this kind of wine list. Vintage Dom Perignon, Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Clos du Val — big names in the wine world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to taste everything being poured, but I tried as many as I could.
Grand Cru seemed pretty cabernet sauvignon heavy. The Heitz Martha’s Vineyard was one of the best. It was a 2005 so it still had a lot of fruit, but an earthy minerality was there too. The Insignia was also one of my favorites. It was a little more fruit forward than the Heitz. The Merus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2005 and the Groth Reserve Cabernet 2006 also stood out.
I was excited to get to try some of the big Champagne houses. The 2000 Dom Perignon Brut was all bubbles. As soon as it hit my tongue, it just filled my mouth bubbles. The Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” was full of that classic Champagne yeasty bread flavor. Same for the Krug Grand Cuvee, but it was a little funkier.
I’m a big fan of Port, so I made a point to try the two that were on offer. Graham’s Vintage Port 2007 was deep, deep purple color and full of dark fruit. It was surprisingly drinkable since vintage port is usually aged for years if not decades. Dow’s 30 year old tawny was absolutely delicious. Full of caramel and nutty flavors, I seriously wish I could have a glass every day.
I ended the Grand Cru tasting with a couple tastes of Scotch and a Cognac. I tried the Tomatin 25 year old single malt Scotch. Scotch isn’t usually my thing, but it was smooth and very drinkable. On the other hand, the Laphroaig 18 year old Islay single malt was very harsh. I also tried Courvoisier XO Cognac, which like the Tomatin, was surprisingly nice. In fact, I think I might need to go find a good bottle of Cognac to have around the house.
To say I drank too much would be an understatement. The food that was there was fantastic, but there was at least ten times as much alcohol than food. One of the big problems was the lines. I waited 30 minutes to eat a small steak taco and some gauc at the Frontera stand–and while it was worth the wait because Rick Bayless is a genius, it didn’t fill me up.
Actually, the Grand Cru event sucked away some prime standing-in-line time, but I write a wine blog, so I felt like I needed to represent my craft. For an hour and half, like He Sipped said, I tasted some damn good wine–wine I normally wouldn’t have a chance to taste. At the beginning, I focused on sparkling, specially lots of Brut Rosés.
One of my favorites was the Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne Rosé NV, which retails for about $80 a bottle. Another favorite was the Argyle “Brut Rosé” Willamette Valley 2007, which retails for about $45 a bottle. I felt sophisticated drinking these wines, sipping on them, chatting with the representatives who poured them in my glass. A cocktail party I want to be invited to every night. Yep. That’s what the Grand Cru was.
After the Grand Cru, I stood in line some more, but most of the food stands were already shutting down (this was on Sunday). The rest of the event was somewhat of a blur–trying to find food, not finding food, needing food, and settling on the Dominick’s tent, which actually had a great spread of cheese, jam, and nuts. As a women in line said to me, “This is where you get the most bang for your buck.”
People all around me were complaining about the food lines. It was just too easy to get a drink. Even outside of the Grand Cru, there were dozens of wine, beer, and cocktail stations with no lines.
Blame it on Groupon. Blame it on the Top Chef Masters stalkers. Blame it on poor planning. But Chicago Gourmet needs to figure out how to handle the celebrity-chef obsession of its audience, if it wants to continue to be successful. More food. Even if it’s not famous food.
Hell, by the end of it, I would have scarffed down a Big Mac–and not even thought twice.