Raising a Glass at the Windy City Wine Festival in Grant Park

Chicago Food & Drink: Raising a Glass at the Windy City Wine Festival|Groupon

Buckingham Fountain rang with the sound of clinking glasses this weekend (Sept. 7–8) as the eighth Windy City Wine Festival kicked off in Grant Park. When I arrived on Saturday afternoon, a light mist of rain had failed to dampen anyone’s spirits, and drinking proceeded full tilt to the Latin-tinged rock ‘n’ roll of Silver Spring, Maryland’s Lloyd Dobler Effect. Booths from more than 50 wineries poured samples of more than 345 wines, which ranged from standard merlots and malbecs to more exotic varieties made from rhubarb, almond, and apple. Food tents dished out hot meals such as grown-up grilled cheese (Mrs. Dorsey’s Kitchen | Brooklyn, NY) and empanadas (Empanadus Restaurant | Riverside and La Grange locations), but I succumbed to sweeter temptation—a red velvet buttercream cupcake from Guilty Pleasurez (Bolingbrook, IL).

Though the wine was the clear draw, it was the company that made the festive mood. The cobbled red bricks were filled with people dancing, laughing, and tossing three sheets to the wind. I talked up attendees with self-made wine-cork hats, met brides-to-be, and even had a taste of a lawyer’s Adobo Grill guacamole (it was delicious). When the wine stopped pouring, I even ended up joining some of the people I’d met for dinner.

Here are a few of the new friends I made:

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Names: Beth and Erin

Neighborhoods: Evanston and Lincoln Park

Favorite wine of the fest: “Who was that one guy who kept giving us two pours?”

What’s the most ridiculous thing you could make a wine from? “I would say rhubarb wine—but I got to try that here!”

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Names: Suzanne, Butterfly, and Caroline

Neighborhoods: The suburbs and Hyde Park

Butterfly’s occupation: “Lawyer. I train lawyers!”

Favorite wine of the fest: “Whatever was at U.S. Bank!” Then she dissolved in giggles. (There was no wine at U.S. Bank.)

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Name: Dan Shirley

Neighborhood: East Garfield Park

Occupation: Web designer

Favorite wine of the fest: “I’m a little bit in, but I liked Wine Sisterhood. They had a great pinot grigio. Sweet and smooth.”

What’s the most ridiculous thing you could make a wine from? “Mulberry—they’re growing all over Chicago and they’re falling off the trees, and no one’s doing anything with them!”

Why that’s not actually ridiculous: “I actually bought a wine-making kit to make wine out of mulberries.”

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Names: Amanda, Moe, Emily (bride), and Tara

Neighborhoods: Arlington Heights, South Side, and Rockford

Occupations: All four work at U.S. Bank (They confirmed that it does not have any wine.)

Favorite wine of the fest: Cooper's Hawk almond wine

What’s the most ridiculous thing you could make a wine from? “Guava or pomegranate.”

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Names: Victoria and Courtney

Neighborhoods: Forest Park and West Loop

Occupations: Lawyer and registered nurse

Favorite wine of the fest: St. James Winery Velvet Red. “It was a little sweet, but not too sweet.”

What’s the most ridiculous thing you could make a wine from? “Probably pineapple. Or pure dark chocolate.”

Bonus points: They let me try their guacamole.

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Names: Kenny, Adam, and Andy

Neighborhood: Lakeview

Occupations: Banking, hair, and software development

Favorite wine of the fest:Lynfred Winery pinot grigio is the best. I ordered a full case of it last year!”

What’s the most ridiculous thing you could make a wine from? “Me!”

Photo: © Adam Bass, Groupon