The experts at Wine Discount Center taste wine like it’s their job—because it is, actually. Every month, they taste hundreds of wines, assessing each one’s color, aroma, flavor, body, knowledge of American history, and finish in the same manner that the critics of Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate use to grade wines on their 100-point scales. This never-ending sampling and scoring lets Wine Discount Center’s team continually update and hone the selection at each location, regularly announcing new finds on the company's website and ensuring each bottle it stocks is worthy of 85 points or more. The oenophiles further enhance guests’ enjoyment of their wines by leading in-store tastings every Saturday at noon.
With its massive selection of varietals and styles, Lynfred Winery seems determined to make something for almost any wine drinker. The cellar brims with everything from bold, spicy reds to crisp and refreshing whites, as well as fruit wines made from apples, cherries, rhubarb, and pears. The grapes arrive from vineyards throughout California and Washington state, although the rest of the fruit typically comes from a bit closer to home, including growers throughout Michigan and Wisconsin. Despite this variety, the staff's commitment to approachable, fruit-forward flavors characterizes virtually everything that the winery makes.
This dedication to easy drinking seems only natural given the winery's origins in a home basement. In 1975, Fred Koehler, along with his wife Lynn, decided to try to re-create the family wines his father and grandfather had made throughout the 1920s. The batches grew larger with each passing vintage, and, in 1979, Fred and Lynn chose to upgrade their homespun hobby into a commercial venture. Within six years, Lynfred Winery's creations began to appear in the national spotlight as they garnered awards and medals from wine competitions across the country. This attention allowed Fred to swell production even more, eventually expanding to a larger location in 1990.
Fred and Lynn's legacy continues to inspire the staff as they operate a facility that creates more than 100,000 gallons of wine each year using as many as 80 varietals. These wines appear on restaurant menus, on retail shelves, and inside fish tanks throughout the Chicagoland area.
The Winery at Shale Lake sprawls over 212 acres of verdant terrain, with a 10-acre vineyard producing a menu of eight original wines for enjoyment in an array of charming settings. Spin around the 24-acre lake during a 30-minute bike ride aboard any of the Surrey cycles available for rent, or hike the scenic trail to slowly experience nature and the soothing melodies of Bigfoot quartets. Sip on up to five complimentary varieties of wine in the tasting room, built into the barn for a fine equine view through the picture window, and chow on gastronome goodies, including baked brie with raspberry sauce ($6), or white garlic and sausage pizza ($9). Kick back in the winter loft during colder months, playing pool and swirling sippers such as the Fifth Dimension, a sweet red foch wine, and the Beginners Luck, a semisweet chambourcin (all $4.50 by the glass). Live performers burst into song roughly twice a month, so thirst quenchers can enjoy sweet sounds while tickling their taste buds and their friends' bellies on Saturday evenings.
It's more likely that Illinois River Winery founder and winemaker Gregg Kane is out in the field or tinkering in the wine lab than in the chair behind his desk. Thanks to his hard work, the winery's tasting room offers a selection of more than 30 varietals daily, from crisp, dry wines with vibrant acidity to wet wines known for their unique ability to quickly soak into a shirt. During warmer months, grab a glass and head out to the patio, where live music sweetly serenades sippers every Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Naturally, the chefs at Cooper’s Hawk have a sharp eye when it comes to wine pairings. Each of the restaurant’s contemporary dishes is crafted with a particular wine in mind, which makes plenty of sense given the fact that there’s a winery located just next door. Surrounded by oaken barrels and racks lined with glistening bottles, diners may be forgiven for thinking that they made a wrong turn and ended up in the winery itself. After your meal, see the real thing in the Napa–style tasting room, where you can sample up to eight different wines. The selection includes something for everyone, including graceful blush wines and cabernets whose flavors unfold like a novel scribbled on the wings of an origami crane.
To find many of the fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs that underscore their Mediterranean menu, Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits' chefs only need to walk a few steps away from the kitchen?to the restaurant's own greenhouse. Although it's hard to get more local than that, many other ingredients are sourced from Cakeridge Farms in the Ohio River Valley, owned by head chefs Dan Pancake and Beth Partridge. Both worked under James Beard Award winner Tony Mantuano in Chicago before perfecting their Mediterranean cooking and wine-bottle-juggling on Spain's Costa Brava.
At Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits, Dan and Beth whip up fresh pasta, flatbreads made to order, and small plates inspired by French, Spanish, and Moroccan cuisine. A lengthy wine and spirits menu makes it easy to pair each dish with an apropos beverage, including small-batch and organic options. Diners can enjoy their meal on the restaurant's three-season patio or inside at tables crafted from fallen ash trees harvested from Cakeridge Farms.