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.
Michael Dorf stood with his brother Josh, smiling over the barrel filled with wine from grapes they'd just crushed, fermented, and pressed. He claims that despite tastings and classes, he'd never begun to understand wine until this moment. As his understanding grew, he laid the foundations for City Winery: a full winery facility, restaurant, and concert venue inside urban Chicago. He now watches over more than 400 international wines and 20 house wines. Inside the winery, these wines—made from nine US and international varietals—age inside stainless steel tanks and American and French oak barrels. Here, staffers lead winemaking classes, letting visitors join the crushing and fermenting process, and showing them how make private barrels and fill custom juice boxes or bottles pasted with labels of their own design.
These monolithic tanks and barrels can be seen through floor-to-ceiling windows from most of the restaurant's rooms, where servers ferry Executive Chef Andres Barrera's dishes, each a blend of Italian, French, Spanish, and Middle-Eastern flavors. The culinary team crafts small and large plates of artisanal cheeses, seafood, and flatbreads—which they make using the winery's own wine lees as yeast. In the restaurant and Barrel Room tasting bar, staffers pour housemade wines piped fresh from the cellar through 14 taps, while visitors bask in the glow from hard wood and floor to ceiling windows. Patrons dine on a ground floor lit by soft blue lights and hanging lamps fashioned from old wine bottles, as well as a mezzanine level looking out on the city skyline. Private dining rooms gather guests around long communal tables, stretched between exposed brick walls. In the show venue, comedians, live musicians, and slapstick-prone stage crew members entertain audiences under the glow of tabletop candles.
When he wasn’t piloting a plane, Toby Beall spent time with his bare feet in the Caribbean sand and a cocktail mellowing in his hand. Looking to share that laid-back lifestyle, Beall, his wife Jillian and brother Jamey founded Tailwinds Distilling Company. Today, the Plainfield-based specialists blend premium ingredients such as organic molasses and 100% blue agave, and carefully age them in french-oak barrels to create their tropically-inspired amber rum. After the signature, small-batch distilling process—which avoids the use of carbon filters so as to leave the flavors intact—each bottle is individually signed. That attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed: their Taildragger white rum earned a silver medal at the 2012 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition, and their 100% blue agave spirit was featured in Chicago Magazine's Holiday 2012 Gift Guide: For Imbibers.
Visitors can take a jetlag-free trip to the tropics during tours of the facility, learning about distillation and sampling sips in a tiki-bar-themed tasting room. Merchandise such as T-shirts, snifters, and flasks provide more lasting souvenirs than the imaginary tan the island vibe might inspire.
Hillgrove Wine Cellars and Bistro combines tastings of fine, international wines and craft brews with equally well-crafted appetizers. Danny Parrott curates the medley of food and drinks, relying on his sensitive palate developed over years in the restaurant industry to lead him to the finest flavors. His stock of wine bottles and beers blend with the seasons and are chosen based on his particular leanings. His menu, however, remains anchored in specific flavors meant to offset the dryness of a fine white or the rich tannins of a red.
Patrons can come and go as they please during The Cellar Door's open-house-style tastings, which warm tongues from noon until 4 p.m. and send palates on global jaunts through 20 specialty wines from around the world, each fluent in its own flavor language. Between samplings, sippers can nibble on light hors d’oeuvres as they browse the shop’s ample bottle selection for the perfect aperitif adoptee. The Cellar Door's commitment to providing the finest vintages at vintage-low prices means that guests can find their ideal quaffs without having to cruise the illegal burgundy market.
Corks pop, glasses clink, and bubbles fizz at The Village Cellar, an intoxicating blend of wine boutique, wine bar, and wine school. On any given evening, shoppers browse racks that soar nearly to the top of Tuscan-style, sponge-painted walls. Meanwhile, if school is in session, pairing experts may be carving cheese to serve with a cabernet sauvignon and plating dessert truffles. Although the bottles of West Coast and European wines probably get the most attention, the bar and shop also share a collection of more than 50 india pale ales, milk stouts, and other craft brews. In the summer, a sidewalk patio blooms along the Cellar’s stretch of downtown Hinsdale, an easy wine-barrel roll from the Metra station. The Village Cellar's blog provides gift ideas along with updates on upcoming events.