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Perhaps surprising, the United States is the leading consumer of wine. Grape production in the United States over the past five years has hovered around one million acres annually. Average yield 2008-2013 ranged from 7.3 to 8.7 tons per acre. This represents five million tons of grapes processed for wine in 2013 and an industry valued today in excess of 6 trillion dollars annually. (National Agricultural Statistics Service, NASS 2015)

We may not think first of Illinois when considering a wine purchase, however, grape and wine production has a long history and recent resurgence in the state. Most grapes grown in Illinois are used to make wine (94%), a few are sold fresh (5%) and some processed into juice (1%). (Sandra Mason, University of Illinois, 2015 news column) Popular winter hardy wine grape cultivars include Chambourcin, Seyval, Vignoles, Chardonel, Norton and Vidal. According to the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association (IGGVA), most of the Illinois wine grapes “…are ‘French Hybrids’ developed by crossing French grapes, such as the Chardonnay often grown in France and California, with native American vines.” (IGGVA) The exception is the Norton grape which has developed from American vines. A University of Minnesota 2011 study summarized the direct and indirect economic effect of vineyards, wineries and winery tourism. Their analysis concluded that vineyards in Illinois provided employment to 4,640 individuals with labor income totaling $59,330,000. The economic production of Illinois vineyards, wineries and winery tourists totaled $164,340,000. A USDA 2011 survey in collaboration with IGGVA counted 175 commercial vineyards in Illinois growing 1066 acres of grapes. The same survey estimated 105 wineries produced 651,800 gallons of wine.

As Illinois expands its grape and wine production, the population of wine drinkers continues to grow and with it wine bars and restaurants offering many wine choices. The only bonded winery in Chicago is CITY WINERY, 1200 West Randolph St. TEL (312) 733-9463 citywinery.com/chicago/ in the West Loop neighborhood. Established by Michael Dorf in 2012, City Winery is not only a winery, but a restaurant and live entertainment venue well worth a visit. Tours of the winery and wine tastings are available. As an urban winery you may wonder where they grow or procure their grapes. Grapes for the wines they produce are sourced from well-respected terroirs, for example, over 15 different world-class vineyards in California, Oregon, Washington and upstate New York, as well as Argentina, Chile and a few from Europe. Head winemaker David Lecomte works his magic with the grapes in the extensive barrel room where you can sample wines directly from the barrel.

Other options include four exceptional Chicago wine bars highlighted by Chicago Magazine:

  • ADA STREET, 1664 N. Ada St. TEL 773-697-7097 adastreetchicago.com extensive wine list, some food items and craft cocktails.
  • BAR PASTORAL, 2947 N. Broadway TEL 773-472-4781 barpastoral.com specializing in wine and cheese;
  • RM CHAMPAGNE SALON 116 N. Green St. TEL 312-243-1199, rmchampagnesalon.com an upscale “hidden Parisian gem” (Chicago Magazine February 2013) cocktail attire recommended, over 280 labels ranging from $35 to $1500;
  • VERA, 1023 W. Lake St. TEL 312-243-9770 verachicago.com with a focus on wines from Spain, Spain’s neighbors and the Americas (interesting geography), various light food items, extensive wine list, moderately priced.

Below are rankings of the ten most reviewed Chicago wine bars, ten highest rated Chicago wine bars, and ten Chicago wine bars that are good for groups. (Yelp online, April 2015)

Ten MOST REVIEWED Chicago Wine Bars* Food Style Telephone
1 AVEC, 615 W. Randolph St. French, Basque (312) 377-2002
2 FORK, 4600 N. Lincoln Ave. American (773) 751-1500
3 POPS for Champagne, 601 N. State St. American (312) 266-7677
4 FRASCA, 3358 N. Paulina St. Italian pizza (773) 248-5222
5 OSTERIA VIA STATO, 620 N. State St. Italian (312) 642-8540
6 FLEMING’S Prime Steakhouse, 25 E. Ohio American (312) 329-9463
7 The 3rd COAST, 1260 N. Dearborn St. American (312) 649-0730
8 VOLO RESTAURANT, 2008 W. Roscoe St. American (773) 348-4600
9 ENOTECA ROMA, 2146 W. Division St. Italian (773) 772-7700
10 VINCENT, 1475 W. Balmoral Ave. American (773) 334-7168
(*source YELP April 2015)
Ten HIGHEST RATED Chicago Wine Bars* Food Style Telephone
1 AVEC, 615 W. Randolph St. French, Basque (312) 377-2002
2 HOUSE RED VINOTECA, 7403 W. Madison** American (708) 771-7733
3 GATHER, 4539 N. Lincoln Ave. American (773) 506-9300
4 VINCENT, 1475 W. Balmoral Ave. American (773) 334-7168
5 ZIA’S LAGO VISTA, 3819 N. Ashland Ave. Italian (773) 883-0808
6 DISOTTO ENOTECA, 200 E. Chestnut St. Italian tapas (312) 482-8727
7 ROOTSTOCK, 954 N. California Ave. American (773) 292-1616
8 BRINDILLE, 534 N. Clark St. French (312) 595-1616
9 RM CHAMPAGNE Salon, 116 N. Green St. International (312) 243-1199
10 The 3rd COAST, 1260 N. Dearborn St. American (312) 649-0730
(*source YELP April 2015)
(** located in Forest Park, IL 60130)
Chicago Wine Bars GOOD FOR GROUPS* Food Style Telephone
1 BASCULE, 1421 W. Taylor St. (new) American (312) 763-6912
2 ENOLO WINE CAFÉ, 450 N. Clark St. Tapas (224) 325-4989
3 TWISTED VINE Chicago, 3530 N. Halsted St. (773) 388-0942
4 GATHER, 4539 N. Lincoln Ave. American (773) 506-9300
5 D.O.C. Wine Bar, 2602 N. Clark St. (773) 883-5101
6 DISOTTO ENOTECA, 200 E. Chestnut St. Italian tapas (312) 482-8727
7 MAX’S Wine Dive, 1482 N. Milwaukee Ave. American (773) 661-6581
8 WEBSTER’S Wine Bar, 2601 N. Milwaukee Ave. American (773) 292-9463
9 TRELLIS, 2426 N. Racine Ave. American (773)644-6441
10 ZIA’S LAGO VISTA, 3819 N. Ashland Ave. Italian (773) 883-0808
(*source YELP April 2015)

Nearly half of the wineries surveyed in 2011 were established after 2005 and the numbers continue to grow. According to DePaul university professor Clara Orban, “On my travels to visit wineries, one young winemaker told me that he and others like him are trying to transform their grandparents’ culture of the sweet Concord grape wine to embrace dry, international-style wines. There will surely be new changes in the future for Illinois wine.” (Orban 2014, p 6)

For those of you interested in visiting a suburban or rural vineyard and/or winery, there are a dozen or more opportunities within a two hour drive of downtown Chicago. I highly recommend the recently published and affordable paperback “Illinois Wines & Wineries: The Essential Guide” by Clara Orban published 2014 by Southern Illinois University Press. Quality winemaking on a commercial scale is well underway in Illinois.

—Betty Elaine Smith
Eastern Illinois University

DOI: 10.14433/2015.0013