Bring Your Own (Budget) Bottle

What’s better than a wine store within walking distance of a favorite BYOB? A great recommendation—under $12 a pop


 

Even in tough economic times, there is drinkable wine to be had. But the real question is: Are wine clerks a reliable source of information? To find out, we went undercover and put seven clerks to the test, asking them for a recommendation that would pair well with the respective cuisine of a nearby BYOB. We told them we could spend only $12 a bottle—a budget that not one of the clerks had trouble staying under. (Caveat: If you try to buy the wines suggested here, keep in mind that some may be sold out and wine stores often change their prices.) Then we poured the goods for two Chicago wine experts—Jill Gubesch, the wine director for Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, and master sommelier Joseph Spellman—who tasted them blind and weighed in. The results:

OUR EXPERTS


JILL
GUBESCH

wine director, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo


JOSEPH
SPELLMAN

master sommelier

A) FINE WINE BROKERS
4621 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-989-8166
Domaine de l’Oratoire St. Martin, 2006 Côtes du Rhône; $10.95
Good, nearby BYOB: Los Nopales (4544 N. Western Ave.; 773-334-3149) MEXICAN
What the clerk said: “We always get a lot of great feedback about this one. It’s a really good table wine—light-bodied with bright fruit flavor and good depth of minerality. This is one classy wine.”
What the experts said: Jill Gubesch: “It would go well with grilled meats like carne asada or bistec, but it’s too dry for mole and would be horrible with ceviche or other chilled seafood.” Joseph Spellman: “This is a typically powerful Côtes du Rhône. It’s too big to have with any fish item. It doesn’t taste as good as it smells.”
RECOMMENDED 

B) KAFKA WINE CO.
3317 N. Broadway; 773-975-9463
Alice White, 2008 muscat; $8.99
Good, nearby BYOB: Wakamono (3317 N. Broadway; 773-296-6800) SUSHI
What the clerk said: “Do you like white?” [He rattles off the names of five bottles of white wine all under $12. When I hesitate, he grabs a bottle off the shelf and walks to the cash register.] “This one will do.” What the experts said: JG: “I thought this was a riesling. I love the nose—citrus, lemon/lime, pear. I think it might be too sweet for sushi, though; it would work better with Thai.” JS: “I love it. The slight sweetness and acidity is good if you’re loading up on the wasabi.”
RECOMMENDED

C) CELLAR RAT WINE SHOP
1811 W. North Ave.; 773-489-2728
Château Nicot, 2005 Bordeaux; $11.99
Good, nearby BYOB:
Mado (1647 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-342-2340) ITALIAN
What the clerk said: “I have some solid Italian wines, but I’d rather steer you toward something where you’d get more bang for your buck than picking something just because it pairs well with Italian food. This is your typical dry, European-style red. It’s a cabernet blend, so it will have nice currant and black cherry flavors but also distinct cedarness and earthiness, which is typical of the Bordeaux region.”
What the experts said:
JG: “The texture is really great. It would go great with Mado’s menu, particularly the pasta with braised lamb and hanger steak.” JS: “I love the weight of this wine. And it’s very clever to recommend against the grain. A very good value.”
RECOMMENDED

D) HOUSE RED WINE SHOP
7403 W. Madison St., Forest Park; 708-771-7733
Elena Walch, 2006 Gewürztraminer; $11
Good, nearby BYOB:
Yum Thai Restaurant (7748 W. Madison St.; 708-366-8888) THAI
What the clerk said:
“This wine is rich and lush with a spicy finish. It’s really round with tropical fruit flavors and good acidity.”
What the experts said:
JG: “There’s not enough acidity to give it balance. It’s too dry and flabby for Thai food; too much oak.” JS: “In theory, gewürztraminer is a good match for Thai, but this is not a good example of a gewürztraminer.”
NOT RECOMMENDED

E) ARMANETTI TOWN LIQUOR
10000 S. Western Ave.; 773-239-2800
Leese-Fitch, 2006 merlot; $10.99
Good, nearby BYOB:
Café 103 (1909 W. 103rd St.; 773-238-5115) AMERICAN CONTEMPORARY
What the clerk said:
“This is an excellent merlot for the price. It’s very full-flavored, smooth, and ready to drink today. It has character and good fruit.”
What the experts said:
JG: “It reminds me of a berry crisp with cinnamon, spices, brown sugar, and streusel topping.” JS: “This has a wonderful pizzazy, spicy nose. It’s well integrated and balanced—a very good wine for the money.”
RECOMMENDED

F) LUSH WINE AND SPIRITS
1257 S. Halsted St.; 312-738-1900
Stanley Lambert, 2003 shiraz; $10
Good, nearby BYOB:
Honky Tonk BBQ (1213 W. 18th St.; 312-226-7427) BARBECUE
What the clerk said: “It has big red raspberry flavor and black pepper. It’s not going to be really ripe and jammy; it’s more settled down. The flavors suggest earth and dust. Really good with grill flavor and barbecue in general.”
What the experts said: JG: “South Australian shiraz is a good choice, but this one is over the hill. Too old.” JS: “The nose is decidedly floral—like flowers that have been sitting in a vase for two weeks.”
NOT RECOMMENDED

G) PRINTER’S ROW WINE SHOP
719 S. Dearborn St.; 312-663-9314
Masciarelli, 2005 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo; $11.99
Good, nearby BYOB:
Trattoria Caterina (616 S. Dearborn St.; 312-939-7606) ITALIAN
What the clerk said:
“It’s just a dry red table wine. From Italy. It goes with either red or white sauce. Goes with chicken or meat.”
What the experts said:
JG: “This would go great with red sauce. The acidity is good. I like this wine.” JS: “I would debate calling it a ‘table wine’—this is way above that. [When he finds out what it is] I buy [the 2004 version of] this wine by the case and take it to BYOB restaurants!”
RECOMMENDED

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