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Great Grapes!

Want to ratchet up your wine smarts before the holidays arrive? We asked area sellers for their classes and good swigs.


Illustration: Christoph Hitz 

You’re hosting Thanksgiving and what will you pour? For those looking for a quick wine education, we checked the roster of classes and tastings at three of the area’s top wine shops and a couple of the warehouse superstores. Then, to make it really easy, we asked their friendly experts for recommendations for the season’s most important food pairing-turkey.

 

Schaefer’s
9965 Gross Point Rd., Skokie; 847-673-5711

In addition to a substantial inventory of wine-from lower-priced everyday bottles to collectible vintages-this nearly 70-year-old suburban stalwart offers a complete selection of spirits and beer, and a gourmet counter featuring party trays. The shop’s popular Third Thursday Wine Classes (at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., from $20) give novices the chance to try wines of various regions from as little as $6 a bottle to upwards of $30 in a classroomlike setting. “We try not to take ourselves too seriously,” says the store’s wine director, Sterling Pratt. “But it’s not just an informal gathering-there is some structure.” Every Saturday, the store offers free samples of some 20 different wines.

When asked what goes best with a holiday bird, Pratt advised “light, soft, and easy” wines for dinner guests who might not be big drinkers. He likes the Cristom pinot noir from Oregon ($29.95) as a light red with bigger fruit to pair well with turkey. He also recommends the Santa Barbara Winery 2004 riesling ($15.95), claiming its apple fruit character is perfect for turkey. “The important thing to remember about riesling is that it’s not always sweet.”

Knightsbridge Wine Shoppe, Ltd.
824 Sunset Ridge Rd., Northbrook; 847-498-9300

This elegant boutique is the hidden gem of the North Shore, catering to many of the area’s serious collectors. But novices can find excellent (and affordable-from $10) selections from the spot’s interesting offerings of little-known and boutique wines. Clients can learn about the various labels carried in the shop at elaborate multicourse dinners usually held every month or so. This month’s is at Highland Park’s Carlos’ ($139; call the shop for dates). But Knightsbridge opens some 30 to 40 different bottles each Saturday for new customers to sip at no charge while wandering among the bins.

Wine director Kevin Mohalley likes “juicier” pinots noirs to pair with turkey. He says syrah can also work well, “as long as it’s not too over the top.” His pick: the 2002 Pinot Noir Domaine Serene Evanstad Reserve from Oregon ($39.96)

Que Syrah Fine Wines
3726 N. Southport Ave.; 773-871-8888

“We’ve become kind of infamous for people coming in with their menus and saying, Help me out,” says Shebnem Ince, general manager of this Lake View boutique. A certified sommelier, Ince is intimately acquainted with every bottle in the store’s inventory, having tasted every vintage change of every label, priced from $6 to $150. On November 4th from 8 to 10 p.m., the shop will offer an evening with Bellefon Champagne, a small-label sparkler Ince found on a trip to Paris (capacity will be limited to 30; $35). On November 19th and 20th, stop in for free samples of the store’s picks for good holiday wines.

“I love pinot blanc,” says Ince. “It tends to have a lot of orchard fruit-which goes well with turkey, which is very lean and, frankly, may be a little dry. It’s a softer wine, but it has a really nice acidic structure. It’s not just fat and blousy in the mouth.” Her pick: the Dirler pinot blanc from Alsace (around $24)

Sam’s Wines & Spirits
1720 N. Marcey St.; 312-664-4394 (and other locations)

The city’s daddy of wine warehouses will offer a holiday Champagne tasting on November 8th featuring some 200 to 300 bottles, and with a capacity for 400 ($40; reservations required). But in addition to such grand events, Sam’s offers classroom-style seminars and cocktail-party-style in-house tastings at which patrons may wander among the cases of its 10,000 different label offerings (check the Web site for a complete schedule). The company’s latest education venture is its Academy-a series of four classes on various topics held at Kendall College’s Riverworks campus.

Jeff Moyers, assistant wine director, offers up the Pine Ridge chenin blanc–viognier blend ($12.99) for the holiday table. He claims its hint of sweetness with a clean, flinty minerality goes perfectly with any Thanksgiving fare, whether it’s ham or turkey. “This is a killer bottle of wine,” he says. “I’d buy it if it were twice the price.”

Wine Discount Center
1826 1/2 N. Elston Ave.; 773-489-3454 (and other locations)

This outlet with its bunker-style interior, featuring cases stacked into aisles, is a favorite of those who buy in quantity. In fact, the place has come up with its own rating system. “We feel we’ve gotten credibility [from clients] for our own scores in comparison with the wine press,” says the owner, Peter Schwarzbach. Which is a nice way to discern bottles not found in Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate. The center recently added a tasting room where it holds seminar-style events for 30 (from $5 to $50; call the shop for specific events).

Another fan of pinot noir for the holiday table, Schwarzbach recommends the 2002 Domaine Parent Bourgogne Rouge ($10.99), which he claims is probably the best value for French Burgundies of this fine vintage. As for whites, he says, François Pinon Vouvray Cuvée de Novembre ($18.99) has “the slight sweetness of this late harvest Vouvray [that] is just fantastic with holiday dishes.”

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