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City Winery offers much more than just drinks

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City Winery

1200 W. Randolph

(312) 733-9463

Updated: February 10, 2013 6:02AM

There is a lot going on at City Winery.

It is an actual working winery, where they bring in grapes, crush them and turn them into wine.

In its first year the winery expected to make the equivalent of some 60,000 bottles. City Winery offers a rotating list of more than a dozen of its own wines on tap, and a bunch of other bottles and glass pours from around the world.

City Winery even offers a program that allows people — anybody — to make their own wine, and a VIP room where members can store their prized bottles and entertain guests. Retail wine sales are expected to begin in early 2013.

The place has a full restaurant with 175 seats (with private dining on the mezzanine, in the barrel room and in the winery itself), and the food is shareable: olives, charcuterie, scallops, duck tacos, flatbreads, sliders, short ribs.

City Winery is vast — both soaring and sprawling — resembling a former warehouse or factory more than the family-owned grocery it used to be. All of that is fine.

But the real draw to City Winery is its events, concerts and wine education series.

In November the legendary Mavis Staples performed there to promote her new album produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, and later that month Maximilian Riedel, of the famed glassmaking family, led a wry and informative seminar on the importance of appropriate wine glasses. He used their Vinum XL glasses for the demonstration.

Riedel implored guests to pour a wine into the wrong glass and then smell it and taste it.

“It feels like a fat, hip-hop gangster,” he said in his clipped Austrian accent.

Later, tasting 2010 Justin Syrah from a Riedel Syrah glass, he said, “This is how you want to wake up in the morning! Forget toothpaste and chewing gum.”

Next he poured the Syrah into a Riedel Cabernet Sauvignon glass, and everyone agreed that it was indeed, the wrong glass. “Take another sip,” he said. “Hurt yourself one more time.”

By the end of the seminar, which also featured pours of 2010 Drouhin Pinot Noir and 2009 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon served in their corresponding Riedel glasses, he had everyone believing that there was indeed a proper glass for each wine, something the Riedel family convinced some of us of years ago. Believe it because it is real and it is true.

Whether you go out and invest in all of those specific glasses is up to you. But if you have the money and the storage space, your wine drinking pleasure will increase immensely with great glasses.

In the 1950s Maximilian’s grandfather was the first person to blow an egg-shaped glass. Before that, glasses flared out at the top. Riedel glasses, and all fine wine glasses, taper in to concentrate aromas and deliver wine to the right spot on the tongue. This is what Riedel did for wine glasses.

Maximilian himself, the 11th generation of his family business, came up with the stemless “O” series glasses, and one of the wildest decanters I have ever seen. Called Eve, it stands 20 inches tall and looks like a cobra dancing to the sounds of a charmer. Maximilian pulled it out around the time the Lindt chocolate was being handed out. The chocolate had been flown in the previous day from New Hampshire, where it was made. “When we broke the chocolate it was like Mozart was playing a symphony for us,” Riedel said.

I savored my chunk and followed it with a delightful swallow of Justin Syrah.

It was a great ending to an enjoyable seminar, and a great start to an evening that continued at a concert elsewhere — only because City Winery was not hosting a concert of its own that night. Usually there is music there, along with the wine and food and everything else.

So there is a lot going on at City Winery. If the multitude of choices has your head in a whirl, start with a concert or a wine class.

You could learn about French wine from the Loire Valley and Champagne tonight, get introduced to winemaking Jan. 23, or learn to pair wine with cheese Jan. 30.

If music is more your thing, Maxwell Street Klezmer quartet jams at Sunday brunch on Jan. 20; Ed Kowalczyk, singer of the band Live, offers a solo acoustic performance Feb. 15, and mandolin mania hits the CW when the David Grisman Andy Statman Quartet takes the stage April 9 and 10.

The way into City Winery is through events. I cannot guarantee that every wine educator will be as entertaining as Maximilian. And of course, there is only one Mavis. But you will find something you like.

Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer. E-mail

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