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Darren Lauren Grady Wicker Park sample some wine 2011 Chicago Gourmet.  | Sun-Times Media

Darren and Lauren Grady of Wicker Park sample some wine at the 2011 Chicago Gourmet. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 28, 2012 6:47AM

While many wine fanatics will spring for the special ticket to hit the Grand Cru tastings at Chicago Gourmet this weekend (which include choice pours from the likes of Archery Summit, Silver Oak, Pio Cesare, and Louis Latour), you don’t have to slap down that extra $175 to do some serious sipping.

With a general admission ticket in hand, make a beeline for the daily wine seminars held in the Choral Room of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and you’ll be richly rewarded.

Beginning at 12:15 Saturday and Sunday, these 45-minute sessions cover a lot of terroir, offering insights from a host of master sommeliers and other experts. (Each presentation, complete with tastings, accommodates 40 people, so don’t dawdle).

Showcasing readily available wines at relatively mid-range price points, the sessions range from a look at California Pinot Noir to a tour of Italy’s top viticultural regions, including Valtellina, Piedmont, Veneto, Tuscany, Sicily, and Puglia. Peter Marks of Constellation Wines, walks visitors through the Napa Valley’s historic To Kalon Vineyard, which produces grapes used in the Robert Mondavi Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Oakville District Cabernet Sauvignon, Fumé Blanc Reserve and I Block Fumé Blanc.

Devised to appeal to both the fledgling oenophile and the connoisseur (yes, even Robert Parker-wannabes can learn something here), the lively seminars combine a festive vibe with great tips. Among the more intriguing offerings is Vino Latino!, presented by series organizer, Serafin Alvarado, Master Sommelier and Director of Wine Education for Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois.

“I’ll be going beyond obvious varietals and regions, like Malbec from Argentina,” Alvarado said. “For example, Brazil, where the focus is on Cabernet, Merlot, and Chardonnay. In Uruguay, the primary varietal is tennat, a red grape grown in southwestern France. There have been great expectations for it in Uruguay and it’s finally coming around.”

And for Bordeaux lovers who can’t cough up the cost of a premier cru, Ira Norof, president of the Society of Wine Educators, offers the seemingly oxymoronic, Everyday Bordeaux. But as Alvarado notes, “High-end bottles represent a small percentage of what is produced in Bordeaux. There is an abundance of quality, everyday, accessible wines available from the region at a good price point. Nothing Ira presents will retail for over $25.”

Chicago Gourmet runs Saturday and Sunday in Millennium Park. Gates open at noon. For further information and to purchase tickets, please visit

Thomas Connors is a local free-lance writer.

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