Monday, May 26, 2008

Someone You Should Know - Molly Wismeier of Cenitare

One of my purposes with this blog is to profile individuals in the Chicagoland area who help make our wine encounters more enjoyable. While on a business trip in the Chicago suburbs recently, Molly Wismeier of the Cenitare Restaurant Group met me for an interview at the Westin Chicago North Shore. Ms. Wismeier was appointed Corporate Director of Wine and Spirits for Cenitare Restaurants in December, 2007. At the Westin, her restaurant responsibilities include Osteria di Tramonto and Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood.

I wanted to learn a little about her responsibilities as a wine director and how her team of servers and sommeliers combine to enhance your dining experience. But our interview began on a bittersweet note; her publicist emailed both of us earlier in the day that legendary winemaker Robert Mondavi had passed away that morning. She had never met Mr. Mondavi, but she began our interview with a reflection on how he influenced her career, and many others:

"Going back thirty years, he helped me understand the position the U.S. has in the world of wine. He recognized the importance of place of origin; what wine will grow best in what places. He would take trips to France to see how how grapes were planted, what regions worked best for which grapes, how the soil was treated."

There have been many online tributes to Mr. Mondavi; here are a couple of my favorites.,1197,3817,00.html

Ms. Wismeier was originally an opera major, eventually receiving a degree in Russian studies. She believes all the experiences she has had, not just the food and wine related ones, help make her better informed about wine.

"Food and wine together were always a central part of my growing up. My grandmother brewed her own beer and I was always exposed to fresh local products, beer, bread, watercrests. As you expose yourself to these different experiences, your palate becomes stronger."

After working as Julian Schnabel's personal assistant (he directed last 2007's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), she worked her way up through several restaurants in Denver and at the University of Iowa). It was at this point, she discovered her affinity for wines.

She stressed to me that a sommelier or wine director can't just understand wine, "You need to know about culture, history, language and the art of wine. And you have to keep studying!"

Her responsibilities now include overseeing the wine cellar of three restaurants, training all wait staff and sommeliers, purchasing of all wine and liquor and planning food/wine events.

"I want to give guests (she resisted the use of the word "customer") the best tasting at the best price. I also consider the cuisine of the restaurant, the season and of course, the taste profile and quality."

Her staff is always interested in learning from guests "what's the buzz", so please don't be shy about sharing your likes/dislikes with them. "Every bottle you open teaches you something about the next bottle", according to Ms. Wismeier. "Don't be shy, just relax and express what you really like. The sommelier is translator, who will guide you to what is on our list."

ChicagoPinot looks forward to future wine adventures at Ms. Wismeier's restaurants (they are currently working on several projects in Schaumburg and Rosemont).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What do you break out for your friends?

This weekend, my company is attending a conference at the Westin in Wheeling, Illinois. It's always fun to get away from the office for a few days! A few years ago, I brought along some of my wines to share with my coworkers at our "team building" event and I would like to think that my selections helped bond our teams as much as the seminar content did.

So what will I bring this time? Admittedly, I don't have the budget for really high end vino. And, to put it nicely, I am not sure I want to share my most prized possessions with this crowd! What I will probably do is share some wines that are just a little out of the average person's comfort zone, but are still available and somewhat affordable.

Hopefully, the suburbs of Chicago have their share of BYOBs with minimal corkage. And if we find a couple of them, you may see CP and his friends sharing a few bottles of:

F. Bachelier 2005 Chablis
Shaw and Smith 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Adelaide Hills)
Terrazas de los Andes 2006 Malbec (Mendoza)
Marquis Phillips 2004 "Roogle Red" 80% Shiraz, 20% Cabernet Sauvignion
(South Eastern Austrailia)

Have you tasted any of these in the past? Please share your notes with all your friends here on the blog!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Taste of Chicago 2.0?

If you're a serious Chicago Foodie, you will want to mark two dates on your calendar. According to the Chicago Tribune, on May 20, a press conference will be held here in Chicago to announce "Chicago Gourmet", a food and wine event scheduled for Millennium Park from September 26-28.

Millennium Park held an excellent wine festival co-sponsored by Binny's last fall. It's an lovely place for a classy food or wine event; plenty of space to walk around, room to sit down or spread a blanket.

No details have been released yet about what chefs and restaurants will be represented, but I'm sure you have some favorite places that just wouldn't feel right at Taste of Chicago that would be much better showcased at an event like this.

If you were designing an event celebrating the fine cuisine of this city, what would you include? Feel free to comment below! Also, if you involved with the planning of this event and want to give your favorite new Chicago blogger a sneak taste, please comment or email me!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

New Wine Books to Read

What's almost as fun as reading about wine? Reading about it, of course! Here are a couple of books, some out now, some coming soon, I am looking forward to, along with a glass of great Pinot, of course!

One is by Alice Feiring; she's written a wine blog
( in which she calls herself a "wine cop" fighting for purity and authenticity in wine. She seems to have a grudge against California wine and a certain Maryland based critic.

Check out this L.A. Times editorial

Another title I am looking forward to reading is by Neil Rosenthal. If I remember correctly, he was interviewed for the documentaryMondovino a few years ago. He's an New York based retailer and importer who, like Feiring, has definite ideas about what makes wine "authentic" and not compromised.
This week also brings out 101 Wines by Gary Vaynerchuk. I have been watching his video blog since around Episode 40 or so. I saw it on the shelves this Saturday night at a local B & N, but I'll have to wait until my Amazon package gets delivered. Hopefully his over the top style (that is rooted in fundamental wine knowledge) comes through on the page as much as it does on my laptop every night!

If you read any of these, or have other wine book faves, please leave a comment down below!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Welcome to Chicago Pinot!

Welcome to Chicago Pinot (and Other Favorites!)

Here's a pic of me (in full interview mode!)

and one that is much more casual!

Thank you for visiting my first blog!
I have learned so much from reading other wine blogs, and have wanted to start my own for a long time.

I'll be focusing on wine events and stores and cool restaurants here in Chicago. Our city has many great wine shops, both small and large. I'll post reviews and commentary about the wine scene and (as soon as I learn how!) link you to other online resources you may enjoy.

Maybe I will share some of my other passions over time (that's where the Other Favorites part in the title comes from).

I am in my forties, and have been curious about wine for about five or six years now. You can call me a "beer graduate"; ten years ago I was much more into craft beer. And I still follow the beer world, but am more likely to drift to the wine section of a package store if I am visiting for the first time.

I have a great day job working for the city of Chicago, but I am about to start an evening part time position in the wine trade. Don't want to get more specific now, but please wish me luck!

I don't want to give my real name (yet) so for now, just call me Chicago Pinot (or CP for short!) You can email me at

Hope to hear from many of you soon!