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Vin Chicago Blog

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Meet Washington State Native and Certified Sommelier Jim Matthews!

Vin Chicago Bio!

- Jim Matthews –

 

 

Always ready to greet you with a smile and a handshake, Jim's love, passion and enthusiasm for wine is as strong as his customer service. A member of our team for 22 years, he first joined us in 1992 at our former Forest Park location. In 2007 he helped open our store in Barrington where he's been ever since. In addition to working for us, Jim has taught wine appreciation classes at College of DuPage, was a wine columnist for North Shore Magazine and hold his Level II Certified Sommelier certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

 

 

What is your favorite wine region?

 

I enjoy wines from most of the world's wine regions, so picking a favorite region is like trying to pick a favorite song or movie. However, the wine region that's most familiar to me is Washington state. I was born in a small town located I what is now the Columbia Valley AVA, and I still have family there today. Over the years I've toured nearly 30 wineries during my trips visiting family. I try to stay abreast of the Washington wine scene, although with nearly 800 wineries today, it becomes more and more challenging.

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Meet Advanced Sommelier Michael Matonte!

Vin Chicago Bio!

- Michael Matonte –

 

 

A wine guy to the core, Mike Matonte has a major passion for Italian wines and will totally flip out over a great Barolo. He joined us in 2007 at our Elston Avenue store and now manages the Naperville store and our social media. When Mike's not at the store, you'll find him studying for the Master Sommelier Diploma exam (he's already passed his Level III Advanced Sommelier test!), conversing with wine lovers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or hanging out with his wife and new baby!

 

 

What is your first wine memory?

 

My journey into the world of wine began in 2000 as a server at Timpone's in Urbana, my first serious restaurant job. I didn't have any knowledge of wines and remember the chef/owner, Ray Timpone, coming up to the dining room to taste us out on a couple of new additions to our by-the-glass list. He was asking the servers what they smelled in the wine. Answers started flying around like cinnamon, violets, cedar, tobacco and more. Not able to pick out anything like that in the wine, I stood in awe. That's when I knew I wanted to learn more, so I could talk about wine just like those experienced professionals.

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Meet Our Barrington Manager Jennifer Blair!

Vin Chicago Bio!

- Jennifer Blair –

 

We often wonder what type of background best qualifies someone to work for Vin Chicago. Being a wine lover is a must. We've also found that people who thrive in the restaurant business are likely a good fit for our fast-paced, customer-driven atmosphere. Not only does Jennifer Blair meet these criteria, she also worked for many years as an officer in the DuPage County juvenile detention center. The last few years have been eventful for Jen. Like so many folks at Vin Chicago, she is working her way through the Court of Master Sommeliers' certification program. She aced her exam to become a Certified Sommelier with the highest grades in her class earning a scholarship towards her Level III certificate. Even more exciting she and her husband welcomed a baby girl into the world last year! Jen now manages our Barrington location – a well-earned promotion while still on maternity leave. Jen's knowledge and capabilities are exceptional, and her enthusiasmis utterly infectious.

 

What is your first wine memory?

When I was in my early 20s, I worked evening shift at the juvenile detention center. We'd get out around 10pm and go over to a friend's house to have a drink and play some cards. My co-worker/friend was very knowledgeable regarding food, wine and beer. He introduced me to aged cheeses, like 5 year old Gouda and 10 year old Hooks Cheddar, and the different Prädikat levels of Riesling. I had no idea that Riesling could put out such levels of quality or that there was such a thing as Eiswein! The crisp, clean Riesling with the crumbly aged cheese was an "Aha" moment for me. It was the first time I really considered drinking anything other than beer!

 

What do you do outside the wine world?

I love spending time with my family, they are the most important thing to me. I have a baby daughter and a fantastically supportive husband. We frequently attend Sunday dinner at my parents' house to hang out with my extended family. When the budget allows I love to travel! There is a great big world out there and I want to see it all! Anyone who works with me will tell you I love to eat (is that a bad thing?). I love to try new restaurants. I also enjoy bike riding and pilates.

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Meet Advanced Sommelier & Lead Buyer Mike Baker!

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Vin Chicago Bio! - Mike Baker -

 

Aside from a short hiatus to work as a sommelier, Mike has been with us since 1999. His passion and knowledge has an impact that is felt throughout the Vin Chicago operation. An Advanced Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers, Mike not only manages our flagship Elston Avenue store but also serves as our lead buyer and is a key instigator of our twice-weekly email offerings.

A true wine lover, Mike can help you find the perfect wine for every meal. Though he's somewhat obsessed with the wines of France, Germany and Italy, he also has a unique talent for seeking out the best values and the most interesting wines from mainstream regions. He is a proud, active parent of three kids. As for his spare time – well, he doesn't really have any!

What is your first wine memory? I remember visiting Simi winery with my grandparents as a 10-year old. I was completely bored, but remember being conscious of the distinctive "smells" of the winery. They bought me a t-shirt that said "Come up to Simi Sometime!" My first wine experience as an adult was in 1994. I was 24, visiting my grandmother in Santa Rosa. We went to Arrowood winery and the Chardonnay was unlike anything I had ever tried - it was delicious. I bought two bottles for $25, which was a lot of money for me, I brought them back home, wanting to talk about them with whoever would listen.

What is your favorite wine moment? There are many great wine moments, but one really stands out. I was trying to impress my new girlfriend (now my wife) and had read about the glories of Sauternes paired with Blue Cheese. I bought a 1/2 bottle of '88 d'Yquem. Parker had rated it 99-Points and it was selling for $125 at the wine store I was working at. This was my first big purchase. I picked up a hunk of pungent Stilton and we ate and drank, draining the bottle. It was incredible and, as I write this 16 years later, I can vividly remember the taste!

Any special wines in your cellar? I'm a sucker for magnums. When I first visited Burgundy in 2000, I was in the small Meursault cellar of Chavy-Chouet with importer/Master Sommelier Fran Kysela. We had finished tasting the new vintage from barrel when Hubert Chavy said we should drink something old. Fran jokingly suggested 1er Cru Genevrieres from magnum. Hubert obliged. What a treat! A couple of Mags that I will definitely not pass along to my kids include a Donnhoff Beerenauslese and a Clos de la Roche from Ponsot.

What's the best part of your job? I love learning the stories of the producers that we buy from. I love family owned estates where the proprietors also work the land. Our industry is a fantastic combination of farming, science, commerce, history and family that result in a deliciously romantic drink. I love that I get to share these findings with curious customers so that they too may find pleasure and intrigue – and create their own experiences.

 

What do you do when you're not tasting/buying/selling or writing about wine? I can't get enough of my family! I have three wonderful kids and a beautiful, hilarious, patient wife. We just moved out to the suburbs, two blocks away from my amazing, helpful parents and are loving it. I enjoy music of all types, cooking, watching hockey and the idea of playing golf again one day. With whatever "free time" is left over, I am studying about wine – in pursuit of earning a Master Sommelier title.

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Meet 37-Year Vin Chicago Veteran Jim Buckley!


Vin Chicago Bio!- Jim Buckley -

When we decided to start including staff bios in our newsletter, there was no question as to who would be featured first. It's hard to believe, but Jim's been with us for nearly 40 years! Starting in 1977 as a stock boy at our original store in Forest Park, Jim's wine passion developed quickly and in 1986 he was tasked with opening and managing our first standalone Wine Discount Center.

One of the hardest working guys you'll ever meet, Jim is as honest as they come, has a memory like a vault and possesses one of the most sensitive palates in the business – a critical thing when a big part of your job is sorting through thousands of wines each year to pick the small percentage good enough for us to offer. When not drinking wine, Jim's cheering on the Blackhawks, Bulls and Bears, and is a long-suffering Cubs fan. He's proud of his vegetable garden and enjoys cooking while relaxing to his favorite music. We recently interviewed Jim about how he became so passionate about wine.

What is your first wine memory?My first wine memory is from my very first day of work on November 1, 1977. We had a Wine-of-the-Month Club at the time and one of my first duties was to refill the WOTM display. I remember the wine was 1974 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon. The regular price was $9.99 and as a member you received a 50% off coupon. You got a bottle of the wine for $4.99. I bought a bottle that night and had a few glasses with my dad a couple of nights later. We both loved the wine and I thought, hey this wine stuff is pretty darn good.

What is the most exciting wine you ever tasted? Hands down a bottle of 1959 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. I had just bought my house in December 1983 and the following summer I was having my parents over to cook them dinner for the very first time. My neighbor whom I considered my wine guru at the time had just had a bottle of the '59 Mouton to celebrate a special anniversary and he talked about how great it was for weeks. So I wanted this dinner to be extra special and I sprung for $125 for the bottle at House of Glunz. I was just getting into Bordeaux, but more like in the $12-$15 price category. So this bottle was a huge splurge. The '59 Mouton was spectacular. Layer upon layer. Each sip exposed another nuance. It was a memorable bottle on a memorable occasion.

What's your favorite wine region? I fell in love with Cote Rotie back in 1982. We were selling 1979 Guigal Cote Rotie for $9.99 bottle. This stuff actually had a flavor of bacon and who does not love bacon. Along with the bacon was black raspberry and mineral. The layers, depth and complexity were incredible. I enjoyed Cote Rotie but it became unaffordable as prices sky rocketed in the late '90's. I was in Rioja in 2003 and got to taste the phenomenal 2001 Rioja in cask. For the past 10 years I have been nuts for great Rioja.

What's the best part of your job? I have always felt I have one of the best wine jobs in Chicago. I get to taste wine for a living. We compose our monthly newsletter with the 50-60 best wines we taste every month. Our stores are filled with cherries from every country in every price category. So when I recommend a wine to a customer I am basically narrowing down the hundreds of wines I taste every month to what I feel are the top two or three. Nothing beats the satisfaction of having a customer walk up to you saying "thank you for that last recommendation. What else do you like?"

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