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Vin Chicago Blog


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 Advanced Sommelier & Lead Buyer Mike Baker!


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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