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Vin Chicago Blog

 

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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Perfect Beef Bourguignon

Cold, damp November weather gets me thinking about red wines and “comfort” food. Recently, a close friend had her knee operated on, so we thought it would be fun to bring a meal over to keep her off her feet a bit. Beef Bourguignon is terrific when the weather is cold. 

I have a favorite restaurant that makes a great one and one day I was excited because they published the recipe in the local newspaper, but it didn’t taste the same when I made it. I wondered if maybe they left an ingredient out. I set out to find the recipe I liked by sorting through a dozen or so recipes and actually making about a half dozen of them. From that, I created the recipe we’ve used ever since (see the recipe below). 

One of the edits I made to the recipe is that I often make it with Zinfandel instead of red Burgundy/Pinot Noir. I found the result is more flavorful. That said, the resulting stew is still a great match for Pinot! When we had it this past weekend, I actually made it with a Castano Monastrell that sells for well under $10 (the recipe calls for a full bottle). We paired it with a Russian River Valley, an Anderson Valley, and Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. All worked very well, with the Russian River Valley getting the most votes for the best match. It was a big, bold, fruit-forward Pinot with high alcohol, but the Beef Bourguignon was so flavorful (including a bit of fat from bacon – which, BTW, I think was the ingredient left out of the recipe when published), that the alcohol didn’t show through at all. If you’re looking for a wonderful meal that pairs well with wine, try Beef Bourguignon!

 

Beef Bourguignon (serves six)

1 tablespoon olive oil                                  2 bay leaves2 ½ lbs. of beef stew meat, cut into 1” cubes 4 strips of bacon                                        3 tablespoons flour1 12 oz. bag of baby carrots                        1 bottle of Pinot Noir or Zinfandel1 onion, chopped                                        2 cups beef broth2 ribs celery, chopped                                 2 tbsp. tomato paste3 cloves chopped garlic        1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (1/2 if dried) Salt & pepper      

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven.  Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate covered with paper towels.  Cut into ½” to 1” pieces when cool.

Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper.  In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil/bacon fat, turning to brown on all sides.  Remove the seared cubes to a separate plate and continue searing until all the beef is browned.  Set aside.

To the pot add the carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaves.  Salt and pepper them, then toss in the pot over medium heat until brown.  During the last minute or two, throw in the garlic (it’s not good to throw in the garlic immediately, because it may become too burned).

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We are now Vin Chicago!



For the past 27 years we served you as Wine Discount Center. Starting today, we have changed our name to Vin Chicago! Our name has changed, but all that you love about Wine Discount Center remains. You'll find the same expert staff, same interesting and unusual wines from around the world and, of course, the same legendary low prices.

You may be surprised to learn that this is not our first name change. When my grandfather opened our first store in 1934, it was called West Town Liquors. When my father Bud (who most of you know) took over the business in the late 1950's, he freshened the name a few times before settling on Wine Discount Center in 1986. Changing names, however, is hard work and we plan on being Vin Chicago for a very, very long time!

Our new name has already drawn some attention. Check out what the Chicago Tribune and Crain's Chicago have to say about our new name!

We thank you for all of your support as we make this transition to Vin Chicago and look forward to seeing you at the stores so we can show you our new look. And don't forget to add our new email address (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) to your contact list, we don't want you to miss out on any of the cool wines we have in store for you!

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Wine Discount Center gets a new website!

Like a well-worn pair of blue jeans, our old website served us well. For fifteen years it helped share our monthly newsletter with the world. We wish it a fond adieu as we introduce the new, much more entertaining, online home of Wine Discount Center.

Right off the bat, you’ll notice lots of new features and, at long last, the ability to purchase wine online. We’re going to start out slow, with around 500 of our wines listed on the site. Within a few months we plan to double that figure and, if things go well, we should have most of our inventory online by early 2014.

Our hope is that you will have as much fun browsing through this site as you do walking the aisles of our stores in Highland Park, Barrington, Naperville and Chicago.

We have had a shockingly large team of web experts and wine drinkers (and wine-drinking web-experts) agonizing over the details of this site for many months, but it remains, and will always be, a work in progress. If you find a glitch or have suggestions for a feature that you would like to see, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Please enjoy the new site!

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