How do you find your next favorite wine? (Hint: Looking for the label with the weirdest animal on it won't necessarily get you there.) Wine bars are a great starting point if you're just dipping your toes into the wine world, and Chicago doesn't lack for new places to check out. The staff at the city's recent wave of wine bars won't mind if you're not brushed up on your Italian regions or Austrian grape varietals. "What I have seen is the gap from where the industry is and where the consumer is has grown. Wine drinking has become an exclusive activity again, and I see that as an opportunity," said Tom Powers, managing partner in The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet, a forthcoming bar and restaurant with a focus on American wines slated to open in the West Loop by the end of the year. Ready to find your next grape obsession? Here's where to grab a seat now, and where to belly up in a few months. firstname.lastname@example.org | @redeyeeatdrink
450 N. Clark St. 312-477-7674
When it opened: June 13
Focus: A tight list of white, rosé and red wines by the glass ($8-$30) and bottle ($32-$124) doesn't overwhelm. If you know what style of wine you prefer—light and elegant reds, textured and complex whites—explore three glasses in that category with a flight ($11-$31) of red, white, sparkling or premiere cru pours. Looking for a unique bottle? Ask about a selection of exclusive bottles, made by small vineyards and available only at Enolo, or take a peak at the higher-end offerings on the reserve list.
Food: In classic wine bar fashion, Enolo serves a menu of 10 bruschetta plus housemade pastas, charcuterie and cheese, and chefs recently added two pizzas to the menu.
Drink this now: 'Tis the season for rosé, and the 2013 vintage of Chateau Routas rosé ($9 per glass; $36 per bottle) is a light, fruity introduction to Provence's offerings that won't break the bank.
1482 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-661-6581
When it opened: June 3
Focus: With its tagline, "Fried chicken and champagne ... why the hell not?!," the Texas-based chain makes it fairly clear that you can check your pretension at the door. The focus is on value wines and a spectrum of familiar labels and lesser-known producers, as well as select wines to drink alongside Max's comfort food menu.
Food: If you find yourself with an appetite that a jar of olives and some crackers just won't handle, Max's serves restaurant-size portions of indulgent dishes including fried chicken with mashed potatoes, collard greens and Texas toast ($17); a fried egg sandwich with smoky bacon and gruyere cheese ($15); and cheesy garlic bread topped with beef short ribs ($12).
Drink this now: If you're interested in off-the-beaten-path grapes, try the Chez Jerome Cotes de Gascogne 100 percent colombard ($11 per glass; $39 per bottle). The colombard grape is similar to a chenin blanc, and yields light wines with green citrus, floral aromas and refreshing acidity.
2601 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-292-9463
When it opened: Webster's opened its original Lincoln Park location in 1994 but moved to the former Telegraph space in Logan Square on July 17.
Focus: Sommelier Jeremy Quinn has helped Webster's compile a selection of more than 500 global wines, with a special eye for organic and biodynamic wines (biodynamic agriculture means caring for the vineyard's total ecosystem, from soil to water). Travel is important to owners Tom MacDonald and Janan Asfour, whose interest in lesser-known grape-growing regions means you might spy bottles from Georgia (the country) or Greece.
Food: In keeping with the global theme, look for international influences on a menu of small plates including Spanish-style octopus with white beans and chorizo ($14), coconut curry mussels ($12) and arancini with smoked caciocavallo cheese ($9).
Drink this now: Still on the rosé train? Good. This lightly sparkling 2013 Ameztoi Rubentis txakolina rosé ($9 per glass; $40 per bottle) is hitting its stride this summer, revealing a magenta hue and a food-friendly range of flavors.
The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet
736 W. Randolph St.
Tom Powers, a former partner in Marche and Red Light who later worked in wine marketing, returns to Randolph Street with a multilevel wine bar shooting for a late 2014 opening. The curious name references a line in William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"—"There's a little bit of those elements in all of us," Powers said. "Add a little bit of wine and see which comes out to play that night." The first floor will house an 18-20 seat bar with a 50-seat dining room, while the second floor will be a more elegant and luxurious "parlor," he said. When weather permits, the bar will open 1500 square feet of rooftop seating. Powers said the wine list will be 60 percent American wines, 30 percent wines from classic regions of Europe and 10 percent "weird" bottles. "There needs to be a celebration of what's happening in America because we're making some of the finest wines in the world," Powers said. "I want to make a statement that is more patriotic, more consumer-friendly and gives people an opportunity to have fun with wine. It's not surgery; we're not trying to fix the economy. We're here to make a delightful experience."
130 S. Michigan Ave.
Catering to the crowds that flock to Millennium Park, Grant Park and Symphony Center, as well as business diners in the Loop, Alpana Singh's follow-up to The Boarding House will focus on classic American dishes and wine. "The American clubhouse is appealing to a broad audience," Singh said. "I want to do something different from The Boarding House and keep it fresh for me." The wine list at the 12,000-square-foot restaurant in the Peoples Gas Company Building will focus on lesser-known, American-grown wine varietals. A domestic gruner veltliner? A malbec from Lodi, Calif.? Singh wants to introduce Chicago to the new wave of producers. "I've been in the business long enough that now I'm dealing with the second- and third-generation family winemakers," Singh said. "The young generation is pushing in a new, experimental direction. Previously you could only get [certain varietals'] European counterparts." Singh said she hopes to open Seven Lions by late fall or early winter.