For many years, Chicago’s North Shore suburbs were dry. Even though burgs just north of the city have always been affluent, locating a fine restaurant was like stumbling on a four-leaf clover.
Perhaps it was because no one could get a drink! The Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s proximity might have had something to do with that. However, the dreary drivel of dowdy temperance has receded from the tony towns along the lake – and adult beverages flow quite freely, and fine dining flourishes.
This is especially true in suburban Evanston. Although the WCTU is still headquartered there, Evanston has rapidly become a destination for diners seeking both the classic and eclectic dining experience.
One restaurant that fuses timelessness and innovation is Quince. Located in the Homestead Hotel, Quince features a menu comprised of items both savory and delicate.
But Quince’s wine list might be equally impressive. It features more than 100 selections from all over the world – many by the glass – all chosen to heighten the many singular flavors in the elaborate courses. Not surprisingly, several can be very expensive. But some are quite reasonable – interesting varietals that developed more of a following during the truly scary economy of just a few years ago.
Wine Director Scott Brooker caters to an affluent, North Shore clientele. But, he also puts a lot of emphasis in wine pairings and what works for Chef Andy Motto’s menu. Chicago Budget Wine Examiner met with the keeper of Quince’s wine list to discuss the industry and how it influences the restaurant:
Chicago Budget Wine Examiner: What was your philosophy in assembling Quince’s large and diverse wine list, and also such a large by-the-glass list? Is Quince’s wine identity associated with wine at all price points and varied regions?
Scott Brooker: Basically, I took over an even more extensive list in the fall of 2014. I’ve tried to minimize it a bit without taking away what would be the proper representation of the geographic locales that are important to the world of wine. So, I’ve taking a list of 230 listings and have it around 150. But it was a case of reducing the listings and not minimizing the quality. We have a list that we believe is very workable for us now. It’s a great bottle list, but with 50 percent of customers ordering by-the-glass wines, we didn’t need to be cellaring as many bottles. And, our by-the-glass list is specifically paired with the menu. In fact, that’s the biggest emphasis at Quince: the food and wine pairings. Any time and every time a dish changes, if we don’t bring a specific wine for that particular entrée, we’ll pull something from the bottle list that’s at a good price point. And our menu lends itself to diverse wine varietals and regions. So those pricier Bordeaux might not only be expensive, but also are limited with what they can be paired with on the menu. And many of those are now getting overlooked, so we needed to change direction just a bit.
CBWE: Do you think because we’ve emerged from the recession a bit that the market has changed, too?
SB: I think that’s part of it, but our demographic here in Evanston has changed, too. Although there is affluence here, it’s not so ostentatious; rather, it’s very stable. And so, despite its existence, people have it ingrained to remain somewhat cost conscious. I’ve come from some properties downtown where there’s a little more flagrant spending – some customers will buy a big-name, $300 American Cabernet without even blinking an eye. Here, that doesn’t happen so much. We emphasize quality of service rather than quantitative (power brand) wines.
CBWE: Do you frequently switch out wines on the list? Do you find that some of the changes are not only food driven, but because experimental wine drinkers are looking for something truly different?
SB: What I believe is that some wines are very interchangeable, and some different types of wines sell very well based on their quality. For example, I don’t have a Pinot Grigio on the list. However, I have other wines that satisfy what Pinot Grigio presents stylistically, and at the same price point. And in that area, many people are open to trying something different. For Restaurant Week, we offered an Argentine Torrontés. I feel that’s a nice bone-dry minerality, and with some body, too. Is it a Pinot Grigio? Absolutely not. But it’s food friendly. It also works for someone wanting a little substance and minerality, but who doesn’t want to go all the way to (the crispness) of a Sauvignon Blanc. At the moment, I’ve got a Nero d’Avola from Sicily on the list. It’s a super-light-bodied red that has little tannin. It’s a wonderful alternative for someone who has ordered perhaps a fish entrée, but who does not want Pinot Noir. I’ve also poured quite a bit of Chenin Blanc lately, too. Our chefs are constantly integrating Asian influences on our dishes, and I think with some sweetness and some spice, a wine like Chenin Blanc presents a perfect pairing.
CBWE: Any type of promotions you’ve presented as a personal initiative?
SB: One thing we now like to do quite regularly is, if someone is looking for something very specific, I won’t hesitate to bring out four glasses and four bottles of wine from the by-the-glass list. Because we’re not emphasizing super quantity – but rather, a more qualitative experience – I’ll bring out several bottles and arrange a flight for the guest.
CBWE: Other sommeliers and wine directors say that the fading recession perhaps permanently changed the way people order wine – or what they order – and that Millennials’ experimental attitude had a big influence on this change in consumer habits. Do you agree?
SB: People who are the “haves” will order what they want, regardless of price. But, making sure there’s accessibility to wine is something that’s become much more important in recent years. The mystique and pomp about wine that were, at one time, so much more prevalent, have been replaced somewhat by a need to have wine be approachable, too. More people want to gain knowledge of wine, but their desire to be educated shouldn’t be impeded by the old-time mystique.
CBWE: What would you recommend as an ideal pairing for those on a budget – both a white and red wine – that you think would be available for $18 or less at retail?
SB: For a white wine, I recommend the De Loach Chardonnay from Sonoma. It’s not so heavily influenced by oak and buttery flavor; it’s more Burgundian, even though it’s from California. It works beautifully with both fish and poultry.
For red, I’ve been enjoying a proprietary red blend of Cab Franc, Syrah and Merlot called Puydeval, from Pays d’Oc in southern Languedoc. It’s really been my go-to wine right now. It lends itself incredibly to so many different dishes. It has soft notes, yet it’s complex, plus mild tannins and smoky earthiness. When people come in and ask for Cabernet or Malbec, I suggest this, and it’s well received