Although I travel often and sometimes quite far, there's one wine destination I've long been ashamed to admit I've never visited. In fact, whenever I confessed its omission to a fellow oenophile, the response was usually incredulity tinged withI'm certaina touch of contempt. One day I decided to do something about it. So I booked a flight west and set off from New York for...Chicago. I'd be at Sam's by the end of the day.
At 33,000 square feet, Sam's Wines & Spirits (founded in the 1950s by Sam Rosen) is the largest wine shop in Chicago. And maybe even the world, although its owners seem pretty sure of Sam's global status. They've even dubbed it, with un-Midwestern immodesty, "the world's wine superstore." A claim of such proportions intrigued me (isn't every American fascinated with size?) but I was equally compelled by the stories I'd heard about Sam's wines. According to legendor at least a few of my friendsSam's has bottles in stock that can't be found anywhere else, at least not at Sam's prices. My friend The Collector's favorite story (one he tells often) has to do with a magnum of 1995 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet he bought at Sam's for a "very fair price." (Uncharacteristically coy about naming the figure, The Collector would only say that "Sam's sells Burgundies at the price they should be.") It was hearing this story for the fourth or fifth time that made me finally get on that plane. I was determined to find my own fabulous bottleand tell the story of its discovery a few dozen times.
It was raining hard in Chicago the day I arrived. My hotel's concierge counseled taking the subway. Sam's, he explained, consulting his map, was only one block from the North/Clybourn stop. He handed me an umbrella and showed me the door. Unfortunately, neither his cartographic abilities nor his umbrella were particularly sound. Sam's turned out to be several blocks from the subway and across a very wide parking lotwhere the wind caught my umbrella and snapped it in two.