Last night, Chicago chef great Tony Mantuano unveiled his revamped casual Cafe Spiaggia on Michigan Avenue. The frescos are gone and space is much more modern, with dark wood and light marble everywhere.
The wine list, which used to exclusively feature Italian wines, has been overhauled, too. It’s now a global selection of about 70 wines, but it’s even more specific than that: sommelier Rachael Lowe has made a list that’s entirely composed of wines made by women. “Lately I’ve been reading a lot of articles about female sommeliers getting more and more credit, but I never hear anything about female winemakers," Lowe says. “I thought it would be fun to base my list on strong women who are out there making wine, and to give them the credit they deserve. It’s a mirror of the modernized theme of the restaurant."
For this week's One Case Wonder, we asked Lowe to tell us about 12 of her favorite discoveries:
1. 2013 Dido Venus la Universal Montsant Blanc
"This is a husband and wife team: Sara Perez works with her husband Rene Barbier to create lovely wines in Spain’s region of Montsant. This wine is a blend of Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo and sees time in French oak, making it round with beautiful tropical notes and hints of vanilla."
2. 2012 Montenidoli Tradizionale Vernaccia di San Gimignano
"I was lucky enough to meet Tuscan winemaker Elisabetta Fagiuoli when she came to Chicago for Gambero Rosso, an Italian wine event; she is an incredibly feisty, intelligent and amazing woman. This translates into her wines, which are truly an extension of her—organically farmed, and with beautiful minerality. You can’t go wrong with her wines."
3. 2012 Pride Mountain Viognier
"I had no idea that that this winery had female winemaker until I started to work on this project. I even lived in Napa for two years, and whenever anybody was visiting I would take them up to this winery on the top of Pride Mountain, because the view is beautiful and I’ve always loved this Viognier. Winemaker Sally Johnson leads the team at this fantastic winery. Sustainably farmed, this Viognier is unctuous and ripe with aromas of white peach, honeysuckle and a rich mouthfeel; it is aged in part stainless steel and part neutral French oak barrels."
4. 2012 Otto’s Constant Dream Sauvignon Blanc
"Fiona Turner and Melissa Saunders searched wide and far for the perfect plots of land in New Zealand’s Marlborough. This wine is also known as 'OCD' for their obsessive compulsive passion and drive to find the very perfect place on which to grow their vines. A classic Sauvignon, this wine expresses notes of freshly cut green grass, passion fruit, sage and a salty minerality."
5. 2013 Occhipinti SP68 Bianco
"Arianna Occhipinti has been making wine since 2004, when she was only 24 years old. Located on the Southwestern part of the island of Sicily, she works with several grape varietals. This wine is a blend of Albanello and Zibbibo and has a bright nose of citrus, lemon and a hint of florality, a perfect summer wine."
6. 2009 Deux Montille Sœur Frère Les Coeres 1er Cru Montagny
"Winemaker Alix de Montille partners in making wine with her brother Etienne. While he focuses on the reds she is in charge of making the Chardonnay based wines, and creates beautiful versions for their historic family. This wine shows notes of lemon curd, almond skin and golden apple, and finishes with beautiful acidity."
7. 2012 Antica Terra Botanica Pinot Noir
"Maggie Harrison is an amazing winemaker. After working as assistant winemaker at Sine Qua Non for several years, she and her friends found this amazing plot of land in the Willamette Valley. Her friends coerced her to move to Oregon and be the head winemaker at the newly purchased estate. There’s such nuance to her wines. The Botanica is an amazing expression of Pinot Noir, yielding subtle nuanced aromas of red raspberry, black tea, cardamom and plum skin."
8. 2011 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon
"Cathy Corison has been making wine in California for over 30 years, but she started her first vintage for her own label in 1987. Her grapes grow between Rutherford and St. Helena. Her Cabernets do not have that trademark huge, gloppy Napa style. They have this really lovely structure and can age for years."
9. 2010 Keplinger Lithic
"Helen Keplinger has been obsessed with wine from a young age. After studying wine at U.C. Davis she went on to work with such names as Heidi Barrett and Michel Rolland, as well as on consulting projects with Kenzo Estate and Bryant Family Vineyard. Today she's focusing solely on her own label, Keplinger; the Lithic is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and displays aromas of blackberry, violet, plum and anise."
10. 2011 Foradori Teroldego
"Elisabetta Foradori took over her family winery in the Dolomites at a very young age, after her father’s death. She has brought attention back to what was an ancient grape varietal that had seemingly disappeared. Her Teroldego is perfectly balanced with notes of cranberry, black raspberry, and dried herbs."
11. 2011 Domaine Gramenon Pourpre Côtes du Rhône
"Michèle Aubèry-Laurent has been the winemaker on this property in the Northeastern portion of the Côtes du Rhône since her partner and husband died in a car crash in 1999 (their first vintage on the property was in 1990). She continued on and has since created a cult following for her wines. The Pourpre is entirely composed of Grenache from 50-80 year old vines, and expresses notes of macerated red raspberry, cran-apple, black currant, garrigue and smoked meats."
12. 2011 Meritxell Palleja Nita Priorat
"Meritxell Pallejà is a young woman who has devoted her life to making wine in Spain’s Priorat region. The region is known for extracted styles of wine, but she is paving a different path, creating expressions that are much more delicate, mineral driven and restrained with little use of new oak. This wine is a blend of predominantly Garnacha and Cariñena."