Gage Hospitality Group

And everything else a pro drinker drinks in a week.

Erin Laverty
July 14, 2017

In our series, Liquid Diet, a professional drinker journals every sip of a single beverage-packed week. Here, sommelier Jon McDaniel, wine director for the Gage Hospitality Group (Acanto, Beacon Tavern, Coda di Volpe, The Dawson, The Gage) in Chicago, documents a week of blind-tasting victories, excellent new Rosé finds, a Rodney Strong blending competition, grapefruit-juice recharging and a DRC-fast food pairing experiment.

Sunday

6:55 a.m. Headed to Sonoma for the Guild of Sommeliers Top 10 Somms weekend (I placed 4th in their Online Wine Competition). Stop at the grocery store to pick up a grapefruit juice, a key component to the start of my morning. They only have beet/carrot or orange juice that doesn’t look very orange. I take the orange and hope this isn’t an omen for the day to come.

8:30 a.m. At the airport and ritualistically get two waters, one to slam before I get on-board and one for the plane – with which I fill my Wente water canteen. They were both Smartwater – but as we take off I feel no smarter…nor any closer to Jennifer Aniston.

5:30 p.m. After a long ride from SFO airport to Healdsburg, the group makes its way to Rodney Strong’s Rockaway Vineyard for a BBQ. Some amazing wines in my glass including a 2013 Rockaway Cabernet, Agrapart Champagne and a deliciously undiscovered Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley called Thralls.

9:15 p.m. A somm friend blinds me on a wine. I told them it tasted like cheap grocery store Prosecco – something like La Marca. It was La Marca – mic drop, it’s time for bed.

11:45 p.m. Finish up some work and have a little mini of Fernet Branca that I pack in my carry-on. Who needs 3oz of shampoo when you have Fernet minis?!?

Monday

4:17 a.m. Up early to do some computer work and e-mail. Coffee maker in my room is a lifesaver and I down three Nespressos while on the deck.

7:48 a.m. No grapefruit juice in sight so I opt for the continental breakfast orange juice, hoping this is again, not an omen.

9:15 a.m. Attend a very cool seminar from the Sonoma County Winegrowers with Karissa Kruse and Steve Dutton. Taste some great local wines, including Joseph Swan Viognier, Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay and an orange creamsicle of a Sauv Blanc from Beltane Ranch.

11:15 a.m. Sit for a really fascinating Champagne blind tasting in which I find that moderator and Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth and I have very different palates for Champagne. Ten Champagnes from both growers and houses in which my favorite ended up being from Vilmart & Cie and my least favorite was the 2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (Geoff’s winner) – a room of 20 very talented sommeliers came to the conclusion that great Champagne is in fact inconclusive.

12:42 p.m. A tasty lunch of wood-fired pizzas at Rodney Strong Vineyards with some of their current releases – track down their 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir, it’s unbelievably good.

2:05 p.m. Jill Zimorski, the Champagne Queen of Chicago, and I team up for a Rodney Strong Symmetry blending competition. We got to taste components of the blend and then make our own – very cool concept. Our individual blends were vastly different, so we just mixed them together and it was a solid wine! We came in 3rd.

3:43 p.m. Blind tasting seminar with Geoff Kruth that included an Albariño that tasted like Sancerre, a Pinot Grigio that only buddy Matthew Dulle knew was Pinot Grigio, Hermitage Blanc, Oregon Pinot Noir, some old Pommerol – for not currently sitting for exams, I was pretty impressed with my deductions!

6:45 p.m. At one of my favorite bars in Healdsburg, Spoonbar, I order a Toronto cocktail with local Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye – the bartender serves me just the rye and it was woodsy, a touch sweet and a perfect pre-dinner aperitif.

7:00 p.m. Dinner with the Top 10 from the Guild of Sommeliers, and passed around the table was a magnum of Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Champagne, a really savory and spicy Pinot Noir from Davis Bynum and a ripe, rich, unctuous Grüner from Sonoma called Belden Barns.

9:17 p.m. Right around the time Justin Timsit from Gramercy Tavern started talking about resurrecting Bordeaux in the $35-$50 wholesale category (a side note to the sommeliers out there: Buy more Bordeaux!), I excused myself to the bathroom and never came back. I hopped in an Uber to Jordan Vineyard & Winery and met up with some Chicago sommeliers on a trip with the winery. Three Fernet and sodas and a glass of 1976 Jordan Cabernet from magnum later, I am back to the hotel.

Tuesday

6:17 a.m. I could get used to this coffee on the deck thing.

10:05 a.m. Visited one of Russian River’s iconic vineyards, Olivet Lane, and tasted with Bob Pellegrini. This is an estate I haven’t tasted in years and I was really impressed. Both their eponymous wines and the Olivet Lane Chards and Pinots were delicious; seven wines in all tasted. Their 2015 Unoaked Chardonnay was the winner for me. 

11:15 a.m. Stop at a fruit stand and get a quart of fresh-pressed apple juice - it lasts about 3 minutes.

2:17 p.m. My favorite part of the week, meeting up with friends Robin Gerber, Jack Edwards and Chris Blanchard at Redd Wood in Yountville. The 2016 Caraccioli Rosé of Pinot in 500ml (which Robin brought - she represents them) was so good, I bought 56 cases on the spot for my restaurants. Throw in a Skinner Mourvèdre, a Vine Hill Ranch Cabernet, a 1990 Giachini Barolo and a rockin’, fresh, juicy Côte- Rôtie from Louis Cheze called Bellissima – no slouching it this afternoon!

5:00 p.m. An epic meal at new Healdsburg hot-spot SingleThread with pairings by my buddy Matthew Dulle. I will keep the pairings close to the vest as you need to experience it for yourself, but the mixture of perfectly paired aromatic whites, sake and mid 1980s California wine was stunning. Oh, I also had some great Thai rooibos tea I have to track down for my house.

9:05 p.m. Doing a little work on the deck of my guest house in Healdsburg drinking some 2015 Jordan Chardonnay – New World fruit, Old World sensibility. Rob Davis, the winemaker, is the Gandalf of Sonoma County Chardonnay.

Wednesday

5:00 a.m. Down a bottle of spring water – 35 percent of it ends up all over me or the floor. Don’t drink in the dark friends!

8:05 a.m. Finally find grapefruit juice at this little market in town – just goes to show you what little town markets can provide.

12:00 p.m. Make my way to Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. Enjoy a Dribble Belt Session Ale and a white ale called Little White Lie. Pick up a case of Pliny the Elder for my friends back in Chicago – tomorrow, I will be their best friend. 

2:00 p.m. Tasting appointment at Hourglass in Napa Valley. Tasted the 2014 and 2015 vintage out of bottle including the best Cabernet Franc I have ever tasted from California, then some 2016 components out of barrel. 2016 will be a killer year for them.

3:30 p.m. Opus One visit – quite the gorgeous property. Tasted the NV Overture and the very young but iconic 2013 vintage of Opus One.

5:15 p.m. A much-needed Campari & soda (okay two) at Bottega in Yountville along with two Stumptown Coffee double espressos.

7:00 p.m. Have a long drive to San Fran, so I order the most hipster coffee I could think of from Bouchon Bakery – iced almond milk dirty chai.

10:00 p.m. Flight back to Chicago – 2 bottles of water down and a little snooze.

Thursday

5:30 a.m. Land at O’Hare and get my first espresso of the day - single origin from Rwanda. Good job Starbucks!

9:30 a.m. Stop by the market by my house and need to juice up - orange juice, grapefruit, blueberry mint. It takes me about 6 hours at the restaurant to drink these.

11:00 a.m. Tasting with Cristiana Tiberio from Abruzzo. May be my favorite tasting appointment of the year. From Montepulciano to Cerasuolo to whites – possibly my new favorite producer. The latest release of a single vineyard of Trebbiano called Fonte Canale is where Dagueneau Silex meets Dauvissat Chablis. A hauntingly fantastic wine.

2:15 p.m. Tasting of Borgogno wines from Piemonte with Andrea Farinetti, head of the legendary winery. The Langhe Freisa was my favorite of the 12 wines tasted. More people should drink Freisa.

6:12 p.m. Realize I have had no water today – slam a bottle of Smeraldina sparkling water from Sardinia way too fast.

Friday

8:03 a.m. Stop at La Colombe for a quick business meeting about a new project – I order a long black. Barista has no idea what that is. It’s an Americano apparently and they only call it a long black in New Zealand. Flush cheeks set in.

10:07 a.m. Forgot I didn’t have the starter juice this morning, so a late entry of Lambeth Groves OJ gets me ready for a long day and night on the floor ahead.

1:07 p.m. Tasting with a rep today – Champagne. He just poured and said nothing. It was awkward. The wines were awesome. I bought some.

1:47 p.m. A guest thought a bottle of Kistler Pinot Noir was corked – it wasn’t, but I replaced it anyway. We tasted it for staff training and it was delicious.

2:30 p.m. Wine class at The Gage today. Old World vs. New World – all blind. Blanc de Blancs, Chablis vs. California Chard, Amos Cellars Pinot vs. Dujac, Cafaggio vs. Miner Sangiovese. I’m inspired by my staff who knocked the tasting out of the park!

4:07 p.m. Double espresso.

4:35 p.m. Double espresso #2.

6:28 p.m. Iced tea with no ice – still don’t know why, but it quenched my thirst.

9:07 p.m. I do an espresso and tonic in the back station of the restaurant – I’m fading but with another 40 people coming in the next hour to the restaurant, gotta stay strong. I rally (foreshadowing – I sleep not one wink).

11:45 p.m. Get home later than I had hoped, but I realize that a bottle of Lioco Grüner I picked up from San Francisco is in the fridge – it’s white pepper, pear fuzz, austere and just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday

7:19 a.m. The bottle of Pellegrino next to my bed is a lifesaver.

9:50 a.m. Grapefruit juice is the ultimate reset button for my palate today.

11:00 a.m. First cold brew of the day, from bottle – which I don’t even like, it tastes like dirt, but is the most effective caffeine delivery system on the planet.

2:00 p.m. Staff training with a couple new hires at Acanto – taste through our by the glass wines with them – Rallo Insolia from Sicily is tasting exceptionally minerally and on point today.

3:30 p.m. Family meal a.k.a. comida with the staff – realize again I have had no water. Smeraldina to the rescue – again drank it too fast.

11:45 p.m. Late night tasting at a collector friend’s condo. The goal? To see if McDonald’s can screw up Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: 2012 La Tâche with Quarter Pounders, 2000 Montrachet with Chicken Nuggets, 1994 Échézeaux with Big Macs, 1996 Richebourg with McGriddles. The answer: a) nothing can mess with DRC, and b) McDonald’s is delicious after a long service.