Matty Colston, from Chicago's Parachute, spends his days hunting for "wolf wines," wines that you'll take with you when you head off to howl at the moon. Here, stories about his 12 best finds.
If there were a human barometer of the deliciousness of a wine, that human would be Matty Colston. Colston, of Chicago’s Parachute restaurant, is an effusive, soulful champion of what he and his friends like to call "wolf wines."
“I didn’t coin the term,” says Colston. “That was my good friend Greg Powell, who works for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. When he told me about it, I just connected with it instantly. I knew exactly what he was talking about. It’s a wine that makes you want to howl. You know, it has this direct line straight into your pleasure zone; it’s not contemplative. You wanna drink the hell out of it, but it’s still significant.”
Obviously, these are the sort of wines we all want to know about. “These wines have been transformative for me,” he says. “Like, transforming into a wolf at night. I like the idea of a wine that is intensely pleasurable but also transformative. Like, you’re not really the same after it.”
Here, 12 stories about wines that have left Colston howling over the years:
1. NV Dominique Belluard Les Perles du Mont Blanc
“I drank this one last night. Belluard is one of the very few people in the Savoie that are still harvesting the Gringet grape. His single-vineyard ones from Mont Blanc are very intensely memorable wines. But this is his sparkling and it's surprisingly cheap considering the rarity of the grape and how much work he puts into it. It still elicits that mountain wine character which is something I really connect with. Mountain wines, island wines, wines that come from very exposed places. This just has this mountain wine character; it’s like snow melting down a glacier. Traveling in that region, in the Savoie, is just so freaking beautiful. Sommeliers are like, oh, Jura, Jura, Jura. Well, Savoie is next. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already.”
2. 2008 Immich-Batterieberg Riesling Sekt
“This wine has a great story. The family dates back to something the 1400s on this site in the Mosel. Batterieberg means 'battered mountain,' and the Immich family basically blasted cannonballs at this mountain so that they could terrace it specifically for vines. Then there was a period in the mid-1900s where the family lost the land and just made plonk wines, commercial-type stuff. Anyway, they reacquired the estate in 2008. So that was kind of a transition and he didn’t really have a chance to farm most of the grapes in 2008, so he wanted his inaugural vintage to be 2009. But at the end of ’08, he had all this fruit and he wanted to do something with it. So he was like, 'I’m going to make a sekt.' I don’t know if he’s made one since, but he should; the minerality just explodes out of that wine. It gets into your bones and has a tension that makes your whole body buzz.”
3. 2001 Rudi Pichler Achleiten Riesling Smaragd
“I traveled to Austria in 2009. It was my first wine trip, so, needless to say, it had quite an impact on me. But even through the years in all of my other wine travels, Austria still resonates with me in a big, big, big way. I think that I probably connect with those wines more than anything. I visited Rudi Pichler and he is just such a lovely man. He’s really funny. When we showed up, he was wearing his Chicago White Sox hat. We were like, 'Hey! Rudi! Chicago!' He’s just a really cool dude. The 2001 Achleiten was a wine that was on the list at Webster’s when I worked there, so I had a chance to sell it and enjoy it on more than one occasion. And every time I had it, it took me back to a night we had it in Austria where we had met with Tony Bodesheim from Prager and he told us, to go up into the Achleiten to his vineyards. And we went up there and watched the sunset over the Danube. It was another, you know, life-altering moment. We sat there and drank wine right out of the bottle…from the Achleiten in the Achleiten with the sun setting, basically howling at the moon. Drinking this wine takes me back to that place.”
4. 2003 Albert Boxler Brand Muscat
“This wine was also on the Webster’s list. Not only is it extremely rare to begin with, um, when we, um…I did travel to Alsace with Webster’s. I did not visit Boxler, but there was another Webster’s crew that did visit Boxler. And we told them about that wine and they made an offer to buy that wine back, because they made so little of it and they don’t have any more. And I guess they had a pretty well-curated library at the estate. It’s funny, very few people bought the wine because it was $120 on the list and it was Grand Cru Muscat. Who’s gonna want to buy that, except someone like us, you know? We got to enjoy the bottle on multiple occasions. I can just think about it and remember the flavors. It was so unbelievably exotic with flavors of quinine, and tropical flavors. It was just a total bouquet of flavors I'd never ever, ever tasted before. I love Muscat, especially dry Muscat from Austria and Alsace. Muscat is another wine more people should pay attention to. It’s not as frou-frou as some people think it is, when it’s made well and especially when it's from a Grand Cru.”
5. 2013 Frank Cornelissen Susucaru
“Frank Cornelissen's wines are unapologetic. And he is, too. His wines were the first natural wines I ever had, so I owe him a hat tip for that. I remember tasting his Contadino for the first time and it was just crazy. But through the years, his wines have been getting better and better. Last year I was on a farm in Iowa with wine friends for a giant pig roast. Everyone was acting like maniacs and drinking really killer wine—and beer, too. Lots of beer. My friends brought magnums of Cornelissen’s rosé, Susucaru 2013, and we drank it like it was lemonade. It was just so damn quenching. And so this wine reminds me of acting like a maniac, letting go, and being in the sun; being on vacation, grilling out. It was a really great party and the Susucaru just went down like water.
6. 2010 Gérard Schueller Pinot Noir
A long time ago while I was at Webster’s, right before we took a trip to Alsace, there was a young lady in from New York—but she’s French. She said, “On your Alsace trip, you have to look up Bruno Schueller. The wines are unbelievable.” But we didn’t make it; it was a little bit further south from where we were. And I didn’t see the wines when we were there. Or in Paris, for that matter. But the following year, I was back in Paris on my way to Burgundy and I went to Le Verre Volé, which is a great little wine bar. I love that place because they have bottles on the wall that you can choose from, but once you engage with the servers there and get talking with them, there’s a whole other selection of secret wine. I’m trying to do that a little at Parachute. We have a list that’s called More Wine, in the spirit of Le Verre Volé, where it’s like, 'oh, let me go in the back and see what else I’ve got lying around.' Anyway, we were at Le Verre Volé having this fantastic meal, just a whole bunch of guys. We were having a ton of wine and, and they were about to send out dessert and we decided to do one more bottle. The server said, 'I’ve got just the thing.' And he comes back with just a bottle of Gérard Schueller’s 2010 Pinot Noir! He opened it up and it was the most beautiful color I’ve ever seen; it looks like a rosé. He thought it would taste great with this strawberry dessert and I’m like, 'Wow, red wine with strawberry dessert?' But it had this really delicious puree of strawberry on the bottom. And the wine pairing was ridiculous. It was so freaking good. I’ve never had another Pinot like this. What makes this a wolf wine is that there I was, just bro-ing out at Le Verre Volé and, like, and then it just showed up. And then, after that, we went and hit the town and went and ran around Paris. And I don’t think I remember the rest, actually.”
7. 2013 La Clarine Farms Jambalaya Rouge
“This was the wine that helped me come up with the idea of Parachute wine. All sommeliers have, like, a way of noting things, whether it be stars or exclamation points when they’re taking notes at wine tastings. I know instantly—I write a P next to the wine and I circle it. That’s a Parachute wine. I know it will work well here and that other people might love it and that it’ll work great with our flavors. I’d heard about La Clarine’s winemakers Hank Beckmeyer and Caroline Hoel, who are doing really good things. They took on the philosophy of Masanobu Fukuoka [a Japanese philosopher and natural farmer] of hands-on farming and non-interventionism in California, but I hadn’t tried the wines. My buddy Andy, who works for one of our distributors, brought this in. I tasted the Jambalaya Blanc and the Jambalaya Rouge and flipped out. It’s one of those wines that just went directly to my pleasure zone. It was the first official glou-glou California wine I’ve ever had. It’s just freaking chuggable. And I told him, 'I want whatever you’re bringing in.' It was the first Parachute exclusive by the glass. I’ve got one bottle left of it downstairs. It’s sitting there, you know, just in case it’s a full moon and I need to go down there and grab it and run off into the night.”
8. 2014 Ochota Barrels The Green Room Grenache/Syrah
“I got to hang out and taste with Ochota’s winemaker, Taras Ochota, when he was in from Australia last week. He’s an old punk rocker and told me a story about how a few months ago he jammed with Mick Jagger at the winery, and the Australian media found out about it and now everybody in Australia want his wines. He’s a surfer, so the name Ochota Barrels isn’t just a reference to barrels of wine, but barrel waves in surfing. All of his single vineyard wines are named after punk bands, like Fugazi and Slint and Shellac—and the wines are great—especially the Fugazi Grenache. But I find myself ignoring these upper-tier wines for the table wines that these people are making—wines for drinking. I just brought on the Ochota Barrels The Green Room. It’s mostly Grenache, and Syrah. Whole stems. Unfined and unfiltered. It looks sort of like a rosé in the glass. And there are all these chunky bits in the bottom of the bottle. Australia, man. They’re doing cool stuff. And they’re making Grenaches with the same kind of finesse as Pinot. I’ve never thought of Grenache as being like Pinot, but my mind is changing.”
9. 2011 Ignios Origenes Baboso
“The Canary Islands are another place where I have to go—especially the island of Lanzarote. Lanzarote’s the island with black soils and they plant the vines in pits called Hoyos that make the vineyards look like the surface of the moon. I have to see that. Anyways, this wine isn’t from Lanzarote. We have this wine on the list here at Parachute. It’s another wine, just like the Immich Batterieberg, that went straight into my bones. The minerality! This wine is just very feral. It’s very wolf-like. The wine itself is very wolf-like.”
10. Panevino Tanca li Canti Alicante Bouchet
“This is from Sardegna, off the coast of Italy. My friend Jeremy, who I worked with at Webster’s, got only one bottle of this wine and one night we got together with a bunch of Chicago wine friends and there were probably 30-something bottles open for 12 people. It was insane. We had meat and charcuterie and food everywhere. We popped this wine towards the end of the night. It was the ultimate wolf wine—and not only because of the scenario we drank it in. Someone said, and I remember writing it down, that this wine was made for the brave. It’s complete insanity. It’s savory and it’s just on some other level. I don’t even remember the flavors because I think I had fully transformed into a total maniac with my friends. We were just a bunch of wolves.”
11. 2009 Domaine la Tour Vieille La Pinéde
“This wine had to be on the list because this was the wine where my friend Greg told me about wolf wines. I guess I knew that all the other wines I’d consumed before were wolf wines, but we were drinking this when Greg defined them for me. This is from the very south of France—basically Spain—on the coast. It’s mostly Grenache, but then Carignan and Mourvèdre and some Syrah. It’s juicy and delicious, a wine that goes straight to your pleasure zone.”
12. Julien Frémont Cidre Brut, accompanied by a back of his own Calvados.
“This one’s not a wine, but the list wouldn’t be complete without it. This guy is basically the king of Normandy cider. He’s making cider in a press from the 1500s. His cider was kind of like my first foray into, like, natural, unfiltered, funky Normandy cider and I’ve always loved it. And he also makes tiny, tiny, tiny amounts of Calvados. A few years ago, when I was working at Telegraph, we managed to get our hands on some. And my palate for Calvados is forever changed. Calvados is apple brandy and it should taste like apples, but I’ve had so many Calvados that sort of taste like apples, but it also tastes so much like barrel. This Frémont Calvados tastes like freaking apples! It’s like apples times infinity. Not just apples, but apples through the eyes of one guy. When you drink them side-by-side, it’s kind of like a magnifying glass. So, it was an end of the night kind of thing, like a beer and a shot, except cider and Calvados.”