Fine as Wine: Find Out What's Brewing at 57th Street Wines
In a room filled with some of the finest wines shelved from wall to wall, local beers and a variety of spirits, a group of Chicago residents sip, taste and learn about a white wine called “Queen D” during a free wine tasting at 57th Street Wines, 1446 E. 57th st., in Hyde Park.
Five bottles of wine, red and white, on display for sampling and guests get the full description of what they sip; style, age, region, grape, flavor, taste, price and more. A very open yet intimate and social space of people having pleasant conversations about wine.
“So that grippy taste is tannin and it lets you know a couple of things one is that this is a big wine; heavy and another thing is that this wine will potentially age over time because that grippy-ness you taste softens over time…”, said Sommelier and Official Wine Buyer, Derrick Westbrook as he schooled his customers on another, darker red wine that was also being sampled at the tasting.
Steven Lucy, the owner of Open Produce in Hyde Park set out to remodel the building that once housed the O’Gara and Wilson Bookstore. After the bookstore relocated to Indiana he got on the project right away. Once he received approval from the aldermen and generous support from Hyde Park residents, he added Derrick Westbrook to his team. At the time Westbrook was the Beverage Director at a michelin-starred restaurant and was informed by a friend of the new wine shop. Once Lucy and Westbrook connected is when the fun began and the shop has been open and active since then.
“It’s a friendly open atmosphere I always look forward to coming here on Thursdays and I’m learning a lot… so before I was not much of a wine connoisseur and coming to the wine tasting every Thursday with Derrick, I’ve learned a lot about wines and especially white wines, at first I did not appreciate white wines before coming and now I do so it’s been not only a great wine tasting experience but a great learning experience,” said a frequent customer.
Since at 57th Street Wines, Westbrook has led all community wine tastings which are held every Thursday. Beer tastings are held on Tuesday where a representative from the brewery is invited to present their product and more advance wine tasting classes held on Saturdays. The classes held on Saturdays are registered members only who receive a wine glass and a more thorough course of information.
Westbrook explains that initially he envisioned the shop to be a training ground for anyone who wants to get into the industry. Although he is technically the highest ranked licensed Sommelier, all the staff are just as knowledgeable while some are currently studying for further certification.
“I want you to have that tool box of how to experience wine and how to approach it and to feel confident about it. Our blueprint is that we engage people and give them really great information and we make it approachable and I think that’s why we’ve done really well,” said Westbrook.
Blaine Lee worked at a French restaurant nearby prior to becoming the official Beer Buyer of the shop. He had already been exposed to French wines which some may say is one of the more challenging wines to learn and has his level 1 Sommelier license. When he heard about the opening of the shop from Open Produce he began attending the wine tastings where he eventually met Westbrook.
“Very much love food and wine and the whole niche and it was just sort of like an easy emersion and once you’re in the industry in order to do a good job you need to know what you’re doing you need to know what your presenting you need to be able to talk about it.”
The two natives of Tennessee who moved to Chicago and got exposed to the wine and fine dining industries actually met at a wine tasting and are now part of a team that is bringing the 57th street wine shop to life. With summer slowly approaching in Chicago, the shop plans to be open and present for all the 57th street festivities. This classic space will be open for public as well as private events and something was vaguely said about a podcast in the near future. Visit the shops website for more information and details on events and classes at wines57.com.