Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sommelier Wine List Reviews: Shebnem Ince

Two New Restaurants, Much Promise for Wine in Chicago: M.F.K. Restaurant & Parachute

This week I take a look at the wine lists for two new restaurants receiving much critical acclaim for their food. These are not the kinds of wine lists upon which the Wine Spectator will ever bestow a Grand Award, but rather very personal, small lists with a point of view. Ballers and Whales may be disappointed, but wine lovers, true true wine lovers will be pleasantly surprised. In a city where it is too easy just to throw a "craft beer and cocktail" list together and stick a bunch of uninspiring wines on tap, it is really nice to see this kind of thing happening once again.


M.F.K. Restaurant has a beachy, clean vibe to it. It's tiny (40 seats), and seafood-focused. The wine list is Euro-centric and culls from regions that have close proximity to water; Sicily, Nantes, Basque Spain etc. Scott Worsham, one of the owners (along with his wife, Sari Zurnish Worsham) is the person responsible for the list. He chooses to focus on producers who try to uphold responsible, environmental standards in their vineyards, not always easy in places near water, where keeping mold under control is a constant battle. Copper-Sulfate is often liberally employed in cool, wet regions as an anti-rot agent. The list is heavier on the white side than red, and although small there are a multitude of inspired choices. While I do think there could be a few more choices for red, I think is a reflection of personal choice, not an oversight but rather a direct statement. I really admire this stance. Also there is no Champagne (Insert sad face here).

There is a small section on their website called "morsels" in which Mr. Worsham writes about the list. It is lovely and succinct writing, but then he makes some spurious claims regarding wine headaches and how biodynamic and natural wines won't cause these. While I agree that downing a bottle of Cupcake Pinot Grigio and a bag of Cheetos Mix-Ups™ will find you feeling pretty craptastic the next day, let's just say that the measure sulfur in P.P.M. on the Argiolas Vermentino is not exactly on the low side. Being an advocate of biodynamic wines myself, and having drunk my fair share of them, I can definitely say from my experience, that the key to the wine headache is moderation.

This kind of list speaks directly to my own personal taste in wine; cool climate, acid driven wines made for simply prepared food and fresh ingredients, so it is difficult for me to muster any type of criticism. Do I wish the list were bigger? Sure. Would that make sense in a 40 seat restaurant? Probably not! This kind of tidy, careful wine list with each wine being chosen for a reason, to work with a dish or simply because Mr. Worsham thought it was delicious, and this is the kind of thing we need more of in this city. Everything is available by the glass, which is nice. Prices range from $8-$18/ glass and everything is also available by the bottle.

M.F.K. Restaurant
432 W. Diversey Parkway


Parachute has also recently opened, to critical acclaim, and is also a husband and wife team (Beverly Kim, of Top Chef fame and her less famous, but equally talented husband, Johnny Clark). The food is Korean American, like the husband and wife. Matty Colston, a friend of mine, does the wine list. The menu is challenging: complex, densely flavored, umami-centered and bold. Quite a task, finding a wine list to match this!

At first, I was worried that Mr. Colston, a disciple of Jeremy Quinn, natural wine guru (also a great friend, I say this with affection) would go overboard on the natural wine thing, and the list would be teeming with those kinds of stinky, dirty, gritty wines that are prevalent in the natural wine catalog. Or perhaps it would be at Pet-Nats, those crown-capped, opaque and cake-y sparklers that dirty, French hipsters like to drink in small town bars, late at night, while smoking too many cigarettes.

I was not wrong about the Pet-Nats: there are three, and zero Champagne (insert Claire Danes cry face here). I do think the sparkling part of the list suffers from a lack of classic choices. However, Mr. Colston rights this imbalance as he gets into the white, rosé and red part of the list, effortlessly co-mingling classic wines like Isole E Olena's Chianti Classico with Matin Calme's "Ose", a cloudy, san sufre Grenache Blanc from the nether region between France and Spain, as dirty and natural as they get (but very delicious too).

Parachute does not allow BYOB, and they do offer everything by the glass, carafe or bottle. The prices are reasonable. The wine lists is actually arranged by price, which is a clever way to avoid having to categorize a very eclectic list. There only bummer is that you cannot bring in Champagne.

Matty- can you please add some damned Champagne???

3500 N Elston Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 654 -1460


  1. Great review of both places. I looked up their wine lists with the links provided. Sheb, would be nice to highlight the wines you liked.
    Keep it up.

  2. I'm going to add some champagne this month actually. Thanks for the shout out!

  3. Strong review. But left the article unclear of the critic's stance on Champagne. . .
    Two outstanding restaurants raising the bar for Chicago wine programs