Gage Hospitality Group owns five critically acclaimed Chicago eateries, founded on their mantra of "rustic, yet refined dining." The group's restaurants have become a staple at The World's Best Wine Lists Awards, with deserved wins all round this year. We sat down with Pat and some of the team to discuss their winning formula.
Congratulations! The Gage Hospitality Group has been awarded a Jury Prize in The World’s Best Wine Lists 2018. How does it feel to be recognised in this way?
Pat Doyle, Director of Operations, Gage Hospitality Group:
With a champagne toast, naturally. We were thrilled that all the restaurants in our group received Jury Prizes from The World of Fine Wine. Besides the toast, we celebrated by holding a group-wide wine summit that brought together all our talented sommeliers and beverage teams to discuss each restaurant’s wine program in detail.
The purpose of the summit was to share best practices for training and education, discuss how to better incorporate wine knowledge into pre-shifts and overall how to enhance the diner experience using wine. The summit was beneficial in sharing ideas and strategies to help better serve our customers and deepen wine knowledge among our staff.
What inspires your wine lists?
Ryan Berry, Head Sommelier, Acanto:
For the wine list at Acanto, I can’t take much of the credit as it was conceived by my predecessor, the uber-talented Jon McDaniel, who created one of the most noteworthy and all-encompassing Italian wine lists in Chicago.
Since taking over the wine program, my goal has been to simply continue that path and source great Italian wines from the entire country, whether it be a region we all know and love such as Chianti and Barolo or wines from little-known regions. I love introducing our guests to other places that may not be on everyone’s radar like the fabulous wines of Campania and Sicily.
What wine regions or producers have inspired you recently?
The region of Friuli Venezia Giulia in North Eastern Italy has been showing fantastic wines of late from their well-known white varietals of Friulano and Ribolla Gialla. I’ve also seen stunning Ventian reds, especially "cabs," from the Native Refosco varietals.
The whites in particular are shining examples of why we consider the Northern Italy the supreme white wine territory. The winemaker Silvio Jermann is a prime example of someone who captures the essence of a region and what it can bring to its wines. Any white wine from Silvio Jermann is like drinking a slice right out of the land of the region!
What would you say to encourage others to enter the World’s Best Wine Lists Awards?
I would encourage other sommeliers to enter as it’s a way to keep the staff motivated about the wine program and as a platform for education. Also, the accolade looks fantastic on a menu and adds a high level of credibility. I would encourage any restaurateur or sommelier who loves tasting, sourcing new bottles, and educating guests on wine to enter the awards.
Across the five Gage restaurants, the judges variously praised Coda di Volpe’s selection of southern Italian wines, and The Gage’s helpful notes for each selection. What inspires the identity of each establishment?
Mike Blanco, Head Sommelier, Coda di Volpe:
The focus for Coda di Volpe’s wine list is on Southern Italy’s six wine regions. We offer a combination of guest-pleasing, approachable wines along with higher-end and unique wines that aren’t found anywhere else. We’re so devoted to Southern Italian wine we named the restaurant after coda di volpe, (the Italian translation is “tail of the fox”), a white grape varietal indigenous to Italy’s Campania region. It doesn’t get much more dedicated than that!
Torrence O’Haire, The Gage:
I’ve designed The Gage's program to focus intently on hospitality as a guided experience. The list is framed around the thought that good wine is simply a part of a wonderful dining experience, regardless of how much one already knows, or how much one is comfortable spending.
Of course, I would like the program to entice "wine-nerds" with a thorough, interesting selection, but more importantly, I want to present it in a way that extends a hand to the novice and encourages them to ask questions, explore, and be comfortable communicating with their service staff. This is my idea of hospitality; it's about each guest, about understanding what they enjoy, and about guiding them to the best experience that they hope to have—and being able to serve many delicious bottles in the process!
What’s next for Gage?
I’ve recently refreshed our wine program and now that it has a firm foundation, the next path is to practice agility in the cellar. Seasons change, dining styles shift, and our regulars like to be continually delighted by new offerings on the wine list. Finding a balance between reliability and freshness on the list is a never-ending exercise in stewardship.
It's currently Burgundy season, so I'm ready to open all the Beaujolais bottles I can get my hands on. We’ll be doing Burgundy wine and food specials all November in a nod to the season along with a special Beaujolais Nouveau happy hour on November 15. Plus, with our new wine list, I’m also excited to start hosting wine dinners and tasting events to bring it to life for our guests.
Favorite dish on the menu?
My current favorite dish on Executive Chef Chris Thompson’s menu is the pan-seared scallops with green apple, frisée, celery root and watercress pesto. It pairs excellently with a glass of Le Serole Pallagrello Bianco, a refreshing white where the abounding notes of orange marmalade complement the creamy celery root surprisingly well.
Go-to wine or drink to relax after work?
My go-to wine after work could be anything from a glass of Langhe Nebbiolo, which is a lighter, earlier released Nebbiolo that drinks a little fresher and fruit-forward than its famous Barolo neighbour. I also enjoy a nice Fiano from Campania as displays a bit more roundness and body than Northern whites and ages very well for over five years.
Top tip for a local drinking spot?
There are so many awesome wine bars and wine programs in town, led by incredibly talented women and men who devote their skills to offering wonderful hospitality to their guests. I enjoy visiting as many places as I can, but in my time off you can find me sitting at the bar at Bistro Campagne, a French bistro in the Ravenswood neighbourhood, drowning bushels of snails with Beaujolais.
My favorite cocktail bar is Owen and Engine in Logan Square where you can find me relaxing with an Old Fashioned. For great wine by the glass, I love Cherry Circle Room, located next to Acanto in the Chicago Athletic Association hotel and a restaurant in my local neighborhood of Lakeview, Ceres’ Table, which offers an expansive list of Italian wine.
Cork or screw cap?
It’s becoming more frequent that corked wines find their way into our inventory. However, I don’t especially enjoy presenting wines to guests that have a screw-top so, my solution is a synthetic cork. The presentation doesn’t suffer as much and the guest still goes through the approval ritual and rarely does it compromise the wine.
I find it to be 99% irrelevant, with the only exception being if you're expecting to significantly age your bottles. Cellaring aside, screw-caps rarely mean anything for the quality of the wine, and they're also more sustainable and environmentally friendly. They result in less of a risk of ruined wine via cork-taint or oxidation. The only real, everyday bonus you get from a cork is feeling fancier when you open it and also, the sound effect.