The sommelier at Eno Wine Bar is weird. He divides his duty between recommending giant steak-supporting cabs in Michael Jordan’s on one side of the lobby of the InterContinental Chicago to pushing oddball single vintage naturally fermented low production wines in Eno, on the other side of the lobby of the Hotel Intercontinental. While I am certain he delights in the skyscraper structure and musclebound tannins of the restaurant reds, I suspect his heart is hopelessly in love with Eno’s growing collection of punk wines.
At a recent tasting, this guy broke out six wines that perfectly captured the mentality and palette of Eno: six wines that run under the radar and under the typical mag mile price point. The sommelier didn’t present these wines to sell them. He wasn’t trying to knock us off our stools into a furious Instagramming oh-my-God crossfire. I think, more than anything, he was hoping to share his enthusiasm for off-the-path labels, for wine made for drinking, for snootless vintages that just might take one’s growing love of vino down a sketchy rebellious side street where even a well-educated experienced wine professional might discover a rack of wines that are unabashedly different, like Eno’s sommelier, Mark Canak.
Where classic French wines – the burgundies, the chenin blancs, the sauvignons, the champagnes – are symphonic vintages with brilliant structure and flavor, the three whites and three reds Canak poured in the wine room at Eno are the experimental jazz you hear at a formerly smoke-filled bar at three a.m.
2015 Tatomer “Kick on the Ranch” Riesling from Santa Barbara County. A neat, sharp, piercing Riesling with a strong granny smith finish. For people who are used to sweet Riesling, this wine will open your eyes to the brighter variations. Canak says this wine is age-worthy and very Austrian.
2007 Movia Lunar, Primorska region, Slovenia. The vintner bottles this wine under a full moon. Like most of the wines on this list, Movia Lunar is fermented using the whole unmacerated grape, not pressed juice. Keeping the skin intact during fermentation delivers a darker white, almost an orange wine. Funky, with a flat metallic tip, high tannins, and a weirdly aggressive barnyard finish.
2015 Minimus Wines SM2, Stella Maris Vineyards white blend, Applegate Valley. This experimental white is a wrestling match between Viognier and sauvignon blanc from a vintner who might be crazy in a good way. It is a wildly florid wine, with strong vegetal and herbal riffs and a rich oily texture. (Please note that the use of the word oily doesn’t mean it is literally oily, but that its mouthfeel is viscous and rich. It’s a good thing.)
2016 Omero Cellars Gamay Noir, Willamette Valley. Oregon wines are fighting their way into a market dominated by California grapes. If you think Beaujolais is barely a step above rainwater, this wine will prove you wrong. It is acidic yet buttery, with enormous structure. It’s flavor and feel are luxurious, reminiscent of sun-warmed blackberries. Yet, it is a lighter red, almost a bright ruby, with a strawberry nose.
2014 Jean-Francois Merieau “Cent Visage,” cot, Loire, France. Cot grapes are Malbec grapes and if you’re one of those people who rolls their eyes at Malbec then shut up and try this wine. It is a neat red with hints of slate. It hits you right away with black pepper and an intricate structure as intense and aggresive as a Malbec but inviting and rewarding like a Burgundy or a Meritage – not that it tastes at all like those blends. But it rewards you in the same way.
2016 Minimus Wines Experiment, Rockwell. More than any on the list, this wine represents the mindset of Eno’s sommelier, as the vintner’s motto is “Drink Differently”. Canak’s clearly adopted this maxim in all the wines he presents at Eno, however, this one is the most punk, the most bizarre, and the most off-kilter wine on their list and perhaps the strangest vino I’ve ever enjoyed. Right off the glass, it hits you with an irresistible bouquet of butterscotch and caramel. The flavor is labyrinthine. Layered. At first, you get the detailed tannin framework of a classic red, but then you begin to find notes you don’t usually hear in a red, a citrus-berry flavor but even further along, you realize it’s meaty with a little barnyard way off in the back end and finally you get an oily texture. You think this is a cheese and fruit wine but then change your mind to this would pair perfectly with Iberico ham and you begin to think maybe you’re going crazy. But you’re not crazy, Minimus wines is crazy because this experiment blends tempranillo and Syrah with sauvignon blanc, Viognier, and chenin blanc which is insane. But the flavor; it’s luxurious. It’s cerebral. It’s a sophisticated philosophy professor with a tattoo of a math problem she can’t show you. It’s a deep red cello concerto interrupted by a drum solo.
If you want to punk out on wacky wines, or just enjoy a glass of classic grape on the mag mile, stop in at Eno, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re interested in learning more about wine Canak runs Eno’s education program, ENOversity.
Make a night of it and book a room at the Hotel InterContinental
ENOversity is an intimate monthly class held on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. offering an interactive and informative experience for those looking to get their Ph.D. in vino, or to enjoy a relaxing end to the weekend. The casual and educational tasting explores different international varietals, regions and unique wines that are paired with chocolates, premiere cheeses, and charcuterie. Each course is guided by one of ENO’s expert sommeliers, providing an authentic and memorable experience. ENO will continue its European summer trip by exploring famous French wines in July and Italian wines in August.
The next courses are Sunday, July 22, at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets are $55.