Pick It Apart

Examining Salpicon's wine list


So who goes to a Mexican restaurant thinking about wine?

Not many people, but Salpicon restaurant in Chicago is working to change that. I’ve never been to Salpicon and frankly I’ve already forgotten how I found out about it, but wow, what a wine list!

I know what you’re saying. Yes, great wine list, but Mexican food can be difficult to pair with wine, which is undoubtedly true but the wines here – well, so many of them seem to have been selected to pair with one specific dish that the pairings in the end look to be fabulous!
1252 N. Wells Street
Chicago, IL 60610

The wine list certainly start outs promisingly, with listings for every region given its own page, as well as wines by the glass and in half-bottles featured prominently at the top, so let’s dive right in.

The by the glass selection at Salpicon is pretty interesting. Though the whites show more variety than the reds, there is a well-chosen selection of options. I like the Austrian wines by the glass here if I wanted to have just a single glass to pair with my food, but that’s not going to happen! If I did, though, I’d probably lean towards the Gruner.

2010 Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen - $8.50
2007 Loimer Riesling - $9.50

In addition to their regular wines by the glass, Salpicon offers what they call “luxury pours.” While the wines on offer are a step up from the regular listings, I’m not sure I’m ready to plunk down $30 for a glass of the 2000 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet. That is terribly ambitious, though the 2008 Ramey RRV Chardonnay for $16 or the 2008 Benovia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir for $17 seem to only push the envelope a bit.

I’ve previously explained why I love half bottles in restaurants: Two wines, 750ml, perfect for two people enjoying a variety of food over several courses.

I have to admit that this list seems like a real effort has been made. But the selection, in particular the whites, leaves me a little cold; but there is always hope.

I kept hoping and I was rewarded (actually it came pretty quickly as there are only 18 half-bottles on the list). The one that really caught my eye wasn’t even a half, it’s 500ml,two-thirds of a bottle of pure deliciousness that is ideally suited for this menu.

The 2002 Radikon Ribolla Gialla Oslavia for $79 is something to keep in mind as we dive deeper into the list. And if I buy a half of white, I should probably keep a red in mind as well; and the 2003 Chateau Musar Cuvee Rouge would be an ideal offbeat partner!

The Champagne listings here are impressive, if dated, so either this page is not up to date or else Champagne is not selling at Salpicon. Even deals like 1990 Dom Perignon for $295 or 1985 Bollinger RD for $405! These prices are so great that it’s worth heading over to Salpicon just for these wines!

The American white wines on the list are predictably Chardonnay-heavy, with big names such as Kistler, Ramey and Williams Selyem. I like the fact that they’ve also included a Long Island Chardonnay here, the 2004 Lieb Familly Cellars Reserve, which is very fairly priced at $47. More evidence as to the quality of the selection is the 2005 Hickory Creek Riesling from Michigan. I’ve not had the wine, but augmenting the tried and true with such oddities (at least for Chicago) really shows that someone is trying here. Under the other whites of interest, along with the Hickory Creek, you can find two worthwhile options worth remembering:

2008 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/ Viognier - $34
2006 Bergstrom Winery Dr. Bergstrom Riesling - $49

The white wines of Austria are very well-represented here, as you might guess from the pair on the by the glass menu. This is a wonderful list and judging by the 2010 Domaine Wachau Gruner, it’s up-to-date, which makes the back vintage wines all the more interesting. I’d come here just to have these two wines with a simple dinner!

2000 Riesling, Smaragd, Hochrain, Franz Hirtzberger, Spitz - $92
2000 Riesling, Smaragd, Kirchweg, Rudi Pichler, Wösendorf - $64

With more than a dozen Austrian Rieslings on offer, I expected quite a list of German Rieslings on the list. But then again, Mexico did have an Austrian emperor so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the limited list of German wines, though having more dry wines than off-dry wines was a surprise.

And the surprises kept on coming. A half-dozen Italian whites, two of them funky Friulians – and we’re not talking Pinot Grigio here, though there is one on the list.

2001 Bianco Breg (Proprietary Blend), Anfora, Josko Gravner, Oslavia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia - $177
2002 Oslavje (Chardonnay/PinotGrigio/Sauvignon), Radikon, Oslavia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia - $150

The paucity of Spanish wines was also a surprise. Just a single Albarino and a single Verdejo were outnumbered by a sick list of – wait for it – Australian Riesling! Yes, let me just write that again: Australian Riesling. I love Australian Riesling; I am falling in love with Salpicon’s list too! There’s a Chardonnay and a Viognier on the Australian white list, but otherwise we’re looking at nine Aussie Rieslings and one from New Zealand that snuck in here (the list is called whites from Down Under, though). Time for another head-to-head match here:

2005 Riesling, Grosset, Polish Hill, Clare Valley, South Australia - $65
2005 Riesling, Henschke, Julius, Eden Valley, South Australia - $53

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  • I think that the absence of Mexican wines is a glaring oversight of some wonderful products. Especially appealing are some of the wines made in the Guadalupe Valley of Baja California.

    I spent a week there tasting through a variety of producers, and was absolutely amazed by some wines made by French trained viticulturists and wine makers from Mexico.

    Jun 29, 2011 at 1:09 PM

  • Snooth User: Huaino
    811541 105

    Write your comment here.

    Jun 29, 2011 at 10:28 PM

  • Snooth User: Huaino
    811541 105

    Agree with Alan, the Northern Baja wine producing region is vastly overlooked and there are amazing vineyards, forward-thinking restauranteurs & entrepreneurs, boutique b-n-b's and grape harvest events (vendimia).
    The drawback to Mexican wines is the "special tax on product and services" (IEPS) they are imposed by the feds. It certainly limits their export capacity for foreign consumers and even the domestic market is affected. But the growers are attempting to reach beneficial agreements.
    I live an hour away from this area and look forward to increased interest and confident it will flourish.

    Jul 02, 2011 at 2:04 AM

  • I made my own pairing with Mexican food and believe me! is a new experience. Red wines, white and pink from Mexico.
    He left on the palate is notorious.
    I tried "pozole", "menudo de res", "tamales", "steak arriero", "Tinga beef", "fish Veracruz," "Lobster Puerto Nuevo with beans and wheat flour tortillas"
    The wines have been from Valle de Guadalupe, Parras Coahuila, Aguascalientes and San Juan del Rio Queretaro. In Mexico.
    I recommend a "2006 vino de piedra 2006", "2009 Chenin-Colombard Monte Xanic".

    Jul 03, 2011 at 10:00 AM

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