Chicago's hosting of the James Beard Awards reaffirms the culinary status the city has been building on for years. Since great food necessitates great drink to go with it, several wine festivals have started popping up to celebrate the nectar of the gods ... and Chicagoans.
Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival
May 2, already passed
I was lucky enough to attend the first Chicago Rioja Wine and Tapas festival earlier this month - their first United States event was in Washington, D.C. last year. Many incredible restaurants from across the country were present and made delicious tapas using specialty ingredients like blood sausage and octopus. Over 40 Rioja winemakers poured samples to pair with the tapas. If you've never had a Rioja wine - you absolutely must give it a try. It has a good flavor profile for someone who's not normally crazy about reds. You can pick them up locally at Binny's!
While at the festival, I spoke with Ana Fabiano and José Luis Lapuente who come from slightly different parts of the Rioja wine world. Ana is a brand ambassador for Rioja to the United States and in fact wrote a guidebook for those looking to learn more, called The Wine Region of Rioja. José is the Secretary General and taught me about the Rioja region of Spain. He impressed upon me the fact that it's like the Napa of Spain. I studied abroad and hadn't known about Rioja prior to this event, so it was an eye-opening experience all around!The Rioja Wine and Tapas Festival may be done for the year, but Rioja still has a number of tasting/pairing events happening throughout Chicago.
Lincoln Park Wine Festival
May 30-31, 1-7 p.m.
What could be better than legally drinking in a park? You don't have to answer that one.
At Lincoln Park Wine Festival, a General Admission ticket gets you 12 standard tastings and a commemorative wine glass. You'll have your choice of more than 80 wines, enjoy live entertainment, and can browse artisanal crafts as you sip on wine and munch on food. For a limited time, you can save $15 off the $60 price using Groupon.
Whiskey Wine and Swine
June 20, 12-4 p.m.
For wine connoisseurs who prefer digging into a spit-roasted pig over putting their pinkies up, this Chicago wine festival is sure to please. Entry gets you 20 tasting tickets for whiskey and wine, pig from the roast, and a souvenir tasting glass. Live entertainment and additional food vendors will be available! Tickets can be ordered through Eventbrite.
Chicago Food + Wine Festival
August 28-30, various times
2015 represents the inaugural year of the festival, presented by Food & Wine Magazine. There will be more than 90 wine, spirit and food exhibitors - not to mention top chefs such as Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill and Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat. It's shaping up to be the place to be for Chicago foodies, but dig deep into your pockets - All-in tickets are $550 with single day passes starting at $175.
Windy City Wine Festival
September 11-12, various times
You don't even have to leave the Loop to experience this exciting Chicago wine festival. It's also very affordable - $35 if you're a planner and purchase ahead of time, $45 if you wait until the last minute. There will be live entertainment, cooking demonstrations, and wine seminars. Plus, over 300 different wines to sample (including some delicious Rioja wines). Check out a list of food vendors by following this link.
Photos: Red Wine by Moustache Girl via iStock; 2015 Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival by Wines from Rioja; Chicago Food + Wine Festival via Facebook