Young and Hungry

Inauguration Eats: Illinois Wines

Andrew Stover is the sommelier at Oya Restaurant & Lounge and at its new sister restaurant, Sei. Last year, Stover asked diners at Oya to choose between Arizona and Illinois wines in a sort of enological straw poll for the November general election. Lynfred Winery’s seyval blanc was the hands-down winner. It was, no doubt, just a coincidence that the sweet white wine came from Illinois. As a sort of curtain call/marketing hook for the inauguration, Stover is bringing the seyval back to Oya, along with some other bottles from the Obama heartland.

Illinois, Stover says, has a history of winemaking that predates America’s more recognizable grape-growing states. “California was not even heard of back” when Illinois starting making wine in the 18th century, Stover says. The problem is that Illinois winemakers “don’t grow a lot of the grapes that we’re familiar with. Sure, they have chardonnay, but they have a lot of strange grapes,” too, like seyval and Marechal Foch, which actually do better in the harsh Midwestern climate.

 Getting your hands on these Corn Belt bottles, however, takes some work. Just ask Ramon Narvaez, the wine director for Alain Ducasse'snew D.C. playground, Adour, inside the St. Regis Washington Hotel at 16th and K Streets NW. Narvaez learned the hard way that his liquor license is shared with the St. Regis, a chain that must adhere to a higher standard than private businesses when bringing new wines into the District. He’s hoping like hell to have his two unusual Illinois wines, an Owl Creek chardonel and an Alto Vineyard chambourcin, at the bar before the inauguration. “I’ll be really bummed if I don’t,” he says.

But at least he’s not trying to bring in wines from Hawaii. “Getting Hawaiian wines into Virginia is like trying to get heroin into the state,” says one anonymous source, citing Virginia’s rigid distribution system.

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