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Alinea wine pairings

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  • klebb Jan 29, 2011 01:39 PM
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I assume they do wine pairings but I'm curious to how they handle it with so many courses and if they have different levels of wine pairings and also what the approximate cost is?

nsxtasy, I'll go ahead and thank you in advance for the input...

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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  1. :blush:

    I don't know the precise answer (because I haven't had the wine pairings there - we ordered by the glass), but my understanding is that the "standard" wine pairings are about two thirds the price of the food menu, which I believe is currently $195. However, they are also very flexible and I'm sure they would be happy to put together whatever you would like - anything from a more abbreviated, less costly wine pairing to one that's more elaborate than the "standard" one. Just discuss your preferences with your server (or the sommelier) and they'll be happy to accommodate you.

    1. We had the wine pairings last summer when they still offered the 23 course menu. I think with 23 courses we had 13 or 14 wines (some of the 'courses' are just nibbles), which we split between two people (one glass). We were pretty sloshed by the time we left, in no shape to drive (which we had planned for in advance by using a taxi).

      The cost is variable, partly because they change the menu and thus the pairings often (the server said they sometimes change the menu part way thru the night), but the 2/3's the menu cost was roughly accurate. They also offered 'enhanced' pairings for more money, if you want special wines.

      Some of the wines were very inexpensive (ie even more over-priced than you normally expect at a restaurant of this caliber), but I thought they were excellent matches for the food and if we return we'll for sure get the wine pairings again.

      1. I was there just over a month ago and did the pairings. It was a little odd for me, because they don't do it with every course. Without much direction they pour wines and bring out a course or two. I had to ask how many courses it was covering, because I could have just finished it off. They basically told me not to worry about it and enjoy, and they refilled me a couple times when I think I wasn't supposed to be done with my small pour just yet. It was 2/3 of the menu.

        The wine pairing was the part that was the only slight downside to me. I made it clear I was no wine expert and hoped that the descriptions of the wines would be "dumbed down" a bit for me, but most of what he said was over my head. If I went back, I really don't think I would do the pairings. They just didn't seem worth it to me for how little I knew.

        I have to say that each one went great with my dishes, but while I could recount my food course by course today, I could tell you much of anything about the wine I had!

        1. I was disappointed with the wine pairings for a couple reasons. First, there was pretty much no disclosure as to the cost - not listed anywhere on the wine list and full price not disclosed until we had received our 3rd wine.

          Second, I found some of the wines to be surprisingly inexpensive, ordinary ($12 bottle of Viognier at Binny's), and largely unmemorable. That's not to say you can't get a great bottle of wine at Binny's for $12, because you most certainly can. I just expected more from the best restaurant in the country.

          Third, I think close to half of the wines (maybe 6 out of 13) were sticky and syrupy sweet. I might expect and Ice Wine or late harvest Riesling to show up toward the end of the meal, and in moderation, I quite like sweeter wines. However, as it was, we found ourselves choking down sweeter wines that didn't seem to pair too well with the dishes in hopes of the next wine being more enjoyable.

          Maybe it was our fault for not being more vocal with the Sommelier, or for not requesting the price upfront, but I found the wine pairing to be almost as unsatisfying as the food was outstanding.

          My advice would be to order by the glass ensuring that you get something you like and something that isn't going to double your already astronomical bill.

          2 Replies
          1. re: aburkavage

            I agree about the wine pairings and to me, it was almost a distraction. Every pour was explained, which had this been a wine dinner I would have appreciated, but it wasn't. I would highly recommend talking with the sommelier about a couple of wines you know you like and pick maybe two or three if you're more than two to enjoy throughout the meal.

            1. re: jbontario

              another echo on skipping the pairings and picking some good bottles, maybe half bottles if your group is small. I would suggest getting a champagne, a crisp/mineral white and a lighter red (Pinot, Nebbiolo, lighter Grenache).

              Not sure if i'm allowed to post links... but here's a good discussion at a wine forum about it:
              http://www.wineberserkers.com/viewtop...

          2. I did the wine pairings and I would never do it again. Their premium pairings were $250 a head. For two of us, we could have gotten 2 or 3 great bottles.
            Instead, we had not enough wine, less-than-stellar pairings, and left the place stone cold sober.

            The food however was fantastic.

            1. When I ate at Alinea last week the standard wine paring was $150, and the wines they were pouring were mostly ordinary, so the two of of figured we could do better off the list for that $300. We ended up paying $360 for an excellent bottle of Champagne and a very good bottle of red Burgundy.

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              Alinea
              1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

              3 Replies
              1. re: Paul H

                How could you size up the wines being poured that fast before ordering? You did the smart thing.

                1. re: pauliface

                  We asked them what they would be pouring during the wine pairing and they told us.

                  1. re: Paul H

                    We ate their again last week and ordered off the wine list. I'm actually as little torn.

                    I think they could do a better job on the quality of the wine pairings, and the value is lacking vs. the wine list (which has many great finds and/or buys). BUT, I do think you give up a little bit of the experience.

                    so for me:
                    Pairings = better experience, worse quality and value
                    Some wines off the list = better quality and value, not quite as good on the experience

              2. We have just been there. I was wondering about the same question. I read and got scared by all those reviews before going there :)
                We debated about picking our bottles but eventually we went with the traditional wine pairing because we could not find a single bottle or two that would pair well with the menu. It costed $150pp. (The reserve wine pairing was $250.) I would highly recommend the traditional wine pairing. I have done wine pairings many times before, that one was exceptional. The taste, flavor, texture, acidity and everything of the paired wines were just excellent. If you have good palate, you will be amazed.
                Some reviewers claim that Alinea apparently has picked some cheap wines for pairing. I don't care how much wine costs when it pairs well. And, if somebody is judging wine on price, I do not listen to them. Second, it is not true that they pick cheap stuff, there were premier cru in our list. Finally, not trying to be an a-hole, but either those reviewers do not have a clue about wine and wine pairing, or Alinea has really improved a lot since those folks have dined there :) Some say that one could do much better with a serious bottle of champagne and a white and may be some pinot noir. I don't know how one single bottle or two, however good or exceptional it is, would be able to match such a diverse flavor profile of the food you will be served. The food you'll get there is exceptional. Equally amazing is their wine pairings. Just go with the traditional one and you will not be disappointed if you have a trained palate and some understanding of wine and wine pairing.

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                Alinea
                1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                3 Replies
                1. re: marsian11

                  I agree completely. Well said.

                  1. re: marsian11

                    Wine snobs unite!!

                    I feel obligated to reply, as your review seems directed at me.

                    First, as mentioned above, I agree that price often has very little correlation to the wine's elegance and quality. However, on the flip side, when I pay $150 for a wine pairing, I expect to wowed. I do not expect to see a bunch of wines that I recognize from bins at Binny's (which I did). Quite frankly, I wouldn't care if every bottle cost them $6 if the wines were well-made and complemented the food. However, I think the price to the customer should reflect the cost of the wines. On that note, I think my wine pairing was drastically overpriced and unsatisfying.

                    In contrast to Alinea, RIA's wine pairing was outstanding. Of the 9 different wines we were served, I think we spanned 8 countries with the only repeat being France. The pairing evolved over the course of the meal not only to showcase the versatility of the wines, but to enhance each and every dish that was placed in front of us. I do not remember the exact pricing at RIA, but I do remember conducting a little wine research after both pairings and finding that RIA's pairing offered more bang for your buck.

                    Again, I understand that price means virtually nothing in the wine world, but the fact that I was able to try a few wines that I would ordinarily not buy for myself ($90 Chateauneuf du Pape, or a $40 Grenache from Australia) that enhanced each dish in such a dramatic way was a lot of fun!

                    Second, to insinuate that one cannot enjoy a wine pairing unless one has a trained palate is hogwash. To the contrary, I happen to believe that wines should enhance the food with which they are served - they should not be a think-piece that detracts from the main attraction on the plate. This is not to say that wines need to be simple, but rather I stress the complementary nature of a wine pairing, NOT the diner's ability to distinguish black fruit from red fruit or asian pear from bartlett pear.

                    It is possible that Alinea's wine pairing has changed, and I'm happy for anyone who can enjoy it now. I do not pretend to know everything about wine, but I have imbibed my fair share in the last several years since I've gotten more serious about trying different styles and expanding my own palate. I hope one day I can become as knowledgeable as you!

                    1. re: aburkavage

                      There is nothing wrong in paying attention to details and one only needs taste, not money or anything else to do that, in other words to become a snob. So I happily accept to be a snob :)

                      However I would like to point out that Alinea is known to be one of the best restaurants in the US and in the world. It is highly unlikely (and unimaginable for many) that such a high esteemed restaurant would fail that terribly in picking up a sommelier and wines for their food. Considering that, not liking their wine pairings would sound more snobbish to me. And I like that attitude of yours and others', nothing wrong with it. That is why I valued your opinion and had second thoughts before going with the wine pairing.

                      Second, of course education and training matters. But this is not a platform to discuss such matters. Let me give the list of the wines we had at Alinea instead, which may help people make their mind (I have to note that I would not open and drink some of those bottles at home, but they ended up being a perfect match with the food they were paired with, hats off to the sommelier)

                      A champagne coctail to start with the pumpkin cake
                      Barth "Charta" Riesling, Rheingau 2008 (with lobster, razor clam and mussel)
                      Clivi de Ferdinando Zanisso 'Clivi Galea', Colli Orientali del Friuli 2005 (with Yuba dish)
                      Domain Raymond Usseglio 'Rousanne Pur' Chateauneuf du Pape 2007 (with brook trout)
                      Lignier-Michelot Morey Saint Dennis 'Les Facnnieres' 2006 (with the pheasant dish and wild mushroom dish)
                      Terre Nere 'Calderara Sottana' Etna Rosso 2008 (with the hot potato cold potato dish and swordfish dish)
                      Prats&Symington 'Chrseia', Douro 2007 (with woolly pig dish and venision dish)
                      Lucien Albrect 'Cuvee Cecile' Pinot Gris, Alsace 2007 (with Pork belly dish and squab dish)
                      Yalumba 'Botrytis' Viognier Wrattonbully 2009 (with black truffle explosion, yuzu snow and anjou pear dishes)
                      Domain Madeloc 'Robert Pages' Banyuls NV

                      Hope this helps.

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                      Alinea
                      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                  2. Next time l go, l will select either a few bottles or specific glasses. It did not work great for me. Had many wines that while may have been a good pairing were either grapes or styles l was not pleased with. Not their fault, but my own preferences. Have had a few pairings in my experience that were so spot on, they made the meal far better, Alinea did not do the for me.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      About how much do the cheaper wines by the bottle and wines by the glass run at Alinea? While my wife and I appreciate high end food, we are generally unable to tell the difference between inexpensive and expensive wines and prefer to choose styles of wine we like over wines that pair with a food (i.e. I dislike white wines).

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                      Alinea
                      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                      1. re: Gonzo70

                        As bobdoblina said, l recall many bottles l would like to drink on the list that would have priced out well below the price of the pairing. If you do not like white wine, regardless of anything else, do not drink it. It is your pleasure and your nickel, do what makes you happy.

                        1. re: Gonzo70

                          Just to update my own question; I had the pleasure of dining at Alinea last night and there were bottles of wine as low as $55 on the menu. We went with a $60 bottle of Pinot Noir and it was really good. The meal was absolutely phenomenal in all areas - taste, presentation, creativity and the service top notch as well.

                      2. Just thought I would give a quick update. I cannot recommend the wine pairings, especially at the price charged. We all know that the restaurant revels in its reputation for the unique and often obscure. (Hungarian Wooley Pig??). In my opinion, they carry that over to the wine pairings more than they should. Seems as if they go out of their way to pour you too many wines that you have never heard of before, with the idea that if you haven't had it before, it must be good. Well, two of us at the table are very well versed in wine, and we were familiar with most of the wines, and in many instances, not in a good way. We looked at the list of pairings before deciding and then settled in on a Brewer-Clifton Pinot, a Fisher "Coach Insignia" Cabernet and a Peay Syrah, all for over $180 less than it would have cost the four of us to have the pairings. We all thought that the pairings showcased too many whites, and too many average ones at that. With the fish course, they insisted on pouring a Bourgogne Blanc which was insipid. No one finished theirs. The Pinot was a much better match for the grilled fish. If this was any indication of what the rest of the wines would have offered, I would say that we did much, much better off the list.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: FoodieJim

                          And sadly, they no longer have a winelist!
                          Just a choice of 'regular' or 'premium' pairings.
                          Agreed the regular were uninspired. But the premium is at least half identical to the regular - and the differences were just not worth the additional cost ($150 and $250pp for the pairings).

                          While the food is still impressive the wines 'leave a sour, but expensive, taste'.Spoiled the experience for me.

                          1. re: estufarian

                            I just want to confirm that I'm correctly reading/interpreting your post. Alinea no longer as a winelist at all? Meaning that I can't order a bottle/glass/whatever of my choosing and have to either accept the wine pairings if I want wine? Is that correct? I really hope not.

                            1. re: michaelstl

                              From their updated website:

                              "All beverage selections including our wine pairings, wines by the bottle, non-alcoholic options, and coffee and tea service may be ordered and paid for when you dine."

                              1. re: ferret

                                Good news. That's what I was hoping to see and as I read your post I recalled seeing that on their website. Thanks.

                                1. re: michaelstl

                                  I was there last week and asked for a list!
                                  Was told pairings were the only option now.
                                  Maybe someone else who has been since Aig 1 can chime in with actual experience.
                                  No other table in our section had a bottle in sight.

                                  1. re: estufarian

                                    I'm flabbergasted!

                                    I guess maintaining a pairings cellar is more cost effective than maintaining a cellar for a huge wine list. But it also seems to limit the potential profit from the wine program - usually the most profitable portion of high end restaurants.

                                    And that's to say nothing of the fact that more than few people have found Alinea's pairings sub-par.

                                    1. re: aburkavage

                                      What if you don't want a pairing of anything??!

                                      When I went, I asked for one single beer to be served with one of the meat dishes (their choice, I wasn't worried about it), and the house sodas. That seemed to throw the server for quite a loop at first!

                                      So if you wanted another glass of a certain soda, are you not allowed to ask for this if it's part of a pairing?

                                      1. re: Combination

                                        Are you referring to their new reservation structure or the old one because they always had a limited selection of beverages a la carte.

                                      2. re: aburkavage

                                        I contacted Alinea and can confirm that the winelist and all the old beverage options are still available.

                                        1. re: michaelstl

                                          Thanks - that's encouraging.
                                          What ISN'T encouraging is that when I asked for the winelist, specifically stating that the paired wines were disappointing on my previous visit, they upsold me to the premium pairings. And I was NEVER offered a winelist - neither did I see one at any other table.