Boutique Wines

At Bottlefork Bar & Kitchen in Chicago, exclusive wines are a point of differentiation.
At Bottlefork Bar & Kitchen in Chicago, exclusive wines are a point of differentiation. Bottlefork Bar & Kitchen

There’s something about artisanal, small-production wines—and their storied histories—that suggests less means more.

Matt Ferris of the New Asian-focused Sunda in Chicago was thrilled to hang out with Ken Freeman, a renowned Pinot Noir winemaker, in Sonoma, California, recently.

While Ferris is a fan of Freeman Vineyard & Winery’s Akiko’s Cuvée Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, it’s the story that resonates. Traveling in Japan as a young American business student, Freeman met and fell in love with a woman named Akiko, now his wife.

Ferris couldn’t wait to share that story, and the one about hanging with Freeman, with his customers. “They only produce 150 cases for the whole world. The state of Illinois only receives 10 to 20 cases [each year],” says Ferris.

Boutique wines are having a moment; sought out by consumers who enjoy small-batch, artisanal productions, these wines offer restaurants exclusivity and local sourcing, as well as a wonderful story to delight guests with. While their sourcing window is short, given the small batch and rising demand, restaurateurs say they’re well worth the acquisition.

As Sunda’s assistant general manager, Ferris is continually on the lookout for artisanal, small-production wines with compelling stories. “Maybe they only make 50 or 200 cases a year,” he continues. “A lot of these wineries with small production have cool stories. They’re not necessarily out there to make money. Maybe this is their passion or hobby.”

Matt Gordon, chef and co-owner of Urban Solace, Solace and the Moonlight, and Sea & Smoke—all in San Diego—couldn’t agree more. “It’s wonderful to be able to offer something that isn’t available in grocery stores, with a great story, and intimate details about the winemaking and producer,” says Chef Gordon.

On Sunda’s wine list are 39 by-the-glass selections, representing between 20 and 25 varietals on any given night, including wines from Greece, South Africa, and New Zealand. “I like to offer a lot of variety to allow guests to try something different,” says Ferris. Another gem he’s procured is Margaux du Château Margaux. “I was lucky enough to be one of the first 20 accounts in Illinois to get a six-pack. This is coming from one of the greatest Bordeaux houses in the world.”

That he tastes blind when deciding what to carry allows him to unearth wines of tremendous value, not swayed by a producer’s name or its elevated price point. “I’d rather have someone order two bottles than one bottle. You don’t want to empty your pocket on one bottle. You need money left over for food,” says Ferris.

In addition to value, it’s that exclusivity that can nail a wine sale, too. “Everybody likes the idea of getting something others can’t have,” says Jason Ring, general manager of Bottlefork Bar & Kitchen in Chicago’s River North neighborhood.


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