“Being far removed from a major wine-growing region and being in a major industry-driven city creates a lot of diversity,” Bret Heiar, wine director at Chicago restaurant Nico Osteria, says of the wine culture in the city. Drinkers here embrace “classic wine programs, natural programs and hyper-specific concepts alike,” Heiar adds, and credits social media with opening palates and minds. “I think the digital world has made people much more adventurous, knowledgeable and curious.”
In Chicago, there’s plenty to explore. The city is home to more than 7,200 restaurants, 25 Michelin-starred spots and the James Beard Awards ceremony through 2027, Chicago is a food lover’s dream. Alongside this growth was the number and diversity of wine programs across the city.
Fernando Beteta, Master Sommelier and education director at Chicago-based importer and distributor Tenzing, has seen the city change dramatically since the Great Recession, and it’s more wine-inclined than ever.
“While the recession originally shifted the focus to less formal and emerging regions for wine, the spending has returned to high-end selections, and in big ways,” says Beteta, who also notes the increasing number of female-led programs throughout the city that include Maple & Ash, Proxi and Spiaggia. “The consumer is more willing to explore what the sommelier is offering.”
As the scene grows, there’s increasing opportunity for wine professionals to specialize their selections. Mom-and-pop producers and minimal intervention wines are more the norm. Restaurants, wine bars and shops dedicate sections and programs to these philosophies.
From a Champagne-centric standby to an Alsace-driven tasting menu destination, here are Chicago’s best places to sip and shop for wine now.
Spiaggia This fine-dining fixture has enjoyed a loyal following for its contemporary Italian cuisine, sweeping Magnificent Mile views and impressive wine selection. The list is an award-winning showcase of 700 labels that highlights Italy in its entirety. It’s concentrated on Piedmont, Veneto and Tuscany, but also includes Trentino sparkling wine, Sicilian sippers and an extensive assortment of grower Champagnes. The wine director, Rachael Lowe, can pair your wines with one of executive chef Eric Lees’s tasting menus, or house favorites like handmade gnocchi, bluefin tuna or dry-aged porterhouse.