A Guide to Wine Tasting in Oak Park

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A wine tasting adventure in Oak Park, Illinois, can be a delightful experience.

Here’s a guide to help you sip your way through crisp whites, robust reds, and everything in between while visiting this charming village.

Wine Tasting Gems

My first wine tasting experience was with a sommelier at Alinea, a Michelin star restaurant in Chicago.

It was part of a MasterCard Priceless Experience, and it completely opened my eyes to the incredible depth and complexity that can exist in a single glass of wine.

In this post, I also give personal experience on what to expect at a tasting, and the sommelier’s advice on how to taste wine.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant

a glass of wine with a tasting chart on the counter

📍950 Lake St, Oak Park

At Cooper’s Hawk, the experience reminded me of a tasting at a wine bar in Napa Valley.

There is an open area that is separate from the restaurant where you can try a selection of award-winning wines.

The grapes for the wines are sources from around the globe. There are three different tastings to try.

Variety Tasting

  • Consists of fruity white and red wines
  • Sample fruits: cherry, apple, lemon, peach
  • Sample wines may be a Riesling, Malbac, or sparkling wine
  • Cost $12

Sweet Tasting

  • Consists of tropic fruits for white and red wines
  • Sample fruits: tangerine, pineapple, passion fruit
  • Sample wines may be Moscato, sangria, Gewürztraminer
  • Cost $12

Lux Tasting

  • Consists of tropic fruits for white and red wines
  • Fruits: Cherry, apple, blackberry
  • Sample wines may be chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon, shiraz
  • Cost $17

During the tasting, you will try 7 or 8 different wines. It’s like having a wine fest!

For an extra $5, you can take home a souvenir of a Cooper’s Hawk glass.

If you find a wine that you like and are ready to dine in Oak park, pair your favorite with contemporary American cuisine for a full dining experience.

No reservations needed. If you find an open spot at the bar, walk up and tell the bartender that you’d like a wine tasting. You’ll receive a chart to guide you through the selections.

I went at 5:00 PM on Sunday and it was pretty crowded.

The wine tasting room is open from 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM daily (or 10:00 PM on Friday and Saturday). The also have a wine club that starts at $23.

I’m surprised that with a full-service restaurant they don’t off small food plates like cheese, crackers, and to share on the side.

Anfora Wine Merchants

selection of wines for a wine tasting

📍128 S Marion St, Oak Park

Next, visit Anfora Wine Merchants for a boutique experience.

This wine shop offers a curated selection of only Italian wines from various regions. In the tasting, you will sample up to 5 wines.

There may be a theme to the event. For example, when I returned for a tasting, the featured selections where from women-owned wine companies.

The wine tastings are $5 and are normally held twice per month on Sundays between 2 and 5PM. Check the calendar of events for scheduled tastings.

No reservation is needed. You can arrive at any time but may have a slight wait if the tastings for a group have already started.

The tasting lasts about 10 minutes, depending on the size of participants.

What to Expect at a Wine Tasting

room with large table surrounded by chairs and art mural

If you’re wine tasting for the first time, there’s no need to feel intimidated.

No one expects you to be an expert sommelier or wine connoisseur.

I found out how the pros taste wine. It’s easy.

By understanding what to expect and what to do, you can sail through a wine tasting like a pro.

Here’s one thing you should know first.

Wines are served from light to bold, which generally coincide with lower to higher alcohol levels.

Higher alcohol wines can numb the palate over time, so it’s best to start with lower alcohol wines.

Bold wines also have a more intense flavor which can tire the taste buds.

To use weight lifting as an analogy, you will start with light weights before moving on to the heavy weights.

Most importantly, enjoy the experience.

How to Taste Wine

Sniff and swirl it but keep sniffing.

This is referred to as nosing the wine.

Before you taste it, smell the wine. Really get your nose in the glass and take a whiff near the liquid.

Not a long one. Take several short quick sniffs.

Swirling a few times is good for red wines, it helps to aerate it.

When you take your first sip, hold it in your mouth and take another few short whiffs of the wine again.

Now swallow. You are ready to take notes.

Take notes.

A “note” refers to a specific aroma, flavor, or descriptive element.

For example, fruit, floral, or earthy notes are common in wines.

It may have a fruity aroma. It could smell like dirty socks. It could smell of barnyard funk.

Don’t rely on the first sip for notes. Wait until after the second or third sip for your impressions.

Now the true aromas, or notes, are known to the senses.

What did you detect? Did you like the aroma? Is the flavor pleasant?

If you don’t like the taste of the wine, you don’t have to drink it. Pour it into the spittoon or set the glass aside.

Cleanse your palate with water or food between tastings.

Sometimes, water or neutral foods like bread, water crackers, or nuts are served between tastings to cleanse your palate.

Now you’re ready for the next pour.

That’s a wine tasting. It’s simple.

What is a Spittoon

wine glasses and a spittoon

There may be a large container, called a spit bucket or spittoon, usually made of stainless steel or aluminum.

It is used during wine tastings to discard wine samples that you do not want to fully consume.

The main reasons for using a spittoon are:

  1. To avoid overconsumption of alcohol, especially when tasting many different wines.
  2. To keep your tastebuds fresh so you can better taste and describe each wine.
  3. To avoid staining your teeth from highly pigmented red wines.

You may find that you don’t need to use it, depending on how generous the pour is. At tastings, it’s not common to receive a full glass of wine.

More Oak Park Resources

Oak Park is a charming village located just west of downtown Chicago, renowned for its rich architectural heritage and vibrant community. This iconic suburb boasts an array of attractions that draw visitors from far and wide, from the Frank Lloyd Wright Houses that dot its streets to the Unity Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and architectural masterpiece.

Explore the village’s thriving downtown where you’ll find an diverse mix of restaurants serving up delectable cuisines as well as boutiques offering unique finds and Frank Lloyd Wright souvenirs.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, both providing fascinating glimpses into the lives of these literary and architectural giants.

With a calendar filled with summer events, Oak Park offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the local culture and create lasting memories. Whether you’re planning a 2-day itinerary or a longer stay, Oak Park promises an unforgettable experience that seamlessly blends history, culture, and modern-day charm.

Final Thoughts on Wine Tasting in Oak Park

If you enjoyed the wine tasting experience, consider joining a local wine club for exclusive selections and events.

If you find a wine that you love while traveling, use leak-proof wine sleeves to protect and store them in your suitcase. You can also invest in a wine tote for carrying by hand.

Wine tasting is a great way to discover new wines, learn about the wine making process, and meet fellow wine lovers.

I hope you’ll be inspired to visit more wineries during your travels.

Meanwhile, enjoy your wine tasting journey in Oak Park! 🍷

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