After a stint running a wine bar, Jason Prah returned to Acadia last year. He’d helped open the place back in 2011, when the South Loop didn’t seem like an obvious location for a fine dining restaurant. It’s since defied all expectations, drawing a full dining room nightly for chef Ryan McCaskey’s New England-influenced cuisine as well as the wine list, an eclectic mix of American classics and Prah’s personal favorites.
Four of your top ten best-selling bottles are from Oregon. Why are those wines doing so well?
Being an American restaurant, it makes sense to that we’d sell a lot of American wines. But also, people who like Burgundy really like Burgundy, but if you have someone who’s more used to New World style wines, then it doesn’t matter if it’s a $500 bottle of an awesome Burgundy; it might just not do it for them. Oregon walks the tightrope between the two styles; I think that’s why it does so well here.
It’s become rare to see a pinot grigio on the list of best-selling glass pours, and yet you do well with Kabaj from Slovenia.
The first “real” pinot grigio I ever had—by which I mean the first one that made me think, “this is why it’s a noble variety”—was Venica & Venica; they make a serious wine. And then Valter Scarbolo’s ramato pinot grigio; I love that you get a sense of tannins and texture while still getting that pinot grigio fruit, which is generous. The Kabaj is similar, and it’s special for me, as my family is from Slovenia. I was a little nervous at first that people would say: Whoa, what’s this? But here, we treat wines by the glass like we do the bottles. We bring the bottle to the table, show them the label and pour them a little taste. If they don’t like it, I haven’t just wasted five ounces of wine—and I have yet to have anyone not take it. People, instead, are pleasantly surprised; they say, “Wow, I didn’t know that pinot grigio could be like this.”
What trends have surprised you this year?
Austrian wine is a category I’ve been surprised in—especially the reds, blaufränkisch and zweigelt; they’ve been doing really well, in part because of the value they offer, and partially just because people are just willing to try different things. People come in now and say, “I had this Austrian red on a tasting menu…” Also, when people start saying things like, “I like pinot noir and I like zinfandel,” then I can say, “Okay, you like pinot noir, but you like something with a bit more fruit.” And I’ll try them on [an Austrian red].
And the Zahel orangetraube [Orange T]—that’s been a rocketship here. For me, having done this for going on twenty years, when someone brings me something I’ve never tried before, I’m interested. There’s the selling point that it’s made in Vienna, right within the city. And then there’s the grape variety. I think there are only two people growing it, and only one making wine from it. It’s on the verge of extinction. So you tell people that and they immediately want to taste it; they may never taste it again. And it’s inexpensive. And it’s delicious—it has a texture like riesling, with this great orange blossom aroma, and it’s bright and dry on the finish.