Rachael Lowe is the wine director of Spiaggia, chef Tony Mantuano’s Italian fine dining establishment in downtown Chicago. Prior to her tenure there, she worked at Nahe and Brindille, as well as Sixteen in the Trump International Hotel. Before moving to Chicago, Lowe was an assistant sommelier at New York City’s Café Gray, and spent time at Bouchon and the French Laundry on the West Coast. In 2009, she won the Rudd Scholarship, earning the top score on the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam.
Sparkling wine for all
I fly through Prosecco! Three to four cases each week between the café and the dining room. The Doro Vigne d’Alice [her number one wine by the glass] is really good, quite delicious. And Champagne? The Gimmonet Premiere Cru Blanc de Blancs [number three on her bottle list] has a lot to do with parties and private receptions. These are the parties that are upgrading their wine selections and the Gimmonet is one of the least expensive [Champagnes] on the list, so it’s an easy upgrade. I also have Pierre Paillard 2004 by the glass, and am the only account in the city that has it poured by the glass. It’s so good, and at $33 a glass, people are responding well to it.
On her top seller: the 2009 Arcanum Valadorna, a merlot-based blend from Tuscany
Tuscany and Piedmont are consistent, really since I’ve started here. People who aren’t necessarily comfortable with Italian wine go to those regions. Like with the Valadorna, I put some down. With a New World style and some new oak, it’s at a comfortable price point ($190/bottle), and it’s in a sweet spot right now. It’s been on the list for over a year, and is an easy one for my sommeliers to sell, especially since other Super Tuscans aren’t as jammy or big.
Sicily on the rise
Sicily is definitely coming up more. Whether it is people liking wine from the region, or reading something about it, they are asking about it. Sardinia less so, but it’s still getting some attention. Campania not so much. And some people like Umbria and sagrantino, but it can also be a hard sell. Sicily is a great thing to push to guests: the blends are like if grenache and pinot noir had a baby, in terms of the weight of the wines. Younger people come in and tell me they don’t know much about Italian wine, but they like pinot. We are good to go! Girolamo Russo—he is a single guy doing everything himself. His wines are really affordable.
Macvin and cheese
We have fun with the tasting menu. You can do the seven courses or the 14. We just transitioned to an all-Italian pairing. But I’ve done a global pairing too. For that one, for the cheese course, I paired a Tissot Macvin du Jura with a cheese from The Lone Grazer [the Hansom Cab, a washed-rind cheese made using Irish whiskey and lapsang souchong tea]. It is super smoky, and [presented] on a composed plate with an olive oil cracker, pickled jicama and pomegranate. This is well outside the box for guests!