There’s one major reason to visit Flight 1551 now. Sure, the food’s done well thanks to Chef Robyn Marfurt, who most recently headed up the kitchen at Fountainhead, another popular spot for good eats and drinks. But the main draw is our friend and Wine Director Greg Sorrell, the former wine director for D.O.C. Wine Bar in Lincoln Park.
Sorrell, who has trained at Alinea and Charlie Trotter’s, falls in with the cream of the crop when it comes to hand-selecting a diverse and creative wine program, which he has expertly done at Flight 1551. But aside from his extensive knowledge, Sorrell’s style is easy, fun, approachable and experimental – he’s a refreshing mold-breaker from the traditional snobbery often associated with drinking wine. Soft-spoken and curious with a constantly beaming smile and handful of quirky jokes, Sorrell also just happens to be a cool guy with whom to talk about wines, beers and life.
“I like to make recommendations for people based on what they like to drink,” he says. Greg will start by asking if you want: dry and crisp, sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, bubbly or both. Then he’ll go as far out of those boxes as feels you’ll let him, offering something above and beyond the simple chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot noir or cab. Over the years at D.O.C. and now here at Flight 1551, we’ve sampled the gamut, from interesting blends out of South America and Spain, like Perfum de vi Blanc and drier muscats, along with Sardinian reds and Austrian ones like zweigelt. Then there are the off-beat gwertzrimmers, classic French sancerres and mineral-y semillions, unoaked Chardonnays made in stainless steel tanks and domestic pinot gris varieties, plus vouvrays, viogniers, malbecs, riojas and more (I’m more of a white wine drinker). Catch more picks on Greg’s blog.
My husband and I have a long history learning from and chatting up Greg. In fact, he has seen us through our entire relationship. After I had spent some time getting to know Greg at D.O.C. over bad blind dates and girls’ nights out, I came in with Harvey first as friends – me writing an article on wine and cheese for Chicago Life magazine and my now better-half along for the ride (and the drinks).
We learned, and drank, and ate a lot that night (that was 2006) and Harvey and I quickly went thereafter from just work friends (we were crime reporters for the Chicago Tribune’s City News Service) to real friends. After several months of Friday night musings and updates on Greg’s kids and career plans, my friendship with Harvey became a courtship. Four years later we celebrated our engagement with a late-night bottle of Greg-selected champagne after a beautiful dinner at Les Nomades by Chef Chris Nugent, now owner of Goosefoot.
Greg has always been our source for learning about wine (along with House of Glunz in Old Town). Of course, the minute Harvey and I moved from Old Town to Lakeview, he decided to come to Flight 1551; a poor luck of the draw, but a good excuse to regularly visit the old ‘hood.
On our last visit, we sampled a Washington semillion that Greg playfully described as “licking a wet rock.” That gave me a good laugh, but in very Greg style he went on to describe that, no really, the wine is mossy and grassy with a touch of stone fruit. I gave it a try – very “Springy” indeed, and just what I was in the mood for on a warmer February night and already very sick of winter. Harvey, a bigger beer drinker, sipped on Estrella Damm, a light and bubbly Barcelona brew based on the original 1876 recipe. I later switched to the bubbly myself – Greg picked out a crisp, dry and aromatic 2010 Chateau Graville-Lacoste sparkling wine from Kermit Lynch that blends semillion with sauvignon blanc and a splash of muscadelle.
Flight 1551 hasn’t been open long but we’ve already been a few times. Of course it’s because we’re Greg fans, but it also shows how frequently his wine selection changes (if you ask nicely he’ll give you recommendations for off-menu picks). The food was a nice touch, too: smoky bacon-wrapped dates, always a favorite, and a grilled cheese flight with a excitingly bright, lemon curd-meets-buttery camembert duo.
The crowd at 1551 skews slightly older than the heavy Millennial-generation following at D.O.C. so it’ll be interesting to see how Greg will fit in with the new digs and new groupies. Already he’s connecting with them all. And, naturally, smiling as big as ever.