I’ve worked in the service industry for years, and for the most part, I have been totally confused by wine.

In my time as a server, I can’t count how many times I’ve said words like “ripe fruit with eucalyptus notes” or “lean and mineral driven” without being 100 percent sure what I am talking about.

My friend Andrew Algren runs the wine program at the Cherry Circle Room, where he stocks more than 1,400 wines and knows how to navigate which wine works both within your budget and with your halibut and your friend’s rib eye. He could talk for hours about varietals, tannins, appellations, residual sugars, fermentation, and botrytis, but for the sake of this article, I asked him to talk about pairings.

The concept of pairings is simple enough, like in the beginning of Ratatouille when Remy tried cheese with strawberries for the first time and saw stars. Some pairings go together so naturally you take them for granted: peanut butter and jelly, chips and guacamole, Nate Dogg and Warren G.

My question to Andrew was simple: What wines should we pair with classic Chicago foods?

Here are his picks:

Al’s Beef

Italian beef and Lambrusco

Credit: Alan Epstein

Cleto Chiarli “Lambrusco di Sorbara” 2016, Emilia-Romagna, Italy

This is a happy wine, an off-dry sparkling red that goes great with juicy beef. The discussion of craving a cola came up, so have the adult version. Good Lambrusco is one of the most friendly food wines on the planet.

Harold’s Chicken Shack

Fried chicken and Champagne

Credit: Alan Epstein

Krug “Grand Cuvée” MV, Champagne, France

Rich, decadent, but with an acidic backbone. Bright enough to cut the fat, while the interplay of crunch, salt, and brightness is perfect. Pro tip: a dollop of caviar makes those bites of dark meat pop.

Home Depot

Chicago dog and Grüner Veltliner


Emmerich Knoll “Ried Kreutles” Grüner Veltliner Smaragd 2015, Wachau, Austria

Tube meat is classic for the Teutonic nations, so I had to think German or Austrian. Riesling would have worked, but the Grüner is better able to grab onto the celery salt and play off the flavors of the relish and the sport peppers.

Jim’s Original

Polish sausage and Riesling

Credit: Alan Epstein

Mönchhof “Ürziger Würzgarten” Riesling Kabinett 2015, Mosel Valley, Germany

Acid versus fat, fruit to intermingle with the mustard and griddled onions, and just the right mix to tackle the snap of the casing. Best consumed from plastic cups while outside.

Home run Inn

Sausage pizza and Barbera Frizzante

Credit: Alan Epstein

Braida “La Monella” Barbera del Monferrato Frizzante 2016, Piedmont, Italy

This wine is fresh and bright, with just a hint of fizz and a bone-dry finish. The Barbera and the lightly sweet tomato sauce intermingle perfectly. Easy living.

Bonus Pairing!

Garrett Popcorn

Garrett Mix and rosé

Credit: Alan Epstein

Rosé: Villa Creek Grenache/Carignan/Mourvèdre 2017, Paso Robles, California, United States

This one is tricky. Sweet caramel against salty cheese. However, it also screams summertime and being outside, so rosé was a natural option. The juicy fruit tones in this bottling (had to go domestic for the Garrett Mix!) really jumped out and pulled this mix together. Still not quite sure exactly how it worked but it really, really does! v