My work weeks aren’t that nine-to-five Dolly was singin’ about—I’m on that running-a-wine-bar/shop-4-PM-till-late-night-six-days-a-week grind. And on Sunday night, after a long week of slingin’ grape juice, I need a fucking drink. If you work in the service industry you know how important this postshift libation is. That sacred ritual can be the one thing stopping you from body-slamming a rude guest, WWE-style. My place of choice for this therapeutic act is Red & White Wines in Bucktown.
The interior is warm and cozy, lit by candles on every table that form a constellation so ethereal you feel like Enya should be playing while you walk through it. The people are warm too. Catie Olson, who runs the place and who is also a DJ, artist, and print-mixer extraordinaire (seriously, her outfits are on point), always greets me with a cute lil petillant naturel. She calls it “thinking wine” for one to peruse the list with. One of the best of these, a 2018 Thillardon Pet Nat Beaujolais Gamay, tasted like a late ’90s Eurodance track (think Vengaboys) trapped in a strawberry Jolly Rancher: so juicy, so jumpy, and a little chaotic.
The wine list is extensive, but not like steakhouse-bigger-than-a-copy-of-War-and-Peace extensive. It’s steered by a staff that not only knows it, but loves it in the most unpretentious way. My favorite thing is to ask for recommendations from Tamas Vilaghy (also a cool-cat DJ), who works next to Olson. He approaches the list with such passion and unfiltered excitement, reminiscent of a kid showing you their favorite trading cards. The recommendations come with “Ohs!” and “You have to try this!” before he locks in on a bottle, with a dramatic choreography similar to the denouement on Say Yes to the Dress where a bride finds “the one” and everybody freaks out. You feel special.
A standout recommendation was a bottle of 2013 R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia rose from Rioja, Spain. The wine is lip-smackin’ good, bright, a tad vinous (like most older wines tend to be). It made me believe in a higher power, cured my severe daddy issues, and tucked me in bed that night with a nice buzz.
Jamie Davis and Mike Hillyard, food duo and best buds (at least judging by the giggles I hear from them in the kitchen), have crafted a small menu for Red & White that includes a top-notch charcuterie board with the best boquerones you’ll ever find outside of Spain. Davis started Eight Weeks for Access, a series of events that utilizes the Chicago service industry to raise funds for safe abortions in states that are actively attempting to prohibit them.
Every wine poured at Red & White was made with minimal human intervention. The shop showcases producers who work with the earth rather than exploit it. Of course, there are plenty of places with similar programs (mine included), but there’s nowhere quite like Red & White. It’s a rare wine shop that weaves the pulse of these wines and the narratives behind them into service that feels genuine, playful, and, above all, human. One giant big fucking hug. v