LUSH Interview: 10 Questions with Rachel Driver

February 26, 2009 at 9:00 pm (Beer, Current Events, Interviews, Our Favorite Things, What we are eating, What we are thinking, What we're drinking) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

LUSH Interview
10 Questions with…

General Manager LUSH Wine and Spirits


Leading lady of LUSH Wine and Spirits, Rachel is thoroughly dedicated to being the ultimate wine geek. An integral component of the company since the inception, Rachel has made LUSH the fun, nerdy, enterprising place it is today. With a special place in her heart for dusty Italian reds, lush and stony Savennieres, and funky American microbrews, Rachel keeps the shelves of LUSH stocked with the best and brightest. Also a cultural anthropologist by training, a Ultimate Frisbee fanatic athlete, and eco-warrior, she is on a mission to research and taste all things fermented and share the love and knowledge with fellow wine lovers. As the GM of LUSH, Rachel is incessantly drinking wine, talking about drinking, encouraging others to drink, teaching about drinking, writing about drinking and eating adventures, drinking, tasting, researching, and talking about drinking. Beer and mixology are captivating subjects that Rachel likes to experiment with, but her true love is super weird, eclectic, traditional and yet innovative wines. Stop in to say ‘hi’ to her at LUSH on Roscoe, keep a look out for her spunky pup, Tucker, and anticipate a late summer debut at the newest, up and coming LUSH on Chicago Avenue.

This is gonna be long discussion, so sit down, grab a glass, and get comfy.


Thanks for agreeing to be a part of the Lush Wine & Spirits blog. Please answer the following questions in whatever way you see fit. We want your voice, personality, and opinions to come through!

1) What is the best thing you’ve drank in the last week? What about in the last year?

Honestly, I did not drink enough this week. I plan to amend that tonight. In the meantime, I shared a bottle of 2006 COPAIN ‘James Berry Vineyard’ Roussanne with the ladies of Lush yesterday. Although it is fairly young, this wine has a lovely creamy, deeply perfumed, stone fruit thing going on, with a little bit of honeycomb and ginger…no, cinnamon! The racy acidity kept it from being too weighted, and the finish was super looonnngggg. Wild, intelligent winemakers in Paso Robles, like Wells Guthrie and Justin Smith, make such easy to drink, textured, interesting wines.

I should have tackled this interview before January, but now that I only have 2 months of 2009 drinking under my belt thus far, I’ll have to work with a more limited pool of wine. Hmm, I will go with a straight up tie. The 2001 Castellari Bergaglio ‘Pilin’ Gavi di Gavi…a crazy white wine with a bit of age and a portion of grapes blended in that were dried on straw mats for 40 days, as well as at least 2 years in oak and another 2 in bottle prior to release. The wine is deeply golden and smells of funky earth, white plum blossoms, almond, quince, with additional aromas of honeyed pear and lavender. On the palate, this wine is full, deep, complex, with apricot, lemon zest and quince, almond and honey, but also highly acidic and well balanced. Pilin is splendid, elegant, and amazing with food. I loved just smelling it and then taking little sips over and over again. Sensually textured and silky, delightfully complex, and utterly weird. Love it.

I also am madly in love with the 2006 Tenuta di Trinoro Franchetti Petite Verdot/Cesanese from the banks of Mount Etna. By no means should we have opened the bottle this soon, but, damn. Thank you so very much, Steven Alexander at Spiaggia, for lending a few bottles this way! Mr. Franchetti is a very imaginative and a brilliant winemaker, but he has only crafted 260 cases of this wine, and only a fraction of that made it to the United States! Franchetti was the first to bring the Bordeaux varietal Petite Verdot and the Latium varietal Cesanese d’Affile to the Guardiola vineyard of Mt. Etna, and has combined these two grapes for this eponymous wine. He only uses French oak and indigenous yeasts. Jancis Robinson tasted the 2006 Franchetti at the Contrade dell’Etna wine fair and described it as ‘extremely ripe and peppery and savoury and exciting.’ I found it to be incredibly intellectual…I had to let it just sit there in the large Burgundy goblet glass and stare at me for a while…kinda surly, this one. It smelled of dark earth and freshly cracked pepper. I didn’t dare taste if for a while, I just left it there all dark and brooding. Once I did muster the courage to approach the wine, it was remarkable lithe, smelling of red dust and smoky cinders, black raspberry and a touch of spicy oak. The wine tasted like purple velvet. Really. But, in wine terms, that means flavors of blackberry and wild mountain blueberries, chewy old leather, spice and dusty dirty earth. The most exciting component of this wine is the intriguing way it changes and shifts and is totally different each and every sip. Wow.

2) What do you think is the most underrated/overrated grape varietal or region?

Overrated: Don’t hate on me, please…but Pinot Noir. The best can be ethereal and amazing and wonderful. But the drama, the price hikes, and the mentality that everyone should make PN is ridiculous. Cabernet Sauvignon is a close second.

Underrated: Chenin Blanc. I consistently run into the bias against Chenin as heavy and sweet and uninteresting. But, this grape can be quite lovely and enchanting…dry, spiced, zippy. Full of perfumed intensity and poise, the Chenin of the Loire is a purest expression of the grape at its best…Joly, Baumard, and Huet craft the finest. Remarkably versatile, these wines actually lift up food partners and bring out deliciousness is every sip and bite!

3) Who are your favorite food and wine writers?

Locally, I love me some David Tamarkin of TimeOut…dude is hilarious, and Chuck Sudo from the Chicagoist is a rockin’ good time, as well. Jancis Robinson, of course. I am digging on Matt Kramer, our current ‘Lush Reads’ book club author. And, I am just setting in to reading more of Jay McInerney. Damn good writers. Lettie Teague is one tough broad, just the way I like ’em. Hugh Johnson was rough to get into, but for an Englishman, he cracks my shit up. I like to read. Online, I am lurking on all sorts of food and beverage blogs, but in particular, I am always entertained by Mr. El Jefe of El Bloggo Torcido.

4) What are your three favorite food cities?

*Chicago. I really only started eating as an adult here.

*Siena, Italy.

*Barcelona, Spain.

5) Top three restaurants you revisit all the time in Chicago?

*Hot Doug’s. Granted, I’ve only been once but it rocked my world and I must go back…right now.


*West Town Tavern

(Avec would be my fourth, and then Home Bistro…)

6) What is your most memorable dining or drinking experience?

Most unrepeatable drinking and dining experience is most definitely the comprehensive Sine Qua Non event on the Lush Halsted patio. The 2001 Straw Man was mind-blowing.

But, my most memorable eating and drinking happen at home in the kitchen, generally, and with my family and good friends. I like to play in the kitchen with baking and with ambitious cooking projects…and that lends to drinking lots of wine and experimenting with pairings, as well. Good times.

7) Between wine, beer, and spirits – when do you reach for each? If you HAD to do without one, which would it be?

My job is to drink whichever one I am handed. But, I am more suited to wine…I can drink more of it and in more variety at one time. I like small glasses of everything. You will often catch me working on 3 or more glasses at a time, taking small smells and sips. When my palate is exhausted, especially on Mondays after our tasting with industry folks, I generally grab a beer. I love maltiness…but I also like nuanced, complex, and edgy brews. In particular, the DogFish Head high abvs are easy to drink on a night when I just want one beer. I also very much appreciate Belgian beers…they do it right. As for spirits, I have discovered a love for rye whiskey. Pappy Van Winkle 13 year Rye Whiskey. And, with Ms. Jane as my tutor, I am delving into the more intricate, chemical aspects of mixology. We have outfitted our home with all sorts of cocktail ingredients and like to play. If I couldn’t drink one, I suppose that I would ditch spirits…and distill my wine.

8) What is the best thing about your job?

What, you don’t know by now?! Each day, my schedule is wildly different…this keeps me entertained and challenged. I am required, yes required, to taste up to 200 NEW wines, beers, and spirits each week. So, I get to keep on the up and up and on the edge of what is happening in wine and the ‘industry’ in Chicago. And, wine is such an intriguing subject…it is always changing and evolving. New technology, innovative tradition, better knowledge of farming, genetics, and chemical reactions, new and exciting producers…all sorts of crazy, eclectic, and fun people. But, I have to holler at the Einhorns for providing me with the opportunity to play and lead Lush to greater depths of deliciousness, and also shout out to my amazing staff of very talented little winos…they encourage me to come to work each day!

9) If you had to describe yourself as a certain wine, what would it be? (i.e. Australian Shiraz – spicy, bold, and seductive. German Riesling – sometimes sweet (but hard to predict if it will be), elegant, and requiring of patience.)

I suppose that Savennieres would be my personal choice…smells lovely, tastes of spice and honeyed pear, and ginger dusted almonds…a bit sassy and a touch sweet, but snappy and fresh on the finish. And, oh boy, do I age gracefully. Wink wink.

10)You’re on death row (sorry). What’s your final meal?

Well, this is an unfortunate situation. However, I would like to start with a rustic Italian bread and a fresh, green and spicy olive oil with sea salt and freshly cracked pink peppercorns. In my glass, Bergaglio ‘Pilin’ Gavi di Gavi 2001.

Next I would like a bowl of freshly steamed mussels with white wine, garlic, and butter. Champagne, please. In particular, Clos de Goisses 1991. In magnum, if possible. I am thirsty.

I would then like a trio of dishes from Schwa…the quail egg ravioli, the lamb brain, and oxtail fresh cut pasta. Certainly more components than that, and outrageously, sublimely delicious. I choose a bottle of the Didier Dagueneau ‘Silex’ 2005, or earlier. And, a glass of Dirler Pinot Noir Cepage Blanc. Yes, white Pinot Noir.

Braised escarole greens, brown butter and garlic, with cherry tomatoes and olive oil, and crispy pancetta. Melusine ‘Lyra’ Gruner Veltliner 2006.

Rack of lamb grilled with rosemary. Sean Thackery ‘Aquila’ Sangiovese 2002.

A grand assortment of cheeses and salty, fresh, green olives. Fichet Grand Cru Mersault 2005.

Denner Syrah 2004, alone. Silky and nummy.

Crème Brulee with Sauternes, Tokaji, and old Port.

I think that is enough…


  1. Tatiana Abramova said,

    Great insight into that brilliant brain of yours, Rachel! Thanks for letting us have a peek! Can’t wait for more wine sharing…

  2. Alice Driver said,

    Lovely! When can I come get my wine education? I think I’d like to share your last meal.

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