Ten Questions With…
Manager, LUSH Roscoe Village
A native of sunny California, Jane grew up virtually surrounded by the vineyards of the Bay Area and exposed to the culture of eating, drinking, and breathing wine earlier in life than many of the Lushies, which may help to explain her deep-seated passion for all things fermented. The moment she walked into the shop for an interview, decked out with electric orange, rubber robot earrings dangling beneath her flaming locks, we knew she was meant for LUSH. In the precious few moments when not running the show as manager and wine buyer at LUSH in Roscoe Village, Jane’s [also tall & redheaded] doppelganger can be found slangin’ classic cocktails at the Violet Hour one night each week. Ms. Jane has an ingrained knack for discerning obscure nuances and flavors, as well as a gift for creating amazingly quirky flavor combinations and innovative, classically inspired cocktail recipes. Like both Rachel and Erin, curiously enough, Jane is also a University of Chicago graduate, rounding out the three stores’ trifecta of innate, total geekiness. Word on the street is that she harbors a literary nerd deep within, and may or may not have been a notoriously clever Shakespeare scholar while in school. True to her alma mater, Jane will happily get down and dirty and all educational with you over whatever wine or spirit about which your little heart desires to learn.
1) What is the best thing you’ve drank in the last week? What about in the last year?
Last week: Probably the 2002 Bongran Vire Clesse ‘Cuvee Tradition’ that Rachel, Erin, and I drank at the lovely Mr. Scott Domer’s apartment on Sunday. Described by Crush Wine & Spirits (my wine store crush, no pun intended) as a “great white burg for twisted palates only”. Weird, funky, fleshy, mushroomy, ripe, and minerally…went great with Crab Louie salad.
But, ask me this question again tomorrow…tonight is our big staff shindig!
Last year: HMMMMM…so much to choose from! 1996 Bruno Paillard at Thanksgiving was pretty memorable, as was the 03 Macle Cotes du Jura and 02 Paixar Mencia from Bierzo enjoyed with Ms. Drain in California last Spring. Frank Cornelissen’s NV Munjebel Rosso was pretty spectacular, as were all of the Movia wines I had this year. Mitch brought a crazy, old Aussie semillon to our holiday party this year, which on blind tasting seemed like funky old white Burgundy. YUMMMM. Also, recently had the Elmer T. Lee 90th birthday bourbon (yes, the man himself just turned 90!), which rocked. Look for it on the shelves of LUSH soon.
2) What do you think is the most underrated grape varietal or region? Overrated?
Underrated : Riesling in general. Chenin blanc and Cab Franc from the Loire. Northern Italian whites. Slovenian wine!
Overrated: Cliche, I know, but Napa Cab. Bordeaux. Australian Shiraz. Super Tuscans. There are great examples of all of these wines, but I think they’re usually disappointing for their prices tags.
3) Who are your favorite food and wine writers?
I like Eric Asimov at the NY Times. Lettie Teague’s writing is a lot of fun to read. Andrew Jefford is brilliant. His book The New France is one I return to over and over again. In my opinion, Dave Wondrich is the best spirits and cocktail writer in the country. Jeffrey Steingarten’s book The Man Who Ate Everything is hilarious and inspiring.
4) What are your three favorite food cities?
Chicago, Rome, and New York City.
5) Top three restaurants you revisit all the time in Chicago?
Probably Avec, Lula Cafe, and HB. I also love Sepia, The Publican, Big Star, Taxim, Rootstock, Terragusto, Xoco, and Hot Doug’s. Urban Belly and Belly Shack are also favorites.
6) What is your most memorable dining or drinking experience?
For my 20th birthday, I went to the restaurant inside the Hotel Crillon in Paris. Les Ambassadeurs. My good friend Sara and I went for lunch and probably had about 20 courses, along with lots of pink Champagne. The meal was astounding and totally made me rethink everything I knew about food, service, and restaurants. I also very distinctly remember a number of great meals in Italy, including one overlooking the ocean in Capri. A lot of times it’s not so much the food that makes a meal memorable, but the people and the experience. That is definitely true of my meals in Italy. Oh, and ALINEA. There’s nothing about that meal that wasn’t perfect.
7) Between wine, beer, and spirits – when do you reach for each? If you HAD to do without one, which would it be?
I am a wine and spirits/cocktails fanatic. When I’m eating, I want wine. Wine has definitely captured my heart, mind, and palate. How the combination of land, grape, conditions, and winemaker work together to create a wine is fascinating. The mind-boggling array of flavors you can get from nothing but fermented grape juice is pretty awe-inspiring.
As for cocktails, before or after dinner I love make myself one (or go grab one at the Violet Hour, the Whistler, Tiny Lounge, or Sepia). Cocktails let me be creative: wine and beer comes as a finished product. With cocktails, I get to build the flavor combinations and balance the sweet, tart, and bitter myself.
As for beer, I’m really fascinated by all the variables that can be used to determine a beer’s character (much more than there are in wine!). I enjoy the taste of beer, but never end up drinking much…I’ve been told I’m allergic to hops!
8) What is the best thing about your job?
Ummm…what’s NOT good about my job!? There are many great things, but my favorite has to be just talking to customers: whether it’s over the bar at the Violet Hour, or amidst the walls of wine at LUSH, turning someone on to a grape they’ve never tried of or a cocktail they’ve never heard of is certainly the most rewarding part of my work. Trying new wines, spirits, cocktails, and beer MYSELF is a huge part of the fun, but passing that knowledge onto other people is truly what keeps me doing this day after 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.)
Chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. Slightly mercurial: In a lifetime, it can range from austere and closed off, to sweet and quite expressive. It can be casual and playful, or sophisticated and cerebral, but somehow is always out of place in certain contexts — say, football games, outdoor music festivals, and any place where mass quantities of cheap beer flow freely.
10) You’re on death row (sorry). What’s your final meal?
Let’s see: I would start with a cocktail. Probably a Negroni (equal parts Vya Sweet Vermouth, Campari, and Ransom Old Tom Gin with Reagan’s Orange Bitters and a lemon twist). Then, a big antipasti plate with lots of cured meat, roasted or pickled veggies, hunks of hard cheese, and warm bread. A truffle oil for dipping. A glass of tocai to go with: maybe Elena Walch, Quattro Mani, or Schiopetto. Then, a progression of my favorite all-time dishes: the chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates from Avec; the quail-egg ravioli from Schwa; the short-rib fried rice at Urban Belly; Cacio e pepe pasta from a Roman trattoria; one of the creations from Hot Doug’s; dim sum from San Francisco’s Chinatown; the roasted brie, pop-overs with strawberry butter, and consume from the Rotunda, the restaurant atop the Neiman Marcus in SF’s Union Square; ‘hot potato/cold potato’ from Alinea…that should probably fill me up. To wash it down: Baumard Clos du Papillon, Didier Dagueneau Silex, some old Chevalier-Montrachet, Frank Cornelissen’s Magma (funky Sicilian Nerello Mascalese), each and every one of Sean Thackrey and Movia’s wines, Melusine Lyra (“the super Gruner”), 1997 Philipponnat Clos de Goisses, Marcel Deiss Engelgarten, and a Fiorano white from the 70s! To finish: my mom’s cheesecake and a cup of black coffee, then a Sazerac made with Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 1985 rye. If that wouldn’t kill me, I don’t know what will…
Thanks for reading!