Congratulations to Jill Gubesch, the recipient of this year's Chicago Sommelier Award presented by Wine Access! She's been working with Rick Bayless' Frontera restaurant group since 2001, when she was an intern. Today she's wine director, overseeing the wine programs at half a dozen restaurants, including One MICHELIN Star Topolobampo. Throughout the course of her impressive tenure, Gubesch has been a fierce and loyal promoter of Mexican wine and has traveled extensively to build close relationships with winegrowers. Read on to find out Gubesch's favorite spring whites, the importance of spitting, and the drink trend that's here to stay.
What are you drinking these days?
After surviving another long Chicago winter, I’ve been looking forward to warmer days so I’ve been getting into these beautifully floral springtime whites: pinot blanc (Vigneti Le Monde, Pinot Bianco from Friuli, Italy); dry riesling (any from Domaine Weinbach, in Alsace, France or Gunderloch Estate dry Riesling from Rheinhessen in Germany); and chenin blanc (any Vouvray from Domaine François et Julien Pinon or Chappellet Chenin from Napa). I’m beginning to drink some rosés as well. They help me dream of summer just around the corner!
And your favorite non-alcoholic drink?
I’m a huge water drinker. I also love drinking coconut water. When I’m feeling fancy, I’ll mix coconut water with Perrier, fresh mint, and a squeeze of lime. This combo is also great with vodka for summer sipping!
What are your thoughts on natural wines?
At the end of the day, the wine has to be sound and it has to taste good. I’ve always focused on producers who do the right thing as far as sustainability practices, and who are typically non-interventionist winemakers.
What’s your criteria for adding a new wine to your list?
First and foremost, the wine needs to be well balanced and taste delicious, then I think about whether or not it will work with our flavors.
What is your favorite unexpected or surprising food and wine pairing?
One of my favorites is on our current Topolo menu. It's a tropical dessert by our pastry chef Jennifer Melendrez: a hazelnut-almond dacquoise layered with guanabana buttercream, served with rambutan, Mexican chocolate and Mexican vanilla ice cream. I’ve paired it with the 2001 Domaine Martin Schaetzel, Gewürztraminer, “Kaefferkopf” Vendanges Tardives, from Alsace, France. I was afraid the wine might be too dry to pair with dessert, but it ended up having just the right amount of sweetness. The acidity and perfumed aromas highlight the tropical fruits, while the rich texture of the wine matches the creamy elements of the dish.
What’s your ideal meal and wine pairing?
Ha! That’s a tough one. I love to cook, so I’m constantly experimenting with new dishes and wines to pair. One of my ideal meals happened on Christmas. My best friend and I were both away from our families due to Covid, so we made ourselves an extravagant dinner starting with a great bottle of Champagne (NV Egly-Ouriet, Grand Cru, “Brut Tradition” Ambonnay) paired with garlicky, sweet shrimp scampi. This was followed by ossobuco that we had the fortunate experience of pairing with a bottle of 1990 Riserva Produttori del Barbaresco, “Pora” Barbaresco. I kept the bottle perfectly cellared from a trip to Piedmont that we took together years ago. It brought back vivid memories of the winery and the warm hospitality they extended us.
What’s the biggest misconception about being a sommelier, or wine in general, that you’d like to dispel?
People constantly see somms tasting multiple wines and dishes for the menu and think that all we do is drink and eat. While tasting is a big part of it, it's much more work than that. It's an extremely exciting and challenging career, and one of the key things to learn early on is how to spit. It may seem gross to some, but it's imperative to stay in the business as a professional wine person.
What pandemic-era adaptations to wine service, restaurants etc., do you want to see made permanent?
Although I prefer dining in person and love the experience of engaging with restaurant and bar staff, it’s pretty exciting the caliber of restaurants [now] offering to-go options. I also think the pandemic has made restaurants step up their sanitary practices, which is never a bad thing.
And finally, what wine industry or drinking trends do you see coming up?
It seems that hard seltzers are here to stay and that the ready-to-drink cocktail category will continue to grow. I’m also seeing more options and higher quality wine in cans.
Hero image: Jill Gubesch. Photo by Vanessa Conlin
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