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Bacaro’s Summer of Riesling

For the second summer in a row, Bacaro is participating in a nationwide celebration of Riesling wine called the Summer of Riesling. The Summer of Riesling started in the East Village during the summer of 2008. This summer, over 150 establishments are taking part. Each restaurant/bar must offer at least three glasses of Riesling at any given moment during the promotion, and is strongly encouraged to host a special event, such as a tasting or wine dinner.

I asked Thad Morrow, chef/owner of Bacaro, what motivated him to participate in the Summer of Riesling. He feels that Riesling is a misunderstood grape. A lot of people associate Riesling with the cheap, overly sweet wines found in blue bottles such as the Blue Nun. This grape is capable of so much more — the other reason Thad enjoys participation in the Summer of Riesling. In fact, one could argue that there isn’t a more versatile grape for wine-making than Riesling. With Riesling, you can make a very sippable summer wine that you can enjoy like your favorite beer, but where Riesling really shines is in these two areas:

  • The most complex and age-worthy white wines outside of Burgundy.
  • Some of the most sublime dessert wines in the world.

Of course, you get everything in between. These wines also have a tremendous amount of personality. One might taste a lot like tropical fruits, while another might have a lot of funky flavors that make drinking these wines even more intriguing. It has been my experience that the funkier the wine is the better it seems to go with food.

And that brings us to my favorite aspect of Riesling’s versatility: how well it goes with food. Riesling goes well with steak, fresh vegetables, and even curry. I suspected that one could go into Bacaro, have an entire meal drinking only Riesling and have the wines pair nicely with everything you’re eating. I asked Thad about this and he agreed. He even felt that if you stick with the Rieslings by the glass, you could cover the entire menu with pairing these four wines. 

This promotion is also a great way to get to know Bacaro’s wine list. The wine list is as important as the food, if not more. It is also a very personal reflection on how the owner views wine in general. The food on their menu is deliberately made to pair well with wine. In addition, the vast majority of the wines on Bacaro’s wine list are made to pair well with food. Thad also goes out of his way to find hidden gems. All this accounts for a tremendous amount of diversity on their wine list.

The Rieslings by the glass span three countries and a number of different styles. The first wine listed in this section is the 2008 Jean Baptiste Adam Reserve from Alsace, France. It is one of the two dry Rieslings by the glass on the list. I have a soft spot for Alsatian Rieslings so I’ve been drinking this all summer.

The two German selections run on the sweet side. The 2009 Selbach Kabinett is quite sweet, but definitely big enough to take on a big juicy piece of meat.

The 2011 Strub “Soil to Soul” is a personal favorite amongst the Bacaro staff. I had this wine with their pizza appetizer and it worked extremely well. This wine is definitely in the realm of tropical fruit with funkiness to it. The long finish puzzled me until I read a description online that likened it to corn. On one of my visits to Bacaro, Thad poured himself this wine to go along with chicken. He talked about the symbiotic relationship a wine can have with food. Rieslings are generally fairly acidic and this has a brightening effect on food. Just think of how many recipes call for acid to be added to a dish. In this specific case, the corn in this dish tempers the sweetness in the wine, while the wine seems to balance and elevate the corn’s flavor in the context of the entire dish.

In recent years, Italian Rieslings have grabbed the attention of astute wine drinkers. The final wine by the glass is a great example of this. The 2010 Frecciarossa “Gli Orti” is the biggest and the most complex out of their Rieslings by the glass. It is also completely dry, and yet it paired nicely with the sorbets I had recently. This one is about to run out soon, so if I were you, I’d make a beeline to Bacaro in order to try this one.

There are thirteen Rieslings by the bottle on the list and a few of them are worth special mention. The 2011 Ettore Germano Herzu from the Piedmont region in Italy is just mind-blowing. This huge wine is made in a region that is mostly known for its big red wines like Barolo. If you’re planning on eating a big dinner with loved ones there, get this bottle and it will go great with whatever you order. For people who love big wines, but feel that the summer is too hot and humid for a huge red wine like Barolo or Bordeaux, the Herzu is the perfect wine for them.

As of July 21, Bacaro has two dessert Rieslings on the wine list. They are both listed as bottle only, but they have served them by the glass from time to time. I have enjoyed the Romerhof Beerenauslese on my birthday a couple of years ago. On a recent trip there with my coworkers, one of them wanted to drink their dessert rather than ordering something off of their dessert menu. This wine suited her just fine for the occasion.

The other dessert wine is the Heinz Eifel Eiswein. Eiswein, or ice wine, gets its name and distinctive flavor from leaving the grapes on the vine so long that there usually is ice covering the grapes when they are picked. This wine is almost syrupy and has a complex honey flavor to it. You can drink it on its own and you won’t even miss not having dessert, or you can drink it with a dessert like panna cotta and it will be an experience to remember.

There exists an even more intense type of dessert wine made from Riesling called a trockenbeerenauslese. Bacaro currently doesn’t have one on their list, but, from time to time, they carry the Kracher Trockenbeerenauslese. If they do get it back, do not hesitate in getting it just to learn how sublime a dessert wine can be.

If you’ve never been to Bacaro before and might feel a little timid about navigating their wine list, I suggest you visit on a Sunday when they have their half price wines by the glass special. In fact, you will be able to try each of their Rieslings by the glass for only $17. You also benefit from it being a slower day, so if you have any questions about any of their wines, their attentive, knowledgeable, and engaging staff will be able to spend more time conversing with you about their wines than would be possible on other days. After getting to know the Rieslings, you can use this experience as a point of reference for other wines you would like to try. This is another instance where the service staff can help tremendously. By this point, you will have not only built a relationship with these wines, but also with whomever has been helping you out. 



Bacaro, 113 N Walnut Street, Champaign, is open Monday with a prix fixe market menu, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m, and Tuesday through Sunday with a summer menu, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Contact the restaurant with questions, or to make a reservation at (217) 398-6982. 

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