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Her dinner parties, friends tell me, are legendary; she's been known to fill up the bathtub with bottles of Champagne and saber them for guests.
She'll be sabering at Maple & Ash, part of another playful feature: a collection of vintage, often long-forgotten wine tools on a cart that Chang is cheekily calling a "wine operating table." Ask and she'll roll it up to your table and turn opening your bottle into a show."I'll have swords and a bunch of vintage corkscrews," she says. A lot of older corks weren't built to age and, after time, became impossible to extract without crumbling.
This wine's estate was hit by a volcano in 1981, but now a wall of lava is protecting an amazing patch of old vines. "I don't have any tattoos, but I can still serve weird wine.""We're in Spain now," says the distributor as he pours his 16th wine, a red called Planetes de Nin, made from 70 percent garnacha and 30 percent carignena. He ends with a 2012 Alto Adige from Elena Walch Family Estates. There's a lot more to building a wine list than just choosing the wines. We even try out different wine cradles, which are like little lounge chairs for older bottles, so they can lie tilted, which helps drain the sediment to one side so the sommelier can more easily avoid it as she lifts the cradle and pours the wine.
That wine was made on a farm with chickens and yurts. Every detail matters, from the thickness of the glass (a delicate rim is better — less obstruction between the wine and your taste buds — but too delicate invites money lost on broken glasses) to the shape of the decanter. Chang has set up a mock service to test all of this; a conference room in her office building has become the restaurant, lights dimmed, candles flickering on the table.
Maple & Ash's target opening date is in about a month. "That's why I've had so much caffeine already this morning."***Imagine speed dating for nine hours straight — that's what it's like to do a wine-list tasting with Chang. to 6 p.m., she has back-to-back appointments with wine distributors (the intermediaries between winemaker and wine buyer, required by Illinois law), who cycle in and out with suitcases full of bottles.
Each distributor gets 30 minutes, meaning each wine gets about 60 seconds. "I look for correct, by which I mean the taste speaks of the terroir of the grape.
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The move sent a few rumbles through the wine world.So someone in Portugal came up with this brilliant idea to use red-hot tongs that break the neck of the bottle.With a bit of pressure, the glass breaks off cleanly so you can pour." She laughs again.Belinda Chang sits in the back room of a members-only wine cellar in Lincoln Park, cuing up a Lil Wayne song on her laptop."We poppin' Champagne / like we won a championship game," the singer raps."This playlist is all Champagne songs," Chang says. on a Wednesday in August, and Chang is gearing up for a full day of wine tasting, her third this week.