photo: courtesy of Bridget Cicenia
I love champagne—and anything that's bubbly and dry enough to resemble it (sparking wine, Fresca, certain types of shampoo).
For months I've been meaning to try out the weekly tastings at Pops for Champagne, which take place every Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. You don't have to make a reservation, so you can just cruise on by anytime within that two-hour period, and it usually only costs $10 to $15. While I've been a big fan of Pops since it was located up north on Sheffield, I've only been once since it moved to its new digs in River North, so I was happy to finally make it back.
My friend Lisa and I went on the French Sparklers night. The three sparkling wines featured were a Blanquette de Limoux from the Chateau Rives-Blanques vineyard, a 2004 Cremant de Loire and a Cremant de Bourgogne from 2001. (If you understand what any of that last sentence means, kudos to you, because I drank all three and still have no idea.)
When I arrived, the Pops Shop—just to the left of the main room and where the tastings are held—was delightfully uncrowded. We easily grabbed a table, and didn't have to wait in line to pay the $10 entry fee or grab our first glass, which we were told was the driest of the three.
We sipped the first pretty quickly (it was a fairly small amount) and, when Lisa and I returned for our second glass, were given a heftier serving. I have to be honest: I love wine and champagne, but I'm no expert, and I found it difficult to find differences between the types of champagne. The second glass may have been a little less dry than the first, but they both tasted unmistakably like, well, champagne.
Hoping to cleanse our palates in between sips, we headed over to the cheese offerings. Served with walnuts, a tart, sweet spread that I think contained olives (yep, also not a huge spread connoisseur), crackers and small slices of bread, the three types of cheese on offer included one soft, spreadable and mild cheese that became my favorite.
The crowd was pretty much what you'd expect: snazzily dressed twenty- and thirty-somethings, who look like they fit in better at a champagne tasting than on a brewery tour. It appeared that most of the people were doing exactly what we were doing: catching up with friends, delaying their commute home in the freezing weather and enjoying a totally frivolous reason to have champagne in the middle of the week. Standing around mostly in groups of twos, the crowd didn't really mingle.
By 6:30, the space became crowded, and Lisa and I moved on to our third glass, which was filled almost to the brim. Either the pours were getting bigger, or I was getting drunker (a toss-up).
Lisa thought she saw someone go back for a fourth glass, but the actual pouring part felt so formal—you get a little background on the wine, you look at the label, there's a careful, extended tipping of the bottle—so we felt weird asking for another, and even weirder trying to scam more.
Plus, by then, we were hungrier for more than tiny cheese-coated bread, so we decided to head across the street to Quartino for some heartier fare.
The Pops tasting is a decent deal, with a take-home bonus: If you love any of the bubbly, Pops gives a 10-percent discount on the featured varieties. I was surprised to see they were pretty reasonable; the Blanquette de Limoux cost just $17.
And, aside from the bargain of getting three glasses of champagne for $10, it felt gratifying to attend an undefined celebration for absolutely no one in particular on a Wednesday night. Isn't that something we all need a little bit more of during the week?
Curious? Tap a cork at Pops, 601 N State St., (312) 266-7677.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap. If you know of the mythic happy hour that she missed, do clue her in.