July 31 2011 issue


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PAGES (36) July 31 2011

SOMMELIER SPOTLIGHT Rachael Lowe, Trump International Hotel & Tower, Chicago Julianne Will

This young sommelier is bringing the world to Chicago.

With some 700 wines on the Sixteen restaurant list, anyone should be able to find a suitable selection. But the wise patron will let Rachael Lowe, Trump Chicago’s director of wine and spirits, do the choosing. Her talent is best displayed in the blind eight-course chef’s tasting menu, where wine selections might include a 2005 Betts & Scholl Hermitage, a 2005 Vodo-pivec Vitovska Classica from Friuli, and a 1958 Vinhos Barbeito Madeira Malvasia Reserva. The dishes by chef de cuisine Joseph Rose are always excellent, but Lowe’s choices elevate the experience to a full-blown event.

Of course, you’d expect nothing less than the dramatic at Donald Trump’s gleaming, 92-story Chicago skyscraper, second tallest in the city and thus among the tallest in the country. Inside that glittery shell, however, you’ll find quiet class and understated luxury—much like the wine list cultivated by Lowe.

Although she’s only 32, this Advanced-level sommelier brings personal sophistication and a wealth of experience to the evolving beverage program at Trump. After inheriting a list much heavier in New World selections when she arrived in mid-2010, she has brought a more global perspective. “I am a big advocate of having a universal wine list and supporting regions all over the world while still not alienating our guests, which is how I approach my wine list,” Lowe says.

Her guests might include patrons of Rebar, the cocktail lounge for which she purchases all the liquor and beer and chooses the wine, or invitees to a hotel banquet, for which she creates the annual three-tiered list and orders beverages. They might be staying in one of the 339 hotel rooms, 53 spa guest rooms, or 486 condos, for which she selects the half-bottles in the minibars, as well as the bottle and by-the-glass lists. They might be dining in the Terrace at Trump, for which Lowe created all the cocktails and chose the wines by the glass, or in Sixteen, the stunning Michelin-starred restaurant on the 16th floor, for which Lowe is in charge of the wine, cocktail, and digestif selections.

The Trump’s sparkling spire is a long way from the countryside near Ann Arbor, Mich., where Lowe grew up, but she had no interest in staying home and attending the University of Michigan. “I wanted to be a city girl,” she says. She enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied metalworking and photography and earned a bachelor’s degree in visual and critical studies in 2002. But as Lowe tells it, “The longer I was part of the very ‘conceptual’ nature specific to the Art Institute, the more I craved realism and a more liberal-arts education.”

While working as a server at Aubriot and Tru restaurants to help pay for school, Lowe gravitated toward wine. She began reading books and taking a few local courses on the subject. Further education in England, in Ireland, and at sea between fall 1999 and 2000 only reinforced her passion. Lowe moved to New York City in 2004 to pursue a master’s degree in food studies at New York University. That was when she realized she could make a career of her interest in wine. After a brief stint in public relations, she landed a job as assistant sommelier at the since-closed Café Gray. In 2006, she became a sommelier at the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Columbus Circle, where she met her mentor, wine director Annie Turso—a person she cites as one of the greatest influences on her career.

Lowe jumped into her wine studies with both feet. She completed the advanced courses of the American Sommelier Association and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust while spending a year and a half as sommelier for the new Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel. After receiving her degree from NYU in 2008, she moved to Napa, Calif., to work for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group at both Bouchon and The French Laundry. Studying with a tasting group there, Lowe sat for the Advanced exam of the Court of Master Sommeliers in October 2009. Her top score earned her the Rudd Scholarship, which has been awarded to only 10 sommeliers, including two women.

But Lowe was ready to return to Chicago. “I missed the more urban lifestyle and wanted to be closer to my family,” she says. She was biding her time for the perfect position when the Trump opportunity came up—a role well worth the wait. “It’s a wonderful fit,” Lowe believes. And she continues to rack up achievements: she won the 2010 Ruinart Chardonnay Challenge, which got her a scholarship and an educational trip to Champagne, and this year was recognized with a Jean Banchet Award for Best Sommelier and a nod from StarChefs as one of Chicago’s Rising Star Sommeliers.

Lowe is still building the wine program at Sixteen. She launched a winemaker dinner series this year, pairing featured selections with a five-course tasting menu. Recent guests have included representatives of Champagne Duval-Leroy and winemaker Abe Schoener of California’s Scholium Project. She’s also introducing wine flights; during the Christmas season, she offered a têtes de cuvée Champagne flight with 2 ounces each of 2000 Dom Pérignon, 2002 Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne, and Krug.

The list is growing to include more bottlings from the Rhône Valley—her personal favorite for its terroir-driven wines—and selections from smaller, lesser-known regions.

“Ultimately, I would love to grow and deepen our program from what we currently carry to perhaps 1,500 labels or so,” says Lowe. “I definitely want to expand our vintage variation and verticals, but also want to fill in our Burgundy, Rhône, and Italian sections, among others. I want to continue being able to reach our guests through our pairings; I love exposing people to new regions and wines they never would have tried had they not come to Sixteen.”

Trump International Hotel & Tower
1401 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 588-8030

To see the complete 16 wine list click here.