Sixteen at the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago
401 North Wabash Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Sommelier Rachael Lowe’s enophile urges have compelled her to crisscross the country, boomeranging her from Chicago to both coasts and back home again. From self-tutored server to Bouchon
staff member and certified advanced sommelier, Lowe has wielded her wine key for many a satisfied diner since 2003.
Lowe received a B.A. in Visual and Critical Studies from the Art Institute of Chicago; while in school, she also served at a small restaurant. The restaurant’s limited resources afforded Lowe a lot of independence when it came to selling wine, and she soon felt the tug toward the tangled vines of wine worship. But it was while preparing for an M.A. in Food Studies at New York University—and landing a job at Café Gray
—where Lowe really got her start in wine. Café Gray
led to jobs at both the Mandarin Oriental NYC and Gordon Ramsay
at The London Hotel.
Eager student Lowe earned an advanced certificate from the International Wine Center; she also completed a 20-week viniculture course through the American Sommelier Association. But bottle ambition bid her to pack her bags and make a beeline for the hub of wine love: Napa, California.
In Yountville, she served as a sommelier at Thomas Keller’s Michelin-rated Bouchon
and trained at The French Laundry
. Finally back in Chicago, Lowe is the director of wine and spirits at Trump International Hotel & Tower, overseeing all wine management at the hotel’s properties, including fine-dining, restaurant-on-a-cloud Sixteen
. Her wine acumen has been awarded with the Rudd Scholarship for top scores on the Advanced Exam from the Court of Master Sommeliers, and in 2010, Lowe won the top prize at the Ruinart Chardonnay competition hosted by Ruinart and the Guild of Sommeliers.
Interview with Rachael Lowe of Sixteen - Chicago ILAntoinette Bruno:
Where have you worked?
Chicago, New York, and Napa. And I worked to get a graduate degree in Food Studies from NYU.
How did you develop an interest in wine?
I started working in a lot of different restaurants in Chicago. Restaurants have always been a passion for me. O’Brian’s
—now closed—was a really cool restaurant; everyone got along really well. There were only three servers, and we all sold wine ourselves. We were self educating, taking classes on wine, and reading books.
Where did it go from there?
I started really gravitating toward wine, and I was lucky enough to apply at a restaurant called Café Gray
. I needed an in at a restaurant as a sommelier. It was my first official wine job, around six years ago. They're now closed. I also worked at Gordon Ramsay
for about one and a half years, and then worked the Thomas Keller Group in Napa.
Describe your fondest wine memory.
In terms of a pairing, there was a truffled custard egg at The French Laundry
with a veal gelée that was really amazing with an aged Madeira. The nuttiness of the Madeira with the truffles.
When are you taking your Master Sommelier Certification?
July 24 is the Masters date.
What’s your philosophy on food and wine? How do you go about your pairings?
Sometimes I like to contrast; sometimes I like the flavors to be completely harmonious. I like to try and think out of the box. We don't do cocktail pairings here or things like that. I try to do sake pairings, although here we haven't done that in a while either. I think that classic pairings are to be respected, as well.
Does the tasting reflect Old World or New World pairings, or a mix?
They were predominately Old World wines, wines that are really dear to my heart. The wines are really beautiful. I realized that they were from the same region—the Rhone Valley—and I was like, “Oh no!” But then I thought that these are really dear to me. The list I inherited is also really heavy on Old Word wines. I wanted to even out the list and make it more evenly divided between Old World and New World. As I’ve been buying, I’ve been bringing in small world production stuff. If [diners] are adventurous enough to do a pairing, I'll bring them something from a teeny tiny producer.
What percentage of your diners do pairings?
About 25 to 30 percent. We do a blind tasting, eight to nine courses, chef's choice; we also do a five course that we print out on a nightly basis.
Do you have a good system from preserving wines?
We do have enough pairings that I'll do a bottle between two nights. I'll probably open fewer bottles in January and February, but in the busy season I know that it'll go to good use. There’s also staff education; we want everyone working with us to be savvy.
What are you collecting personally?
Rhone, Northern Italy, anywhere in France, really. But I've really been drinking it all. I definitely gravitate towards France and Italy.
Have you recently had any exciting food anywhere?
RL: Kith and Kin
. Andrew Brochu is an amazing chef; he's so talented. You leave feeling healthier, somehow. And Schwa
. I haven't had the chance to go to Alinea
yet. I love Grant Achatz. I actually love the food at The Bristol
We had some great pairings at Graham Elliot
That's my boyfriend [Sommelier Michael Simon, formerly of Graham Elliot
]. He's getting so into it, pairing flavors with cocktails and liqueurs. I guess there's no reason I couldn't do that here.
Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?
I'd like to do something more in the direction of Emily Wines. Something like that would be really amazing; a consulting business would be really interesting to have. I really want to be able to travel.