ST. CHARLES – Uncorking its newest location, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant opened this week in St. Charles on Route 64 near the former Charlestowne Mall.
The highly anticipated launch was preceded by a sneak preview event with tours and tastings.
“The experience we’re creating for our guests is really special,” said Josh Esquivel, general manager of the St. Charles location.
Since its 2005 founding in Illinois by Tim McEnery of Roselle, the privately held business has grown to 28 restaurants and is the 31st largest wine producer in the United States. Grapes are brought in primarily from California, Oregon and Washington, and some from overseas.
Esquivel said the company produces 5 million bottles a year from its winery in Countryside, featuring about 50 varietals. They have garnered hundreds of awards, including rating 99 points for a pinot noir in the Cooper’s Hawk premium Lux line in a prestigious California competition.
Given the draw of its other locations, the latest Cooper’s Hawk has a larger footprint to reduce waiting times. A strikingly long tasting bar is off the entrance of the attractive new building, which boasts soaring ceilings and contemporary touches.
Around the corner from the tasting room is a bar with expansive windows, wine barrels above and a flower-ringed outdoor patio with tables and umbrellas. The bar also focuses on craft beers and signature cocktails.
Another patio with a roof for shade, fans for cooling and heaters to stretch the season is off the main dining room. Private dining spaces also are available.
Esquivel said the tastings are a fun way to begin a date night, followed by dinner.
Different wine styles are featured in three tastings, which range from $7 to $12 for the Lux line. Each offers eight, one-ounce pours. And people are welcome to make substitutions for their favorites.
Esquivel said it’s not an intimidating introduction to wines that capture the spirit of Napa and Sonoma in the heart of the Midwest.
“We try to make it a lot of fun in a relaxed environment,” he said.
Cooper’s Hawk also is known for the largest wine club in the United States, with 250,000 members enjoying a variety of perks, according to Esquivel. They range from wine dinners to travel destinations.
He said the restaurant’s culinary focus is to create vibrant dishes to pair with wines to enhance the flavor of each. Dining patrons are welcome to try a sample of a wine before they order it.
In an unusual touch, a barrel reserve red blend is served direct from the cask in the dining room. Esquivel compared it to a well-balanced Bordeaux blend.
To add dramatic flair to its reds, the restaurant serves each bottle in one of its proprietary decanters. It aerates the wine to soften the tannins, and allows patrons to serve themselves during the meal, said Tarina Wimmer, the lead tasting room attendant. It’s both spill-free and a lively visual.
For the sneak preview, Cooper’s Hawk’s first chef, Jose Esparza, was joined by chef Rob Hartley to introduce some of the menu favorites.
They ranged from artisan cheeses served with candied bacon to a superb shrimp and scallop risotto with a hint of white truffle oil, and Asian pork belly tostadas. To achieve the latter’s delectable texture, Hartley said the technique is the “sweet lacquer” effect of the barbecue sauce.
In the gnocchi carbonara, ricotta in the gnocchi is part of the secret to the pillowy, fluffy dumplings served with pancetta, chicken, sage and peas in a Parmesan garlic cream sauce.
To keep flavors brighter, Hartley said steak is vacuum tumbled during the marination process. A sample of center-cut New York strip with a ginger-soy glaze was accompanied by wasabi-buttered mashed potatoes and oven-roasted vegetables. Esparza said red wine is incorporated in the American dish served with Asian flair.
Noting that everything is created in-house, Hartley said special attention is paid to sourcing, including such seafood as barramundi, a sustainable, flaky fish related to sea bass.
The scallops and shrimp were paired with the Lux Sparkling, made with the champenoise method. Among the standouts for fans of dessert drinks is the ice wine produced with Wisconsin grapes harvested after the first frost.
Adjoining the tasting room is a gift shop with wine-related products, including a gourmet line paired to wines, and all the accessories right down to a Thermos-style container designed to keep a bottle at the right temperature at a picnic. The decanters are offered in both classic and modern designs. The shop also features decadent truffles, dessert treats and chocolate covered strawberries, all prepared in-house.
For information on Cooper’s Hawk, 3710 E. Main St., visit chwinery.com or call 630-940-1000.