Listen. I know the pandemic has wreaked havoc on your dating life. Whether you are in a long-term, committed relationship and have ten kids or are just dipping your toe into the dating scene or simply want a night out with friends (FINALLY, FINALLY!), trying to connect in person has been a challenge. I recently visited the NEW Cooper’s Hawk location in Morton Grove, and cannot believe I hadn’t discovered this absolute gem of a brand previously. I’m here to tell you why THIS is your new Cheers locale where everyone knows your name, and how they can create a Napa-style wine tasting date night.
I had no clue what the premise was of Cooper’s Hawk. All I knew before visiting was that.. they have wine. Yep, that’s it. Founded in 2005 by Tim McEnery, an Orland Park guy, Cooper’s Hawk is based upon the belief that “food and wine hold the power to forge lasting connections.” If you know me, you know I am ALL ABOUT connections, and this brand absolutely lives up to their belief statement.
The concept of Cooper’s Hawk is unique- they have four key components to each location that set them apart from other wine-focused restaurants:
- Upscale casual dining restaurant with a comprehensive yet approachable menu
- Full-service bar complete with their own brand of wines on tap
- Private dining room offering unlimited wine packages
- Napa-style tasting room and retail shop
Cooper’s Hawk doesn’t have their own vineyards; instead, they source grapes from growers and are able to completely control the quality and taste of their offerings. Think about it- if a vineyard has an unfavorable growing season, they don’t have any choice but to make the wine anyways. If you are able to hand-select the grapes, you aren’t subject to being subject to nature’s choice on whether the quality is high or not. They source from California, Oregon, Washington, and other grape-growing regions across the country and globe to produce the optimal bottle of wine for their customers.
Their wine isn’t just mass-produced by a third party with a Cooper’s Hawk label slapped on. Since opening in 2005, they have earned over 550 awards on local, national, and international levels. They produce over 5 million bottles of wine every year to be served and sold at their restaurants. Yes, this is a major player in the wine industry- a complete hidden gem that is easily accessible to every level of experience.
The Tasting Room
Cooper’s Hawk takes the guesswork out of wine tastings. Instead of a server randomly pouring tastings of whatever they have open, carefully crafted tasting experiences are presented in an easy-to-understand format. The current tastings include Variety, Lux and Sweet.
What I love about the tasting menu is the way the profile of the wine is broken down. How many times do you taste a wine and say, “Ohhh I like this!” but don’t completely understand why? Each wine you sample is explained in incredible detail. The origin, “personality,” pairing, notes, balance of sweetness/acidity/tannin/body/alcohol, and price are all laid out in an easy-to-read format.
Tastings are $8 for standard, $11 for lux and include 7-8 different wines that rotate monthly. If you are a wine club member, a standard monthly tasting for two is included in your membership. Reservations are required to ensure that you have an attentive, conversational experience. I have been to many tasting rooms where I can barely get a question in before the staff is rushing to fill another person’s glass.
PLUS- there is no pressure to purchase bottles. If you have been to Napa and purchased ridiculously expensive bottles of wine because you felt obligated after a lengthy tasting, you are my person and will appreciate the no-pressure tastings. So, this Napa-style wine tasting date night is a low-key, inexpensive way to take a mini journey through the different styles and subtle flavors.
Pro-Tip: Schedule your tasting before dinner, then select your favorite bottle to pair with your meal!
The Wine Pairing
I remember going out on dates in my 20s, and my date picking out the second cheapest bottle of wine because a- we couldn’t afford anything more and b- we didn’t want to look like cheapasses, and c- we had no clue what we were doing.
I still have no clue what I am doing.
As I was placing my order for lunch, I noticed “bin numbers” next to each item on the menu. Unfortunately, my friend who was supposed to dine with me was unable to make it. Fortunately, the CMO Thomas Koenigsberg kindly offered to keep me company and offer mind-blowing tips and commentary through my lunch experience. I mean, did I hit the jackpot or what? His passion, interest, and overall investment in Cooper’s Hawk converted me from merely interested to full-on Kool-aide drinking superfan.
Tom explained that the bin numbers next to each item corresponded with the bin number next to each wine. Brilliant. In theory, you could plan an entire meal around one wine- pick an appetizer and main that have the same bin number, and voila! Instant success. Or, create your own wine flight around your choices and pick a different wine according to each course. This wine tasting date night is completely decoded for you.
Here is what I ate, and what wines were paired:
Pretzel Bread + Homemade Butter- um…I ate the whole thing. This is complimentary, and WORTH THE CARBS.
Thai Lettuce Wraps + Cooper’s Hawk Lux Sparkling- (I strayed from the recommendation- Riesling isn’t my jam) delicious, the wraps were served with three different types of sauces to customize to your taste
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs + Camille Proud– fork-tender and rich, the short ribs melted in my mouth and the potatoes? Heaven. The Camille Proud wine was velvety, full-bodied, and complemented the dish perfectly; I took home a bottle because I loved it so much!
Carrot Cake + Almond Sparkling- Divine, and pairing an almond flavor with a slightly nutty and sweet dessert is genius.
I can tell you that simplifying the parings makes for an ideal date. They take the guesswork out while not making you feel like an idiot, subtly suggestings items that pair well and not demanding that you buy a bottle of their most expensive vino.
The Wine Club
And yes, I am now a proud member of the Cooper’s Hawk Wine Club! I have been a member of wine clubs before and was met with lackluster bottles of wine delivered to my house that left me wondering why I signed up in the first place. They are usually incredibly pricey- $100+ per month- and offer little to no experience that goes along with your shipment. Most people who are in Napa wine clubs signed up while they were a bottle deep in Cabernet at the winery when everything seems like a good idea.
The Cooper’s Hawk Wine Club starts at $19.99 for 1 bottle of wine/month- wines can be picked up at your local CH location, or shipped to you quarterly (but most opt to come into the restaurant to pick up). In addition to the wine, you also receive a monthly tasting for two in their tasting room (if you choose a 2+ bottle/month membership). There are also discounts on wine, carryout, retail, etc…
I brought a group of friends to Cooper’s Hawk in Morton Grove after signing up for the 2 bottle club. I LOVED that I could drink one of my monthly bottles at the table and pair it with menu items! Our server did an exceptional job setting up the massive table-top decanter that truly made sharing the bottle with friends an experience.
This is a wine tasting date night that you can affordably enjoy with your partner, friends, family or work colleagues. If you live near one of the Cooper’s Hawk locations, I highly recommend joining their wine club and having something to look forward to every month.
Cheers to bringing the Napa-style wine tastings to the Chicago area, and promoting the democratization of wine!
Disclosure: I received lunch at Cooper’s Hawk Morton Grove for review purposes. All opinions are honest and my own, as always.