“When I’m taking wine notes, I have a shorthand. I put an ‘M’ for Matty next to a wine that’s like, That’s my shit, that’s something I really like,” says Matty Colston, beverage director at Chicago’s Parachute. “Sometimes it’s a ‘P.’ If it’s a ‘P,’ of course I like it, but that’s a Parachute wine.”
What exactly is a “Parachute wine”? To Colston, it’s a wine that can not only coexist with the menu’s bright and often unsubtle Asian flavors, but that fits his basic tenets of production, too. “A Parachute wine has freshness, it’s generous,” says Colston. “All of the other things, like acid, tannins, sense of terroir, they’re all there, but the first thing that’s noticeable is that it’s joyful, and it fits into that loud room with lots of colors and different ethnicities.”
A respected name in Chicago’s natural wine scene for a decade, Colston worked at Webster’s Wine Bar before helping that team launch Telegraph, the city’s first real hub for natural wine, in 2011. When he joined up with husband-wife chefs Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim to open Parachute in the spring of 2014, natural wines followed him there, too, though Colston says he’s not waving a flag about that fact, even at a moment when plenty of other restaurants around town are.
Since opening, the trio has been dialing in on their restaurant’s identity, in terms of both the food and beverage programs. What they originally positioned as “a neighborhood restaurant with a Korean-American menu” has evolved to include culinary influences from around the world in plates like a decadent meditation on Chinese bing bread with non-traditional touches of bacon, potato and scallion; boudin noir-stuffed mandoo dumplings; and dolsot bibim bop with tuna, preserved lemon and smoked onion. “It’s blurring the lines, and by doing that, we become the kind of restaurant that anybody can come to and anybody can feel comfortable in,” says Colston.
The wine list at Parachute has seen several iterations in its four years, as Colston has tried to determine the right course for the restaurant. His original list was broken into three sections: $35, $45, $55. He says that by taking what can be a daunting part of choosing a wine—price—out of the equation, he was more easily able to talk about the wines themselves and how they paired with the food. But little by little, the list swelled to more than 100 selections, including bottles that didn’t fit into this construct. So Colston broke up the wines into more whimsical categories (“Islands,” “Riesling + Friends”). Ultimately, though, he realized a list of this length didn’t work either—it was too cumbersome for the casual and convivial restaurant. He had to cut himself off.
Last summer, Colston again reevaluated, taking cues from what he calls “bistro-style lists,” until he arrived at the current version: a pared-down, single-page menu of about 30 wines that change constantly and are listed only by grape name and producer. “I think those are the two most important things to be paying attention to,” says Colston, who uses it as a jumping off point to talk to guests. “You give them a little and then you lure them in a little bit more.”
Colston vows that there won’t be a version 4.0 of Parachute’s wine list, but in the same breath predicts that, in the style of Paul Einbund’s The Morris, there will probably one day be an ancillary reserve list for those curious to go a little deeper. Last fall, he had a stash of wines in his cellar—ranging from Clos Rougeard to ten-year-old Nikolaihof riesling and premier cru Burgundy from Domaine Roulot—and unloaded it all on a cellar selection list. It was gone in a month and a half.
While the current short-form list certainly includes some out-there wines (like Bichi’s La Santa, a very pale red made from the moscatel negro grape in Mexico’s Baja region), Colston plays to the standards that diners have come to expect, albeit through a Parachute filter. “The by-the-glass list right now is Cava, sparkling rosé, sauvignon blanc, riesling, dry rosé,” he offers. But what’s not visible at first glance is that the sparkling rosé is actually a pét-nat made from old-vine pineau d’aunis; the “tropical, crazy acid” sauvignon blanc from La Chapiniere is as near a Sancerre as you can find in Touraine; and the pinot from Holger Koch in Germany’s Baden—not exactly pedestrian wines.
“I’m not shoving that down people’s throats,” says Colston. “I’m just trying to make things good and easy.”
Parachute in Five Bottles
Ravines "Argetsinger Vineyard" Finger Lakes Riesling Sekt
“This kind of gets lost because it’s from the Finger Lakes, or because it’s riesling and it’s sparkling… there are plenty of assumptions to make,” says Colston of this wine, which is made from grapes grown in the Argetsinger vineyard, one of the oldest in the New York state region with some vines over 40 years old. In 2013, winemaker Morten Hallgren decided use all of his Argetsinger fruit to make a one-off Champagne-method wine instead of his usual still version. The wine has 15 grams of residual sugar per liter, but “it’s completely unnoticeable because of the mousse of the bubbles, the acidity that riesling always has and the minerality that Argetsinger provides,” says Colston.
- Price: $28
- Vintage: 2013
Renardat-Fâche Cerdon du Bugey
Colston considers Bugey Cerdon to be the O.G. pét-nat. The touch-sweet, deep pink alpine blend of gamay with a little bit of poulsard is what Colston swears that, when paired with kimchi, makes “people’s lightbulbs just go off and they explode into energy.” The wine’s been a classic at Parachute since the start and makes reappearances whenever Colston is able to get his hands on it.
- Price: $22
- Vintage: 2015
Toro Albalá Fino "Eléctrico" En Rama
“This is a little different from other finos because it has a more generous nature; it has a fruit character to it because of the ripeness of pedro ximénez,” says Colston of this vivid, textured bottling. This unfortified, en rama fino from Montilla-Moriles comes from a bodega that’s been around since the 1800s. In the 1920s, the family moved production to an old power plant, hence its name. Colston pairs this with dishes that he’d ordinarily pair with riesling. “That slight oiliness in the sherry serves as a backbone for things like smoke and spice, but it has all the acid and even a component of brine,” he says.
- Price: $15 (375mL)
- Vintage: NV
Caparone Sangiovese Paso Robles
Since the late 1970s Marc Caparone (now with his son, Dave) has been growing Italian grape varieties like nebbiolo, aglianico and sangiovese, in California’s warm Paso Robles region. “The philosophy’s been low intervention and low alcohol since day one, they haven’t changed a single thing,” says Colston. “The sangiovese has that super bricky color and bright acid, with a little bit of VA. If you taste ten Caparone wines, there’s a thread between all of them.” He typically pairs it with deeply meaty, funky Korean braised goat stew.
- Price: $18
- Vintage: 2014
Cacique Maravilla Pipeño País
When missionaries from Spain landed in Chile in the late 1700s, they brought vines (pais, a.k.a. listan negro or mission, and moscatel) with them to use for sacrament wines. Today, in regions like Itata and Bío Bío, where this wine’s from, you can still find vines upwards of 300 years old. Pipeño, made from these ancient vines, is a style of wine that’s not regulated and that’s made in a very quick fashion, resulting in juicy, sometimes slightly fizzy wines. “It’s just the kind of wine that people probably shared with each other hundreds of years ago,” says Colston. “The fact that it tastes relevant to me with the cuisine at Parachute right now… it’s really cool.”
- Price: $18
- Vintage: 2016