Holding a Level 2 sommelier degree from the Court of Master Sommeliers, you will find Anika Ellison selecting, pairing and pouring wine at Spiaggia in Chicago, IL. With its sweeping views of Lake Michigan, spirited Italian cuisine, prized wines and imaginative cocktails, Spiaggia offers world-class hospitality and an iconic restaurant experience.
Craziest bottle of wine you have ever had?
Trying to figure out what qualifies as ‘crazy’ was actually the hardest part of answering this question! The wine that I think has one of the best backstories with a name I can actually remember (had a crazy orange wine from Croatia last week, which was delicious, but I couldn’t even pronounce the name let alone try to spell it) would be Frescobaldi’s Gorgona. Made on a prison island of the same name located in the Tuscan archipelago, Gorgona is a white wine made from a blend of Vermentino and Ansonica grapes organically farmed by the prison inmates under the tutelage of Marchesi de Frescobaldi’s enologists and agronomists. Under the aegis of true rehabilitation, they’ve created a wine of golden hue reminiscent of apricots and herbs, exhibiting luscious depth and weight on the palate.
What was your inspiration for becoming a sommelier with a focus on Regional Italian wines?
After I graduated from college and moved back home to Chicago, I joined a wine tasting club while continuing to work in restaurants. Wine and food have always gone hand in hand for me; I’ve always been drawn to Italian food and wine, so throughout my career I’ve almost exclusively worked at Italian restaurants while continuing to expand my knowledge of Italian wines with self study, both through extensive reading and industry tastings. It hadn’t occurred to me to actively seek a Sommelier position; I was actually encouraged to apply for my current job by my mentor, Cathy Mantuano, after Spiaggia’s latest renovation in 2014.
What are a few wines that you have come across that have really surprised you?
We have a Viognier/Rousanne blend (‘Livia’ from Querceto di Castellina) from Tuscany, which really threw my brain for a loop. Macvin du Jura, though not wine, was a welcome discovery in the world of dessert liquors.
Name some underrated or up-and-coming wine regions in the US?
The Finger Lakes Region in New York has been putting out some quality white wines in recent years. Michigan wineries have been making some surprisingly structured wines as well (Chateau Grand Traverse). The most unexpected have been from Texas.
What are some wines in Spiaggia’s portfolio you are currently most excited about?
We just added the 2009 Paolo Bea ‘Pagliaro’ because I had it at a tasting and I fell in love. I was already a Bea fan, the Arboreus is one of my favorite white wines, but the complexity and sheer beauty of the ’09 vintage of Pagliaro makes me giddy. We also have multiple vintages of Emidio Pepe Montepulciano I’ve been dying to talk somebody into giving a chance. Each vintage is such a complete story of time and place, true testaments to terroir. As far as non-Italian selections, in Grower Champagne, we have the Jacques Selosse 99 and 02 Millesime as well as the Initial Grand Cru. I’ve had the great fortune to serve all three and I’ve never tasted a fuller, richer Blanc de Blancs than these cult classics.