The term “expert” is overused in the era of crowd-sourcing, but Derrick Westbrook comes by it honestly. The Chicago-based Certified Sommelier was cellar master at the Alinea Group’s Next and beverage director at Michelin-starred Elizabeth restaurant before he turned 30. He hosts tastings and events, and, in 2019, opened a retail shop and bar, 1340 BWS, in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.
Despite this vaguely intimidating list of achievements, in person, Westbrook is friendly and warm, with an accessible, inclusive approach to wine. “I’ve never really experienced wine in the sense of ‘this is what you should do,’” Westbrook told The Chicago Tribune in 2018. “I don’t care about traditional qualities, because I learned from my fellow somms to trust my own palate. If people like classics, that’s great, but I like pushing the envelope. I have different interests.”
We asked Westbrook which wine changed his life, and what he would pour before heading off “to the wine bar in the sky.”
What’s the bottle that made you fall in love with wine?
Muré Clos Saint Landelin Riesling Les Calcaires Jaunes (2016). There are several wines that made me fall in love with wine over and over again. This is the most recent. I was in the middle of opening a new wine shop in Hyde Park, Chicago. We were tasting 40-plus wines a day to build a wine list of over 600 wines. We had been tasting all day. The team said they didn’t want to try Riesling because they were over trying sweeter wines. I told them to trust me. This would be the first time my team tasted a dry Riesling of this caliber. After everyone took a taste of the wine the room went silent [and] smiles appeared on their faces.
You’re on death row. What’s your last-supper wine?
First course: Alex Gambal Meursault (2015). This wine is rich and creamy and round with a bit of acid. The opulence of the wine would comfort me on my impending death while the acidity alludes to my inevitable fate… Death is sharp and it stings.
Second course: Alvaro Palacios Priorat Finca Dofí (2015). This region is a bit obscure but produces super-powerful wines. This wine grabs your attention and won’t let go. It will hold me and make me present squeezing out a few more moments in this lovely life.
Third course: Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1er Cru Supérieur (1991 or 1993). I’ve never had Chateau d’Yquem older than 2000. I would want to taste both wines to do my final sommelier analysis before I move on to the wine bar in the sky. Moreover, this wine is honeyed and sweet. I’d like to drink this and think of all the great times this sweet life has given me. And I don’t have to worry about having too much sugar or the dentist anymore.
You can only drink one wine for the rest of your life. What is it?
If I could only drink one wine for the rest of my life it would be any wine made from the grape Cabernet Franc. I choose a grape rather than a wine because I’m too moody to only drink one wine. Because I picked a specific grape I can do any variation of that grape. Unoaked Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Franc rosé, there is even a Cabernet Franc dessert wine that I adore. So in true Derrick C. Westbrook fashion, I’d choose a grape.
You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
1340. This wine bar is located in the West Loop of Chicago. It is a wine bar and wine shop with a homey feel… I’m a bit biased because I own it, too.
What’s the best and worst wine on your rack (or in your fridge) right now?
Worst Wine: Plumpjack Winery Napa Valley Chardonnay Reserve. My bad wines are pretty good. This is the worst for me only because I don’t love this style of wine generally. But the quality is everything a Napa Chardonnay lover could want.
Best Wine: Serge Faust Emeraude Champagne Ardinat-Faust Blanc de Noirs (NV). You can never go wrong with bubbles, especially when you get it as a gift!
If you could no longer drink wine, what would be your beverage of choice?
Mezcal, tequila, Cognac. I couldn’t just pick one style. These three will always make me a happy camper, plus Cognac is made with grapes so… cheat code!!