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Tour with Confidence! Exploring the Wine Landscape with Brian Duncan

by  Greg B. C. Shaw on August 31, 2011
Tour with Confidence! Exploring the Wine Landscape with Brian Duncan

Brian Duncan is a wine expert for wine lovers, not for wine snobs. He has prestigious credentials, co-owner and wine director for Chicago’s well-known BIN 36 restaurants, but none of the attitude commonly associated with a wine connoisseur.  Duncan loves wine and likes to call himself a “tour guide” as he helps people discover their favorites in a fun, exploratory way that makes it a journey.  Whether it is describing sauvignon blanc at his restaurants or leading a tasting at an international wine event, a wine journey with Duncan will always be memorable.

A BIN State of Mind
Duncan can found at either of his two restaurants in Chicago: the original BIN 36 restaurant, wine and cheese bar and wine shop at Marina City; or the casual, bustling bin wine café restaurant and wine shop in Wicker Park.

Both are great places to dine, learn about wine and shop for bottles from around the world, including BIN 36’s own line of sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and merlot that Duncan created in partnership with Hahn Estates in Monterey and Beckmen Vineyards from the Central Coast.

But the magic of what Duncan has created -- along with proprietor Dan Sachs and chef John Caputo -- goes beyond the physical aspects of a restaurant. It’s creating a style of wine service that's informative and educational without being intimidating -- a tricky balance.  “I am excited about the enthusiastic curiosity among consumers for wine and wine knowledge.”  Duncan says that if he can “keep presenting quality wines and provide enough information about the style, variety and origin of the wine, the education happens as a by-product.”

The New Rules for Pairing Wine with Food
The old idea of pairing red wine with beef and white wine with poultry and fish has given way to a “drink whatever you like” mentality.  It's liberating, but novice drinkers can feel even more confused as they thumb through a long wine list that covers bottles from Austria to New Zealand.

At BIN 36, Duncan doesn’t want to cheapen the wine experience for diners and believes, “Language is key in helping new curious drinkers become familiar and comfortable describing and asking for what they want.” “It is possible to teach people the correct descriptors, terminology and verbiage without making it overly technical and formal.” That philosophy is a big comfort to diners at the restaurants who end up feeling confident and comfortable talking about wine.

At BIN 36 the idea is to help guests develop their own personal wine tastes. Duncan says, “We are liberal with allowing guests to sample wines to get a reference point.” Sometimes customers simply don’t know how to describe what they like. By sampling a few wines, a guest can narrow his own personal preferences. He clarifies that, “We provide two recommendations for each dish and cheese selection on our menus.” This is a method that educates in a very tangible, logical manner.

Each dish on the restaurants’ menus is paired with two different wines and diners can taste both before making a decision. Fennel-dusted scallops in a bacon creamed corn are paired with an Oregon pinot noir with bright blueberry and plum flavors that riff with the bacon or a vibrant Argentine torrontes full of white flowers and pineapple that makes the scallops shine. Reading the descriptive words about the wines on the menu and then tasting it empowers diners.

Plus, since Bin 36 offers more than 50 wines by the glass, people feel better about taking a risk and trying something new, without springing for a whole bottle of an unfamiliar wine.

Taking BIN with You

The ultimate experience is to try some of the wines created especially for BIN 36 by Duncan and his wine partners in California. California has some of the world’s best climate and soil for growing superior wine grapes and Duncan has traveled the Golden State extensively to choose grapes for the BIN 36 collection of wines.

Both restaurants have the same wines available for purchase on the premises in the wine shops. Guests can take a bottle of their favorite wine home or stop by on the way to a dinner party.  BIN 36 wines, which includes more than 25 varietals, can be ordered online through the restaurant’s Web site at, giving customers access to their wine list wherever they live.

BIN Voyage…
The idea of traveling is a natural way to approach wine. Wine is a drink of culture but also of enjoyment, two things almost synonymous with travel. Wine represents regions of the world and offers a unique taste from the place where the grapes were grown. Duncan says, “For our guests, the sheer experience of being able to choose wines from around the globe offer[s] a unique customized opportunity to experiment and literally play and learn at the same time.”

By keeping this attitude at the forefront of your wine excursions, each trip is guaranteed to bring further satisfaction and enjoyment, while expanding your knowledge and wine palate.

BIN 36 Restaurant is located at 339 North Dearborn, Chicago, IL, (312-755-9463) and bin wine café is located at 1559 North Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, (773-486-2233).

Be sure to order a copy of Cuisine Noir’s anniversary print issue on Monday, September 26 to discover Duncan’s top wine picks.

Greg B. C. Shaw

Greg B. C. Shaw

Dr. Greg Shaw is an assistant professor with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration at California State University, Sacramento, and the co-author of a book chapter, Tourism in A Bottle: The California Winescape. full bio


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