Torrence O’Haire: "Chicago is a kaleidoscope of variety"

Torrence O'Haire, Star Wine List's new Chicago ambassador.
Andreas Grube
Published 26-September-2023
Interview / Chicago

Star Wine List is now proud and happy to welcome Torrence O’Haire, Corporate Beverage Director for the Gage Hospitality Group in Chicago, as our new ambassador for Chicago. A city he describes as "a remarkable city for food and wine".

"Now that I’ve kicked the crippling impostor syndrome, it feels great to be onboard as Chicago ambassador, haha! In all seriousness, I’m elated to be a part of a project like this that stimulates my excitement for the hospitality industry while activating my passion for writing and teaching; plus an excuse to eat out more often never hurts," Torrence says about his new role.

"Chicago is such a remarkable city for food and wine; somewhat selfishly I’m excited to use this opportunity to keep better tabs on the incredible new talent that’s constantly popping up around the area. More so, I’m honored to have a new channel for participation in the Chicago wine scene, and to do what I’m able to steer the spotlight toward the people that deserve it best."

Torrence O’Haire says that his way into the world of wine started at a young age. Raised by a coven of gardener-chefs in the woods of Michigan; even as a child, he was in awe of the discovery that different roses smelled different, that different tomatoes tasted different.

I design the cocktails, manage the wine programs, and oversee all staff education, as well as teach public and private wine classes

"And when you’re cooking, you can use those differences like paint colors to create new and exciting ideas," he says.

"Exploring the world through wine and being able to ground it in the ultimate humanistic simplicities of food, dirt, and home - that's what encouraged me to ditch the unsustainable slog of being a chef and transition into the wine world in my early 30s. I had an academic background to make the ‘studying’ easier, and a culinary background to facilitate the application."

Today, Torrence works as the Corporate Beverage Director for the Gage Hospitality Group in Chicago; a group of four restaurants of varying sizes, styles, and clientele.

“I design the cocktails, manage the wine programs, and oversee all staff education, as well as teach public and private wine classes.”

When it comes to the wine scene in Chicago, Torrence O’Haire describes the city as "an amazing place for wine, because the scene is so diverse!"

"Anything you’re really into, there's a spot that does it incredibly well. Granted, with sheer quantity there’s plenty of “white noise” mediocrity out there too, but we’re beyond lucky to have so many bars and restaurants of all levels of expense and formality that can really excite whatever passion you’re looking for at the moment."

There’s a big trend toward ‘Natural Wine Bars’ in Chicago right now, for better and for worse

Any specific trends when it comes to wine venues in Chicago right now?
"There’s a big trend toward ‘Natural Wine Bars’ in Chicago right now, for better and for worse; some spots are true delights despite the hipster-Bermuda-triangle of trend-seeking buzzwordy bullsh*t (can you tell I’m a bit of a natty-wine skeptic?)."

"More exciting in my book are the string of new Greek locations that are doing serious work to build beautiful wine programs showcasing some truly underrepresented masterpieces."

Anything you would like to see more of when it comes to wine places in Chicago in general?
"Honestly, Chicago is such a kaleidoscope of variety, that the only thing I can ask for is that it doesn’t stop!"

Anything you would like to see less of?
"Natural wine programs that refuse to admit when a wine is flawed, or tired steakhouse menus full of overwrought, overpriced California Cabernets that all taste the same."

What wine region in the world is the most interesting right now, in your opinion, and why?
"The easiest non-answer is ‘all of them’ - Oeno-existentialism: there is delight everywhere. Someone is doing something incredible, always. Twist my arm, and I’m in love with Sardinia and Sicily, not to mention the handful of exceptional new projects happening in Michigan - home state pride."

Finally: What makes a great wine list, in your opinion?
"As a lifelong educator, I can’t help but approach this question pedagogically: a successful wine list is simple. One: Have an idea. Two: Communicate what your idea is. Three: Present a wine list that demonstrates that idea effectively."

"A great wine list is one where I can understand what you’re trying to do, and can then judge it based on how effectively it does that. Frankly, it’s the only metric I can imagine using, especially when you’re comparing a cozy, super-casual corner wine bar to a Michelin-starred collection of 8,000 bottles. Are you a great example of what you’re trying to be?"

Do like the Pros - search 2500+ wine lists


Did you know?
You can search for tens of thousands of wines and see where they are listed in restaurants and wine bars.
Search for wine lists on Star Wine List