If you’re not sure whether to order merlot, malbec or meritage with your dinner, newly opened Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant is here to help.
The growing “lifestyle concept” founded in Orland Park, Illinois, in 2005 includes a Napa-style tasting room where you can sip and sample and a restaurant where each dish includes a suggested wine to take the guesswork out of pairings.
Its 47th location and only the second in the West (the other is in Scottsdale) opened Sept. 27 at 3325 W. Chandler Blvd. in front of Chandler Fashion Center.
Cooper’s Hawk is a typical restaurant, where its “modern casual dining” includes elevated yet unpretentious dishes such as pan-roasted barramundi or roasted chicken risotto.
However, at all but one of its restaurants, the only wines sold are proprietary – made by the company itself at a facility in Illinois from grapes specially sourced from partners around the country and internationally.
If you’re just starting to explore the world of wine, you can get to know several dozen solidly crafted varietals with no uncharacteristic flavors and be confident that you’ll be able to pair your meal with a wine as easily as if it were a set of Garanimals.
If you’re an experienced oenophile skeptical of this approach, you’ll be intrigued to know that Master Sommelier Emily Wines – yes, her real, given name – is vice president of wine and beverage experience for the company.
Her duties include educating staff and guests, staging events, creating certain wines and curating “flights” – tastings of multiple wines to appreciate the flavor profiles.
“For Cooper’s Hawk, it’s all about making wine approachable and accessible and fun,” Wines said. She focuses on “finding good stories” about wine so it’s not intimidating or geeky.
Wines is a rock star in the wine world.
She’s one of just two women and 15 professionals who have been awarded the prestigious Remi Krug Cup for passing all three sections – theory, service and blind tasting – of the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination on her first attempt.
She designed the graphically appealing tasting sheets, which provide a visual guide to the components of each wine.
It gives icons for the flavor profiles (for example, the riesling shows lime, green apple, honey and white flowers) along with the proportions of sweetness, tannin, acidity, body and alcohol.
“Breaking down the basic flavors of the wine is one thing, but when it comes to structure is where a lot of people find the wines they like or don’t,” Wines said. That way, staff can help recommend similar wines—for instance, those with more body and tannin and less sweetness and acidity.
Wines said the tasting sheets are designed to let people try a well-rounded variety of wines.
“Ideally, I like to throw in wines side by side that tell a little bit of a story,” she said, such as Cabernet Sauvignon on its own versus in a blend, or a chardonnay aged in oak versus stainless steel.
The Master’s Flight that she curates includes four wines on a specific theme.
The current one, “That’s My Jam,” features fruit-forward jammy wines: a primitivo-zinfandel blend, a soft old vine zinfandel, a cabernet zinfandel blend with more structure, and blueberry acai bubbly sangria.
The wine list includes basic varietals, more upscale “Lux” wines, sweet and dessert wines, other fruit-based wines such as rhubarb and passion fruit, and wine-based seltzers.
Wines also has a “passion project” for the firm making higher-end wines with a theme of female empowerment.
She’s committed to expanding diversity in the wine world for women and BIPOC people, and the Camille series (so called after her middle name) is devoted to strong characters.
The current offering, a bordeaux-style blend called Camille Proud with Joan of Arc on the label, ”is about people who have pride in their convictions and fight for them,” she said.
The Cooper’s Hawk wine club mimics a typical winery club, where members sign up to purchase one to three bottles each month and get perks such as discounts on more bottles, birthday rewards and more.
They also get access to wine club dinners, trips and other events. Wines herself even hosts immersive events, including journeys to wine growing regions – she recently went to Sicily with a group of wine club members.
“I believe that seeing the world through the lens of what you drink in each place is a great way to experience it,” she said.
That said, you don’t have to be a world traveler to appreciate wine.
Cooper’s Hawk brings an array of varietals to its tasting rooms and restaurants by pressing the grapes at or near the site of origin, then transporting the juice and doing the blending, aging and bottling on site, with few exceptions.
It works with multiple growers to ensure consistency in its products, which is helpful for learning typical flavor profiles and characteristics. This approach helps keep costs reasonable—most bottles retail for about $17 to $40, with onsite prices around $25 to $48.
“Having worked in the luxury world of wine where wines are for the one percent of the population, what I love about Cooper’s Hawk is: wine culture is for everyone,” Wines said. “It’s not a wealthy person’s game alone.”