One fall Thursday evening, when the wind whipped and the leaves whirled, this reporter visited two area events where citizens were adjusting to the seasonal change with wine tastings. The first occurred at the Binny’s in Elmwood Park, a huge, well-lit North Avenue store just two blocks west of Harlem. The room buzzed with anticipation of a new fall collection of reds and whites from the Southern Hemisphere. The countries of Chile, Argentina, Australia and South Africa were well represented.

Buckets were available for aficionados to spit their unswallowed sips and dump their rinses. Attendees who participated in these rituals were treated like aristocrats. Conversations swirled about what side of the hill the grapes were grown on, how much lime was in the soil, and how many months in oak barrels did the wine rest. There were old friends there staffing the tables that included Binny’s managers, one vineyard owner and representatives of some of the best of the world’s vineyards. Listening to them spin stories of Argentinean wine dynasties that seem to have their reach in every region, Chilean environmentalists on a mission and South African entrepreneurs who wanted the world to taste the best of the post-apartheid grapes was right up my alley. There was the high-toned acidity of South Africa’s “Cederberg Chenin Blanc” found north of Cape Town. There was Australia’s “Mitolo Jester Shiraz” with its big, rustic style thanks to a proud Italian family that loved that folks often mistook their wine for Merlot. There was “Tikal Patriota,” a soothingly, smooth wine connected by six degrees of separation to the famous Catania family. There was Chile’s “Santa Rita Camenera Medalla Real,” which elevated palettes after 10 months in French oak. Lastly, there was la grande dame — “Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Reserve.” It received rave reviews from servers and sippers alike. Bravo!

The next stop in this drum-beating tasting tour was Oak Park’s Unity Temple where a fundraiser was being held offering fine wine, chocolate and fashion. Sponsored by the Marion Street Cheese Market, Takara’s and the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, one was easily seduced by “Casa de Campo 2009 Malbec” with its bright flavors that go well with the locally made “Katherine Anne Raspberry Balsamic Caramels.” I don’t even like raspberry, but I adored this delectable candy. There was the “Ruins Chardonnay,” which was a South African blend of Chardonnay and Viognier grapes with orange blossom notes. There was even “Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Beer,” a seasonal favorite that I tried not to like, but even it grew on me. Then there was the coup de grace, a cone-shaped Ancho chile chocolate called “Knipschiltd Patricia.” I ate the last one and did not feel the least bit guilty. All of these goodies are available at the Marion Street Cheese Market, 100 S. Marion.

When I asked a Unity Temple Restoration Foundation board member, architect Joan Suchomel, on the importance of this event, she said, “It’s about making connections and bringing awareness about these businesses and Unity Temple with the help of chocolate and wine.”

The other featured business was an African-American designer who goes simply by one name – “Takara.” According to this brilliant entrepreneur (who is opening another Oak Park shop to be managed by her daughter), “Unity Temple is a landmark. Anything I can do, I will do, which is why I designed a special line of clothing for this event with red wine colors and chocolate hues to take us into the holiday season. Peek at this special collection at our main store at 123 N. Marion.”

Stan West, an Oak Parker for 16 years, is a former foreign correspondent for Pacific News Service. He is an author, educator, filmmaker and human rightsactivist. But his favorite job, he says, is being a parent.

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