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Marcus Riley, NBC5 Street Team (video)

Watch the weekly “Word On The Street” segment on 24/7 Chicago: Secrets of the City,” at 12:05 a.m., immediately following Saturday Night Live on NBC5.

As summer starts to wind down, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jump on one of the many boats that daily work their way up and down the Chicago River for this week’s segment. The good folks at Wendella Boats (www.wendellaboats.com) were good enough to let us jump on a Water Taxi for a wonderful-looking backdrop of the city. Wendella runs a variety of boat tours, including the popular Architecture Tour, various sightseeing tours, private charters, wine tasting tours and summer fireworks cruises. Get it all in now before it starts getting a little uncomfortable out there.

Last year, one of my favorite outings was the Windy City Wine Festival — so nice, I’ll have to do it twice. It all goes down Sept. 5-6 at Daley Bicentennial Plaza at 337 E. Randolph St. Tickets are $25 and $10 for “designated driver” tickets. Binny’s provides the suds, and if I remember correctly from last year, I actually learned a little something when I was out there, as the pourers hipped me to some great new varieties of champagne.

Two food and music festivals to point out next weekend with an international flair. Check out the Ukrainian Village Fest Friday through Sunday. It takes place at the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church in West Town, 2245 W. Superior St. And the 8th Annual German-American Festival will be held in Lincoln Square on Saturday and Sunday, and it’s absolutely free. 4700 N. Lincoln Ave. is where it all goes down.

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Marcus Riley, NBC5 Street Team (video)

There’s a lot of truth to the phrase “ignorance is bliss.” If you don’t know any better, you can be perfectly content to sip and enjoy a cold glass of White Zinfandel and the financial savings that come along with it. But eventually — hopefully — a friend, mate or helpful waiter advises you that ordering such a drink in public will immediately expose you.

Such was my recent experience with champagne. It’s not that I didn’t know any better, but I never established a palate for the bubbly stuff, so it never made sense to buy an expensive bottle or glass if I couldn’t fully appreciate it.

All this changed after a recent Champagne tasting at Binny’s. Not all tastings are created equal, and I’ve been to plenty of tastings where the pourers just fed you alcohol with nothing useful to add about the drink itself.

But Binny’s $15 tastings are a great way to not only taste several products at once, but the educational component was there as well. Most of the pourers knew the champagne extremely well, and in some cases, drank along with you. Makes it funner for everyone!

I’m not the type of person to dump my alcohol after getting a sip, so needless to say, after about 30 minutes, everything was bound to start tasting the same. I needed to formulate a game plan.

What did I learn? Well, I never was never crazy about Dom Perignon, but now I know it’s just that I don’t really like Brut. But I did find a couple of amazing bottles that will be my go-to champagne from here on out. The
Moet Nectar Imperial
(pictured, right) is absolutely amazing. And on top of that, each bottle was offered at only $24.99 for those who attended the tasting, a $17 discount. I think it was a misprint, so I bought several. The
Marenco Brachetto
was also a winner — especially for those who like their champagne a little sweeter — and went for a very reasonable $14.99.

So did I develop a palate? It was hard to tell as I stumbled out of Binny’s, but over the weekend I popped open a bottle of Asti that was already in my fridge, a recommendation from a Trader Joe’s cashier. After two sips I dumped the bottle down the sink. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power.

Click here for more information on Binny’s tastings.

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