Sommelier Marie Cheslik solemnly regards her glass of pink wine. “She real pink,” she says. “Like nights at the strip club pink.” She swirls it gently with a kind of effortless confidence worthy of a sommelier who has been certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, lowers her nose, and inhales.
“On the nose I get sour gummy worms — the pink and blue ones, of course,” she says. “Those Smucker’s strawberry lip glosses, cotton candy, or a one-night stand with someone who works at the carnival.”
It’s a frank assessment of 19 Crimes Snoop Dogg Cali Rosé, and one that neatly encapsulates the ethos of Slik Wines, the wine education and event brand Cheslik co-founded in 2020 with Kyla Peal, a fellow sommelier and alum of Michelin-starred Elske in the West Loop. Together, they’ve forged a business grounded in deep knowledge layered with an irreverent, unmistakably of-the-moment vibe — which means they post their reviews, including this one, on TikTok and Instagram. Leveraging social media savvy and a robust network in Chicago’s wine community, the pair’s growing audience portends an exciting new chapter in the often overlooked scene.
For Peal and Cheslik, who are also curating the February selections for Eater Wine Club — Eater’s monthly wine subscription — Chicago’s under-the-radar status in the wine world isn’t a drawback. Rather, it’s an opportunity to ditch the exclusion and elitism too often associated with the industry.
“The Midwest is never part of the wine discussion, which makes it a great platform where anything goes,” says Cheslik. “We don’t live in Napa or Sonoma where you need to like x,y,z — there are no pretensions.”
Slik initially launched in August 2020 as a largely virtual endeavor, rolling with the pandemic punches and holding tastings and educational events for investment firms, ad agencies, and other private corporate groups. This steady income stream, along with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and greater public comfort with in-person gatherings, has allowed Cheslik and Peal to offer pay-what-you-can tastings and develop collaborations with hospitality industry friends at spots like Kasama in West Town and Lula Cafe in Logan Square. Next, they hope to start featuring monthly blind tastings at All Together Now in Ukrainian Village.
Virtual and in-person events allow Peal and Cheslik to bypass the atmosphere of snobbery that can permeate conversations about wine. “I had a love-hate relationship with wine when I first entered the fine dining world,” says Peal. “There’s a stigma attached — old school somms who operate under the impression that if you don’t know the basic terminology, it’s not worth talking about or teaching.”
Over time, however, meeting wine professionals — including Cheslik and Melissa Zeman of wine and spirits retailer Bottles Up in Lakeview — who talked about their work in a way that felt exciting rather than intimidating helped Peal see wine as a way of forging connections with patrons and as well as her peers. As she watches a rising tide of interest in wine across the city, she’s excited to see new businesses that share core qualities with her own but attract different audiences.
“I just like that there’s a lot of different ways to get to wine lately,” she says. “Slik is service based — we’re focused on tasting and education — but, say, Los Naturales in Pilsen has a different demographic: young Millennials and Gen Z who want to pour some natty shit.”
“There’s plenty [of business] for everyone,” Cheslik affirms. “The more people we meet, the more generous people are — it’s a big pond.”