Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day season – and with Forest Park’s parade and pub crawls, it definitely is a season, not just a day – you’re probably thinking about Guinness and green. And while I have my special Shamrock shot all set for St. Patrick’s Day at the Beacon, I’ve also been thinking red – House Red, to be specific.

Despite being surrounded by all kinds of great beer at work, I’ve never developed a taste for it. I’m more of a vodka and rum girl, but I got my start drinking wine. I’ll be honest though, I started drinking wine earlier than I should have, and since I didn’t have much money my poison was “chillable red”…from a box.

But just looking at a Franzia box gives me a headache now, and I’ve reached the age where I’d like to learn more about wine: like how it’s made and how to pick a truly good bottle as opposed to buying the one with the coolest label. Fortunately, I live in Forest Park where we have all these neat little stores run by wine connoisseurs. Neb Mrvaljevic, co-owner of House Red certainly knows his wine. He’s been in the hospitality business since 1999 and says that his passion for food and wine developed “by working in first-class restaurants with great people and great chefs.”

I discovered House Red in 2007 when my foodie/chef-best friend had her birthday party there after finding out about the store through her co-workers. I went in knowing that House Red is extremely well respected among folks in the wine trade. But, at first I was nervous that, as someone who works in a neighborhood pub, and is used to drinking boxed wine, I might feel out of my element. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Neb and his colleagues are so enthusiastic and eager to share their knowledge, it’s not intimidating at all, and it’s easy to ask questions.

After my best friend’s get-together, I knew that I wanted to host one; so when we were planning my bachelorette party, it was my first choice. We had an amazing time. Even my friends who were inexperienced with wine enjoyed themselves and they still talk about it a year and a half later.

The best things about House Red are the many opportunities they provide to learn about and experience new wines: Every week they have free tastings on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. My husband and I have stumbled in on them occasionally, but recently we went specifically to check out an Italian wine maker, Ghiomo. It was a laid-back experience – I even ran into one of my customers from the Beacon – but thrilling because we got to meet and speak with the producer, who was over from Italy. Neb says he plans his tastings well in advance so that he can take advantage when a winemaker is in Chicago. He considers himself an “ambassador for small, under-the-radar wineries who practice healthy processes such as organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking.”

House Red will be adding a deli this month, so you’ll be able to purchase fine cheeses, paninis, desserts, and, of course, the perfectly paired glass of wine. If you’re a wine connoisseur or simply interested in learning, like me, I encourage you to stop in or visit and find out about their events because House Red is definitely one of Forest Park’s gems. 

• Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site