We hope you’re thirsty—2014 is the year of the oenophile, and Wine Enthusiast‘s list of America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants caters to those looking to drink up while dining out. The focus is firmly on wine (although delicious, creative cuisine is kind of a prerequisite), and our editors scoured the nation for unique wine programs. From an obsessive collection of Champagne in Chicago to an eatery in New York City where it’s free to BYOB (as long as you’re in a sharing mood), there’s something to sate every wine lover.
5 & 10
Photo by Rachel Bailey
Wine list: “Athens is a college town, so we are blessed with a scholarly clientele that’s open and eager to learn about wines they haven’t heard of before,” says Steven Grubbs, the wine director. “It allows us to play around a fair bit and constantly rotate unusual things in.” The list is concise, at 83 wines by the bottle, but 82 percent of them are available for under $100. For by-the-glass drinkers, there are 21 selections on offer.
Wine events: Corkage is $15 per bottle.
A Voce Columbus
Photo by Eran Sung
Wine list: The list boasts more than 2,700 selections by the bottle and 29 offerings by the glass from Italy, France and the United States. The restaurant also showcases rare, large-format bottles.
Wine events: Corkage is unavailable.
Destination bottle: Cusumano 2007 Noà (Sicily)
City: New York City
Photo by Jen Britton
Wine list: The list is international, with wines from France, Italy, Spain, South America, Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovenia in addition to offerings from California and Oregon, All selections are boutique in production and are farmed sustainably, organically or biodynamically. Some 40 wines by the glass allow guests to explore new and off-the-beaten-path varieties.
Riot worthy: Rack of lamb with fava purée, spring onions, pea tendrils and scallion oil makes for an ideal wine-pairing partner.
Wine events: They charge $25 per bottle.
Destination bottle: Johanneshof Reinisch 2011 Rotgipfler (Thermenregion)
City: Los Angeles
Photo by Melanie Puerkopp
Wine list: Southern Italian wines steal the show, with more than 500 selections by the bottle and 40 wines available by the glass or as half-bottle carafes that allow for flexible pairings. Approximately 30 percent of the list comes from small California producers.
Perfect pair: Christopher Thompson, the executive chef, trained in Italy to earn his pizzaiolo certification, and he creates authentic Neapolitan-style pizza in addition to fresh pasta, house-butchered and house-cured meats.
Riot worthy: The maccaronara pasta, similar to udon, is a perfect match for Southern Italian red wines.
Wine events: Corkage here is $30 per bottle, waived with the purchase of a bottle from the list.
Destination bottle: San Lorenzo 2001 Il San Lorenzo (Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi)
City: San Francisco
Wine list: “Our wine philosophy is to focus on four items: Greek offerings, sustainable wines, breadth and value, and wine education,” says James Mallios, partner and general manager. With about 400 wines, approximately 20 by-the-glass pours, and more than 100 Greek wines, the list is both deep and unique. It eschews larger houses, like Boutari or Hazimichalis, and opts for wines from small producers like Yiannis Economou of Crete.
“Because we know that many natural-style winemakers don’t have marketing dollars at their disposal, we host lunches, dinners and cocktail parties in one of our private rooms about once a month, largely at our own expense,” says Mallios. “These events are open to a mix of press and the public.”
Perfect pair: Michael Mendel, the beverage director, “knows how to hotwire a car,” says Mallios, while the sommelier, Frankie Mace, is an accomplished musician. “Frankie’s ﬁrst job was at age 13 as the page turner for the Riverside Piano Quartet,” Mallios says.
Riot worthy: “I think one of the best items we have is our roasted chicken under the brick,” says Mallios. “It’s simple, but I think that’s why people seem to respond to it so well.”
Wine events: The restaurant does not charge corkage so long as guests share a glass of wine that’s either unique or of exceptional quality.
City: New York City
Photo by Jannie Huang
Wine list: This temple to bubbly is dedicated to Champagne and sparkling wine, with 45 offered by the bottle (and an additional 75 on the reserve list). High-quality producers and affordability are another focus, with six sparkling selections available from $8–14 a glass (bottles start at $70).
Wine events: “We usually don’t allow outside bottles,” says David Speer, the owner/sommelier. “However, if a guest brings something amazing and likes to share, exceptions are made.”
Wine list: The restaurant showcases 1,700 selections and houses an inventory of 24,000 bottles. The program leans toward California and France, with classic and emerging regions of the New and Old World also represented. “Adventure Pages” challenge customers to try new, unusual and exciting wines at affordable prices. Staff wine classes are also open to customers, along with a variety of wine dinners and events.
Perfect pair: “Chef Walter Royal appeared on Iron Chef America and won,” says Henk Schuitemaker, the wine and beverage director. “He went up against Cat Cora when the secret ingredient was ostrich.”
Riot worthy: This Raleigh dining destination is famous for aged steaks and unexpected wine matches, like barbecue pork ribs and Gewürztraminer are featured.
Wine events: The Corkage fee is $15 per bottle.
Wine list: The list leans heavily toward the Old World: Think France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Spain, with a sprinkle of domestic wines. “I like to highlight small producers who care deeply about their vineyards and understand not only the terroir, but the atmosphere as well, and who can make remarkable wines vintage after vintage because they’re truly artists,” says Helen Johannesen, the beverage director. The list offers 100 labels by the bottle and 20 wines by the glass.
Riot worthy: Veal brains with vaudovan and roasted carrots is not for the unadventurous.
Wine events: They charge $30.00 corkage fee per 750 ml bottle, with a limit of three bottles.
City: Los Angeles
Wine list: The 375-bottle list is all-Italian, with a focus on small producers that farm and make wines naturally. There are 15 wines by the glass, five of which are dessert and three of which are Chianti selections. The beverage program also includes an extensive amaro and grappa selection.
Perfect pair: Dana B. Frank, the wine director and sommelier, has worked in many facets of the wine business over the past 10 years, from importing and wholesale to retail sales and restaurants. Frank and her husband, Scott, started their own winery, Bow & Arrow, in 2010.
Riot worthy: The tuna mousse with beef tongue, fennel, mint, mustard flowers and pepper is a standout.
Wine events: Corkage is $25 per 750-ml bottle, with a two-bottle limit per table.
Wine list: The broad beverage program shows strengths in wines from Spain, Italy and South America, but “our main focus is French, primarily white Burgundy, and wines from the U.S., particularly California Cabernet and Pinot Noir,” says Todd Phillips, the wine director. There are more than 600 wines on the list, with 20 choices available by the glass.
Riot worthy: “I love surprising our guests with an amazing wine that they have never heard of, or a wine region that they have never considered before,” says Phillips. “Every time I bring out one of our older Chateau Musar reds, the guest is surprised and intrigued, as we have a nice vertical from 1998 to 2004. Whenever I mention Lebanon, the response I get is priceless. It’s the same response I get once they try the wine, an ‘a-ha’ moment.”
Wine events: The restaurant charges $50 per bottle.
Phone: (512) 394 8150
Photo by Iknow Photographics
Wine list: Small producers and eclectic picks describe a streamlined list of 25 red and 15 white wines. “I buy wines that my guests cannot go to the corner store or grocery store and buy,” says Christina “Billy” Timms, the restaurant’s general manager and beverage director. “I really like having wines on the list that many people have not heard of. We have an interesting red wine made from the grape Grignolino. It comes from the Piedmont region of Italy and has fruity aromas like a rosé, but strong acids and tannins, so it goes great with a range of dishes,” she says.
Riot worthy: The kitchen turns out daring dishes, like Brussels sprouts with duck jerky and coffee curd. And there are envelope-pushing pairings, too, like Patrick Javillier’s 2011 Cuvée des Forgets Bourgogne Blanc matched with hoe cakes served with housemade hot sauce and foie gras banana butter.
Wine events: The restaurant charges $20 per bottle.
Bern’s Steak House
Wine list: The cellar is primarily French and Californian, with depth in Bordeaux, the Rhône, Burgundy and Napa. Bern’s has nearly 7,000 selections on the bottle list, as well as 150 choices by the glass. The impressive cellar contains 100,000 bottles onsite, with almost 700,000 bottles within walking distance. Nightly tours of the cellar are offered.
Perfect pair: Eric Renaud, senior sommelier at the restaurant, developed his passion for wine during seven years in Europe as an F-16 fighter jet mechanic.
Riot worthy: “Though many people are thrilled to try some of the older vintages on our list, the most interesting items are probably the Madeiras, with different options dating back to the 19th century by the glass,” says Renaud. “Guests enjoy sampling a liquid artifact.”
Wine events: Corkage is $75 per bottle, and wines cannot be on the restaurant’s list.
Photo by Francesco Tonelli
Wine list: The list aims to be all-encompassing, from classic Old World regions to up-and-coming New World areas, offering approximately 750 options and 40 wines by the glass.
Riot worthy: “The short rib is our best-known dish,” says Jeff Taylor, the wine director. “The meat is cooked sous vide in aged beef fat for two days, and then seared on a bintochan grill. The result resembles the most luxurious, flavorful steak.”
Wine events: The restaurant charges $50 per bottle, with a four-bottle limit.
City: New York City
Wine list: The list nods toward French and American wines, with an emphasis on small independent producers that falls in line with the restaurant’s farm-to-table approach to cuisine. The restaurant carries a selection of 200 bottles, as well as 14–16 seasonally rotating wines by the glass.
Perfect pair: “Chef de Cuisine David Posey has an expansive and obscure cookbook collection, with more than 350 titles lining his shelves,” says Chris Nostvick, the wine director.
Riot worthy: The menu is highly seasonal, but a current favorite is the Schmaltz-poached chicken breast and leg with crispy lime-scented sunchokes, roasted carrots and puffed wild rice, finished with sour carrot butter and paired with a Riesling or medium-bodied white Burgundy.
Wine events: The fee is $25 per bottle, with a two-bottle max and may not be a wine on the list.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Photo by Jonathan Young
Wine list: The list is comprehensive, focusing on classic American and Old World regions with a restrained, food-friendly style. There are more than 1,400 offerings, 33 percent of which are from the U.S. Although larger producers are found on the list, the restaurant leans toward small producers, inviting guests to discover new wines, vintages and producers. There are 28 wines by the glass and 40 beer selections.
Perfect pair: “The chef-somm relationship is unique in that there are no printed menus,” says Charles Puglia, the wine director, about working with the executive chef and co-owner, Dan Barber. “This simultaneously presents both the challenge and excitement of managing the wine program.”
Riot worthy: Raw sea scallops with finely diced pig ear and caviar is a brilliant match for a young dry Vouvray. “We like to pair this dish with Domaine Huet’s 2011 Le Haut-Lieu Vouvray Sec,” says Puglia. “The natural sweetness and intense minerality of the scallops are a perfect match for the young Chenin. Somehow, when tasted together, both the wine and the food’s flavor intensify.”
Wine events: The fee is $60 per bottle, with a limit of one bottle for every two guests (the bottle cannot appear on the wine list).
City: Pocantico Hills
Wine list: The extensive cellar contains more than 18,000 bottles (comprising 2,500 selections) and is run by a team of five sommeliers. The list seeks a balance between classic growing regions, iconic brands and up-and-coming producers of Washington, California, France, Italy and Spain. Wines are paired along with the menu based on seasonality and occasion.
Perfect pair: Nelson Daquip, the wine and spirits director, is the most rapidly promoted employee in the restaurant’s history. He was awarded Sommelier of the Year at the 2012 Washington Wine Awards.
Riot worthy: Seared foie gras with pineapple, butternut squash and pumpkin seed is a favorite.
Wine events: The fee is $10 per person for every 750-ml bottle. There’s a three-bottle limit per table, and any wines brought in cannot be on the list.
Photo by Noah Fecks
Wine list: The unique program is a collaboration between sommeliers Robert Bohr and Grant Reynolds. Bohr, who has worked in some of New York City’s most celebrated wine restaurants, brought in Reynolds, a 25-year-old rising star in the wine world (he’s clocked hours at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado, and Copenhagen’s Noma). The team offers 100 wines in the $40–250 range, and features rare bottles (all bottles on the menu are also available as half-bottles).
Perfect pair: During his tenure at The Little Nell in 2005, chef and partner Ryan Hardy co-founded the 34-acre Rendezvous Organic Farm, spawning a new source for locally grown pork, lamb, goat, chicken, cheese, charcuterie and heirloom Italian produce not previously available in the U.S.
Riot worthy: The roast chicken is a fan favorite and pairs beautifully with red Burgundy.
Wine events: The corkage fee is $35.
City: New York City
Wine list: Over the past nine years, the cellar at this New Orleans institution has expanded its capacity by more than 50%. The list has grown from 700 to more than 2,700 selections, reflecting a broad collection of mature wines from every major region in the world.
Wine events: They charge $10 per person per bottle, with a maximum of four people.
City: New Orleans
Photo by Matt McGinnis
Wine list: The list of around 500 labels shows off a broad range of iconic producers from around the globe. “Wines are predominately terroir-driven and food-inspired, with an eye to sustainability,” says Paula Rester, the wine director. “There’s something for every pocketbook, with 40 wines available by the glass including rare, premium or sommelier’s choice wine by using the Coravin.”
Perfect pair: Rester and Executive Chef David Bull work hand-in-hand to create unique dining experiences—including prix-fixe, three-course and seven-course tasting menus—that feature carefully curated wine pairings (including a separate vegan tasting menu).
Riot worthy: Braised oxtail in oxtail consommé with celeriac, torn Brussels sprout leaves, fried truffled polenta and Parmesan.
Phone: (480) 883-3773
Photo by Awecollective
Wine list: The wine collection is stored and showcased on racks climbing more than 12-feet high in a climate-controlled room. The list of 400-plus selections reflects guests’ requests for wines from California (40% of the list). The remaining 60% skews Old World, with a focus on affordable selections from red Burgundy and Bordeaux. Cork also offers 35 375-ml bottles to complement its multicourse cuisine, and uses iPads with the Tastevin application to present and manage the wine list.
Perfect pair: Husband-and-wife team Robert and Danielle Morris (sommelier and pastry chef, respectively) are joined by Chef Brian Peterson at this oasis just southeast of Phoenix. Jon Doholis, beverage manager, is committed to introducing guests to wines that may be out of their comfort zone.
Riot worthy: The food offers surprising diversions from the area’s typical steakhouse fare—try local antelope, mussels with crab crostini and a caribou hot dog, or ostrich with a duck tamale and Anasazi beans.