Three Thoughts on the Latest Wine Spectator (Aug. 31, 2010)

It’s the “Best Restaurants for Wine Lovers” issue with a directory of all their award winners. I don’t want to rehash the legitimate questions about the level of scrutiny (or lack thereof) applied to these awards. I just want to take them at face value and make some observations.

1. Apparently, you can’t have a best-of-the-best wine programs without strength in Bordeaux. Of the 75 Grand Award winners around the world — the three glass ratings — only one doesn’t have Bordeaux (or France, generally) among the “wine strengths” listed in it’s profile. The sole exception to the rule is Del Posto, whose strengths are listed as Italy and Champagne.

More intriguing to me are the “Best of Award of Excellence” winners (what an awkward name) — the two glass ratings — that have a more interesting or unexpected emphasis:

  • Everest (Chicago): Alsace
  • Salpicón (Chicago): a “comtemporary Mexican” restaurant with strengths in California, Spain, Austria and Italy.
  • Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas): a Thai restaurant with strengths in Germany and France.
  • Hearth (NYC): wine strengths listed as “International” – I can imagine the editor reviewing their geeky-cool list, throwing his/her hands up in dismay and saying let’s just call it “International”
  • Telepan (NYC): wine strengths include the Loire, in addition to California, Italy and Burgundy.
  • Bleeding Heart (London): a contemporary French restaurant with strength in New Zealand wines (and French)
  • Deli Swiss (Dominican Republic): a “French/Caribbean” restaurant with wine strengths in Spain, France, Chile and Argentina

2. There are no two or three glass winners here in Austin, Texas. That means we’re trailing noted culinary hotspots like:

  • Pittsboro, NC (Fearrington House Restaurant)
  • Moose, WY (Dornan’s)
  • Iowa City, IA (Chef’s Table)
  • Shepardstown, WV (Bavarian Inn)
  • Hattiesburg, MS (Crescent City Grill)
  • Anchorage, AK (The Crow’s Nest and Marx Bros. Cafe)

3. Outside of the restaurant awards section, I was struck by this while flipping through the reviews of new releases… I really need to start paying more attention to Austrian wines. There are tons of Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners rated Outstanding (90-94) in the under $30 price range. Producers: Johann Donabaum, Knoll, Gritsch Mauritiushuf, Petra Unger, Rainer Wess.

8 comments to Three Thoughts on the Latest Wine Spectator (Aug. 31, 2010)

  • Love the post. Let’s face it, when have you gone to a restaurant in Austin and had your socks blown off with an obscure or extensive wine list? I have not…

    Now in my travels within the wine world, I have traveled to some unlikely places where the wine lists have been quite amazing. For example Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa. Tampa in my opinion lacks a lot of personality. I liken Tampa to Ft. Worth or Champaign Illinois. Either a college town or a summer landing spot for those looking to get to St. Petersburg. Bern’s had the most mind blowing wine list and cellar I have ever seen. Not to mention that I got a half bottle of 1961 Chateauneuf that blew my mind for $55.

    Obviously Wine Spectator has made its mistakes in the past, but generally does a good job of pointing out restaurants that deserve acclaim. I agree with you on one major point…

    I do not like the title “Best of Award of Excellence” It seems like there was too much thought in that, and perhaps a little too much wine before it was thought over…

    Drink good wine…

    Alex A

  • Jim/VINEgeek

    Thanks, Alex. Yes, Austin seems like the kind of town that SHOULD have a place with a geekster’s wine list, but I haven’t found it. (Maybe that’s a business opportunity… hmm.) Take a random page of Hearth’s list (linked above) and it would make any wine list here in Austin better.

    I’ve heard of Bern’s. Weird how these places pop up. Have you been to/heard of Billy Crew’s outside of El Paso (in NM)?

  • Thomas Matthews

    Having evaluated wine lists for our Restaurant Awards programs since the early 1990s, I applaud their steady improvement — in the diversity of the lists themselves, and the growth of wine-passionate restaurants across the country. Your observation that our Grand Awards almost all show strength in Bordeaux is accurate — there’s a reason the classics remain relevant — but in recent years it seems that Burgundy is increasingly featured. I also agree with you that our middle-tier award is awkwardly named; that’s an artifact of the way the program evolved: first came the Grand Award; then, as we expanded the program’s range, we added the Award of Excellence; finally, as we continued to grow, we felt the need for an intermediate level, hence the “Best of” Award of Excellence.

    If you know of restaurants — in Austin or elsewhere — that deserve recognition for fine wine lists, we hope you’ll bring them to our attention.

    Thomas Matthews
    Executive editor
    Wine Spectator

    • Jim/VINEgeek

      Thanks for stopping by, Thomas. Because the awards are ordinal (i.e., Grand Award > Best of Award of Excellence > Award of Excellence), one’s brain naturally assumes Grand Award = Best. But just like with 4-star restaurants, that brings certain trappings with it. Put another way, there are no 4-star taco trucks. And yet sometimes taco truck > fine dining.

      But all that is nit-picking, I suppose. Whether a Grand Award winner or a Best Of, I’m more interested in the profiles than the level of award. A great addition to the profiles would be the number of wines offered by-the-glass and the average by-the-glass price.

      Cheers,
      Jim

  • Hi Jim/VINEgeek,

    I’m so happy to see you’ve made the conscious decision to pay better attention to Austrian wines! You are absolutely correct! There are tons of Riesling and Gruener Veltliner wines that are outstanding selections and won’t break the bank. There are also lots of other grapes you may not have even had yet that just might be your new favorite! I look forward to reading your explorations in the future :)

  • Jim/VINEgeek

    Hi Constance – Yes, Austria is terra incognita for me. But I look forward to new discoveries.

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