To find these 10 stellar wine lists, F&W editors reviewed hundreds of contenders from restaurants around the country that opened in 2003. A few trends were apparent. Lists appear to be ranging farther afield than in previous years, with more wines from emerging regions in countries like Portugal, Spain and Italy, often in bottlings of unfamiliar grapesTouriga Nacional, Torrontés, Bonarda. Luxury restaurants still boast high-end wine lists but now with a twist: Though they may feature trophy wines, most also offer bottles from less well-known places and names. In fact, the catchphrases of 2003 were "passionate small producers," "handcrafted wines" and "wines you won't find anywhere else."
NEW YORK CITY
Restaurant openings don't get more high profile than those in New York City's new Time Warner Center. Accordingly, reservations at chef Nori Sugie's Asiate, in the Center's Mandarin Oriental hotel, have been sought-after since its opening day. And although many diners come to gape at the 35th-floor views of Central Park, others visit to gawk at the floor-to-ceiling walls of wine presided over by Annie Turso, Asiate's sommelier. Says Turso, "Having worked for six years at Vong, I had a very good idea of what wines match French-based Asian cuisine like Sugie's: aromatic whites like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc and Grüner Veltliner, as well as reds like Pinot Noir and Rhône winesall wines based on natural fruit, not on oak." Another priority was buying wines that are ready to drink, meaning "softer wines, including Merlot-based Bordeaux and older vintages." Asiate's 350-bottle list, divided by varietal, is notable not only for its well-chosen selections of Bordeaux, Burgundy and California wines, but also for its lesser-known offerings, like artisan-brewed sake, artisanal Champagne and Riesling from all over the world. There are many potential complements to Sugie's version of Japanese cooking, which is influenced by his stints in France and Australia. To pair with his pressed suckling pig, served with pig's-trotter croquette, pig-cheek confit and an apple-based japonegi sauce, Turso suggests the 2001 Walter Hansel de la Montanya Vineyard Pinot Noir: "It has gorgeous fruit and an earthy complexity." ASIATE'S BEST DEAL 2002 Hiedler Kamptal Löss Grüner Veltliner Trocken ($32) "This Austrian white is fermented dry (trocken),and it is amazingly clean and focused. It's also a steal at this price," says Turso.