There has never been a better time or place to be a wine lover than in America in 1999, when so many restaurateurs are beating the bushes (or at least the grapevines) to bring bottles from the world's best wineries to their tables. With our first annual Best New Wine List Awards, FOOD & WINE celebrates the innovation and diligence of the men and women who create the lists. We focused on restaurants in seven cities that opened in 1998 and scrutinized their lists to determine which ones were made by real devotees and which served as truly seamless complements to their menus. Fair pricing was key, as was a good selection of wines by the glass. The following restaurants got it right.
The Elephant Walk
The Elephant Walk's exotic French-Cambodian menu includes such dishes as black tiger shrimp sautéed in coriander, fennel seeds and lemongrass. Finding wines to match required extensive tastings. "We discovered that the wines that go well with our menu are whites from Alsace and the Loire, which have a higher acid level and are judiciously oaked," says Richard Pile, the restaurant's wine director. As a result, the list features Pinot Gris (such as the 1995 Trimbach Réserve for $32.95), Rieslings and Vouvrays, in addition to the Rhône whites that are Pile's special passion. "We only mark up white Rhônes one and a half times their wholesale price, as opposed to the two and a half times markup on most other wines, because we want people to try them," Pile says. The restaurant's list also has tasting notes describing the managers' by-the-glass selections, as well as educational marginalia that cover wine basics.
Great find 1991 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc ($52.95). Powerful and exotic, this wine will open your eyes to the Rhône's fine white wines (2067 Massachusetts Ave.; 617-492-6900).