Do you get palate fatigue from drinking the same wines over and over-at different restaurants? Is somebody secretly issuing a List of Approved Bottles? Well, here's a better source: the 10 winners of F&W's third annual Best New Restaurant Wine List awards. These lists celebrate the diversity and vitality of the American wine scene, offering creatively chosen, fairly priced, food-friendly selections. If these lists are snapshots of our tastes right now, we seem to be craving new names and flavors--and lots of them. This year's winners offer a shift away from everyday Chardonnay to a world of Viognier and Vermentino, expanding geographically as well to include selections from countries such as South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand. Several have also made big commitments to small pours: wines by the glass, half bottles and tasting samples-the better to encourage experimentation. These lists don't play it safe, and they want customers to take a few risks too.
Philadelphia AVENUE B
When Marnie Old heard that Avenue B, the newest restaurant from Meal Ticket, was going to be Northern Italian, she headed straight to Italy. Old's flight brought her to Vinitaly, the annual Italian wine convention in Verona. As the beverage director of Meal Ticket (the restaurant group that owns Philadelphia's Striped Bass and Rouge), she proceeded to taste "everything she could," she says, and contacted "every distributor that sold Italian wine in Pennsylvania." Somewhere along the way, this longtime lover of French and Californian wines became an Italian wine convert. "I realized no other country in the world was making finer wines for the dollar than Italy," she says. "But not many people know that." Which is why few all-Italian wine lists succeed. But Old, backed by Avenue B's supportive owner, took the pure-Italian plunge. To overcome possible intimidation, she devised a friendly, style-oriented list. A less weighty, traditionally made Barbaresco, for example, might be grouped under "Earthy and Old World Style," while a newer-style, barrique-aged Barbaresco might be under "Dense and Powerful." A key in the back provides a map to help customers (dining on such specialties as poussin with Savoy cabbage torta or wild boar with chestnuts and Tuscan kale): "If you like red Bordeaux, then you might like the wines on page 6."
HIDDEN GEM: 1997 Di Majo Norante Ramitello ($40). Says Old, "This red from Molise is an impressively rich, riserva-quality wine" (20 S. Broad St.; 215-790-0705).