The editors of FOOD & WINE examined a small mountain of wine lists from new restaurants all over the country in an effort to determine the 10 best debuts of 2001. For trend-spotters, the winning lists revealed a renewed emphasis on wines by the glass and, not surprisingly, a general de-emphasis on luxury-priced, trophy wines. New varietals like Marsanne, Verdelho and Albariño also appeared, joining old standbys like Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot. Each of these winning lists is the work of a passionate wine scout determined to offer diners something fresh, new, unexpected and satisfying.
New York City
With its warm wood furniture and wainscoted walls, The Harrison feels more like an updated country kitchen than a hot New York City restaurant. But country comfort with a twist of chic is the idea at work--and that includes the wine list. "We wanted to highlight smaller producers, unusual grapes and more esoteric wine regions," explains beverage director Warren Fraser. Grouped under headings such as "Light, Crisp, Floral Whites" are food-friendly varietals like Garganega and Arneis. Chef Joey Campanaro's Mediterranean-influenced American cooking includes dishes like slow-roasted monkfish with spinach risotto and pancetta brown butter, which Fraser pairs with a 1999 G. Dorigo Schioppettino "Montsclapade" from Friuli, Italy ($59). "It's an uncommon red grape," Fraser says--an understatement--"that goes well with pancetta butter." Hidden Gem: 1998 Pietratorcia "Chignole" Ischia Bianco from Campania, Italy ($39). "This seafood-friendly white has a rich, almost maderized character," Fraser says (355 Greenwich St.; 212-274-9310).
Chicago's Erawan is a far-from-typical Thai restaurant, as revealed by its handsome decor and red silk menus and its approach to pairing food and wine. Says partner and wine director Anoroth Chitdamrong, "Thai food is very challenging to match with wine, so we have to know the wines very well." The whites run mostly to Austrian and German Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner; the reds, to young, fruit-forward Australian Shiraz and Grenache. With chef Art Lee's signature Lamb Mussaman, lamb shank spiced with a sweet tamarind-chile curry, Chitdamrong recommends Dutschke's 1999 St. Jakobi Shiraz from Australia's Barossa Valley ($52). "It has a lot of berry and chocolate flavors, and not too much tannin," he says. Hidden Gem: 1998 Salomon Grüner Veltliner Kremstal from Austria ($45). "It's elegant and minerally, with a fruit-driven peach quality and a touch of white pepper, from a great producer," Chitdamrong says (729 N. Clark St.; 312-642-6888).
ST. LOUIS FISHMARKET
St. Louis Fishmarket is a classic seafood restaurant made in the mold of New York City's Oyster Bar, with a lengthy broadsheet-style menu backed by a massive wine list printed in eye-straining type. The list is heavily oriented toward California for two reasons, according to wine director Nick Floulis: "Our clientele knows more about American wines, and our staff has a personal interest in California wines." The menu sometimes suggests wine pairings for particular dishes; for example, Floulis chose the 1999 Stonestreet Chardonnay from Sonoma County ($35) to go with the house specialty FM Bucket, a kind of New England lobster boil that chef Phillip Paris cooks in white wine with garlic and shallots. Hidden Gem: 1999 Gregory Graham Pinot Noir Carneros ($46). "This small winery doesn't get much press, but our staff loves it, and they know Carneros is a great place to grow Pinot Noir," Floulis says (901 N. 1st St.; 314-621-4612).
Troquet (French slang for bistro) bills itself as a "food and wine boutique," reflecting not only its hands-on meticulousness but also its status as a different kind of wine bar. For starters, there's no bar. Customers sit at tables to order from chef Scott Hebert's bistro-influenced menu and select one of the 300-plus wines from owner Chris Campbell's list. Campbell might match braised veal cheeks with parsnip puree to a 1998 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Côtes Brune et Blonde ($55), which he describes as "perfumed, with a nice meaty character and a touch of gaminess." Hidden Gem: 1997 St. Supéry Meritage Napa Valley ($63). Says Campbell, "It's a very balanced wine from a really special vintage" (140 Boylston St.; 617-695-9463).
"I used to look at restaurant wine lists and feel that ordering a bottle was like throwing a dart at a board," says Tova Cubert, partner and wine director of Supreme. When designing her list, she opted for simplicity over mass, putting together a modest roster of 42 bottles, divided by explanatory headings and notes. The desire to keep things simple extends to chef and partner Chris Hunter's cooking, too. "There's not a lot of stuff on the plate or weird glazes," Cubert says. With a brochette of scallops and prawns with truffle butter, Cubert recommends the 2000 Forman Napa Chardonnay ($50), described on the list as "Walnuts, vanilla and pear a superbly balanced wine subtle and complex." Hidden Gem: 1999 Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses Priorat from Spain ($35). "It has loads of fruit, plus plenty of structure and tannin," Cubert says (1404 34th Ave.; 206-322-1974).
For sommelier Philippe Buttin, new in town by way of London's Mirabelle restaurant, stocking Joël's cellar was a game of beat-the-clock. "We received our liquor license three days before opening," he recalls. "There wasn't a drop of alcohol in the place." He's put together an impressive collection since then; Joël's leather-bound list runs almost 125 pages, covering the vine-bearing world, with an emphasis on France--befitting a restaurant whose chef-owner, Joël Antunes, and staff are largely French-born. Antunes, who infuses French dishes with Mediterranean and Asian influences, makes a version of beef frites--braised beef with tamarind and rutabaga--that Buttin matches with a 2000 Clos Malverne Pinotage Reserve from South Africa ($39). According to him, "It's juicy and jammy, but not overpowering." Hidden Gem: 2000 Montes Alpha Syrah from Chile ($65). Says Buttin, "Our clients love its beautiful fruit, good acidity and solid tannins" (3290 Northside Pkwy.; 404-233-3500).
"People don't often consider pairing wine with Mexican food," acknowledges Marco Colantonio, Tamayo's director of operations. Of course, he adds, "This is not a rice-and-beans-with-Corona kind of place." It's more like a sleek, spare showcase for chef-owner Richard Sandoval's bold-flavored cuisine. "The more intensely spicy dishes call for full-bodied wines that can stand up to their flavors but are straightforward enough not to confuse and camouflage them," Colantonio says. For instance, with the Costilla de Cordero, a rack of lamb marinated in adobo with huitlacoche (corn fungus), he recommends the 1998 Penfolds "Bin 389" Cabernet/ Shiraz from Australia ($48; $12 a glass): "The rich flavors of the dish are complemented by this lovely, round wine." Hidden Gem: 2001 Archery Summit "Vireton" from Oregon ($38). "It has loads of crispness and character, with fruit from the Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, and some Pinot Blanc to round it out," Colantonio says (1400 Larimer St.; 720-946-1433).
As sister to San Francisco's famed Aqua and inheritor of the dramatic space at the base of the Transamerica Pyramid, Redwood Park thought big from the beginning. The owners lured star chef George Morrone from Fifth Floor and, under sommelier Mark Mendoza, assembled a French-centric wine list that has ballooned to 700 selections, including 22 wines by the glass and 68 half bottles. Says Mendoza, "We want people to want to see what the candy is on the next page." To accompany Morrone's Tuna Foie Gras, Mendoza suggests the "beautiful, sappy" 1999 Domaine de Courcel Pommard Rugiens ($109). Hidden Gem: 1999 Charles Melton "Nine Popes" Barossa Valley from Australia ($69). "This is a classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend, but with the ripe, chocolaty, pruney fruit of Barossa Valley," Mendoza says (600 Montgomery St.; 415-283-1000).
With its chandeliers, detailed woodwork and Old World ambience, Restaurant August was a huge success right away. It didn't hurt that John Besh (an F&W Best New Chef 2001) had a strong local following--including several staff members who crossed Tchoupitoulas Street from his old address in the Windsor Court Grill Room to join him. Besh's French-influenced contemporary cuisine called for an eclectic wine selection, and sommelier Dwayne Savoie answered with a list featuring a low-end, midrange and high-end wine "from every place in the world," he claims. The 220 choices include a mix of triple-figure price tags and a number of wines under $45. Among the latter is what Savoie describes as a "full-bodied, dry and complex" 2000 Château St. Estève D'Uchaux Côtes-du-Rhône Viognier ($36)--a perfect match for Besh's gnocchi, crab and truffle appetizer. Hidden Gem: 1998 Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache from Australia's Barossa Valley ($35). "It's a really smooth, fruity, spicy wine that surprises everybody," Savoie says (301 Tchoupitoulas St.; 504-299-9777).
Given its name and its location inside Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, at Disney's California Adventure theme park, Napa Rose had its wine geography clearly defined. "I thought it might be challenging to create a world-class list with nearly all California wines," says general manager Michael Jordan. "But then I realized that there are now something like 72, 73 legally recognized viticultural areas in the state." There are wines made from formerly obscure grapes like Nebbiolo and Marsanne as well as cult heavyweight labels like Araujo, Colgin and Screaming Eagle (the 1993 runs $2,500). Napa Rose's printed list carries 330 selections, plus more than 60 wines by the glass, although Jordan has more than 950 wines in and out of rotation. Jordan likes to serve the 1999 Baileyana Chardonnay Firepeak Vineyard from Edna Valley ($56) with chef Andrew Sutton's Sea of Cortez Rock Scallops, which has a sauce that's made with lobster, lemon, vanilla essence and a little reduction of Chardonnay. "The vanilla plays off the wine's oak, and the lobster plays off the citrus," he explains. Hidden Gem: 2000 Andrew Murray "Enchante" Viognier-Marsanne-Rousanne from the Santa Ynez Valley ($42; $10.50 a glass). "It gets a floral character from the Viognier, acidity from the Marsanne and a great length from the Rousanne," Jordan says (1600 S. Disneyland Dr.; 714-300-7170).