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).