This year’s seven winning wine lists push the edges of the expected, from the super-focused (26 separate Piedmont appellations on one list) to the superluxe (a 1961 Château Latour for $11,500, for instance, on another). Yet they never lose sight of their primary purpose: offering great wines to pair with terrific food.
This elegant restaurant takes "catalan" as "a concept, not a hard-and-fast-rule," notes sommelier and partner Antonio Gianola, though the 350-selection wine list features plenty of Spanish selections. Prices are very fair (near retail): "We see wine as something that needs to be accessible and on the table," explains Gianola. There are dozens of wines for less than $60. At the upper end, the 2001 Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella, on Catalan’s list for $158, sells for $140 in stores. Gianola particularly relishes special, tightly allocated wines that may sell out quickly. Details 5555 Washington Ave.; 713-426-4260.
Best pairing The 2003 Nicolas Joly Savennières Les Clos Sacrés ($40) with chef Chris Shepherd’s Cockles with Chorizo, Garlic and Sambal Chile Broth. Says Gianola, "The wine softens the spicy notes of the chile, and it evolves and changes in a dramatic fashion over time."
Best value Nonvintage Gaston Chiquet Premier Cru Carte Verte Brut ($46). "You can taste the purity of the fruit in this top grower Champagne," says sommelier Gianola.
Addison’s wine director, Jesse Rodriguez, says his wine list is "all about relationships," referring both to his reunion with chef William Bradley—who worked with Rodriguez at Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician in Phoenix—and to the wine connections that have allowed him to put together 1,720 selections in just a few months, including six vintages of super-cult Napa Cab Screaming Eagle. But the biggest news is small: Addison’s list of 180 half-bottles ($20 to more than $2,000), divided with great geographical precision (e.g., "Département Yonne," the most northern part of Burgundy, which includes Chablis). Details 5200 Grand Del Mar Way; 858-314-1900.
Best pairing The rich 2003 Albert Grivault Meursault ($75) with Potato Gnocchi with Gouda Fondue and Cocotte of Farm Egg.
Best value 1996 Bert Simon Serriger Würtzberg Riesling ($45). "The high acidity of this mature Riesling is great with the cheese course," says Rodriguez.
"We showcase the wines and food of northwestern Italy, Piedmont and Liguria," says Mauro Cirilli, wine director of this stylish, Milanese-inspired restaurant in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. "Though we are also aware that we are in San Francisco"—meaning that Cirilli reserves 20 percent of the 250-bottle list for California labels. But there’s no mistaking the focus at Perbacco (which roughly translates to "wow"): The red wine offerings alone include 26 separate appellations in Piedmont; both the famous (1995 Gaja Barbaresco, $265) and those deserving to be more so (2004 Renato Corino Barbera d’Alba, $32). They’re generally terrific with chef Staffan Terje’s rustic cooking, based on "the richness, meat and butter of Piedmont and the seafood and olive oil of Liguria," according to Cirilli.Details 230 California St.; 415-955-0663.
Best pairing A 2004 Vietti red blend from Piedmont, coincidentally named "Perbacco" ($50), with Pappardelle with Braised Short Rib Ragù and Roasted Chanterelles. "The wine fits perfectly with the texture and richness of the dish," says Cirilli.
Best value 2005 Moccagatta Barbera d’Alba ($32). This Piedmont red has great acidity, black plum and fig flavors, and a touch of earthiness.
New York City
With the average customer spending $120 per bottle and a two-story wall of wine, Craftsteak is no humble start-up. It’s one of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s Craft collection of restaurants, and it’s a modern temple to steak. And as befits a steak house, nearly all the wine (80 percent) sold here is red. Yet, according to wine director Leo Barrera, "The favorite wine by the glass is a white, a Grüner Veltliner from Austria." Go figure. The list is global, but two preferences are apparent: American wines and Grenache and Syrah from everywhere, including the Rhône and Australia’s Barossa Valley.Details 85 10th Ave.; 212-400-6699.
Best pairingAustralia’s juicy 2005 Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz ($55) with Grass-Fed Rib-Eye.
Best value 2004 Poderi San Lazzaro Polesio ($34). An Italian red with the classic sour cherry notes and great acidity that characterize the Sangiovese grape.
Osteria di Tramonto
This bistro in the suburban Westin hotel on Chicago’s North Shore inspires its customers to criminal activity: "Guests steal our wine lists all the time," says wine director Belinda Chang happily. One of the inducements to theft is that the all-Italian, 700-bottle list offers a superb primer on modern Italian wine, including descriptions and definitions of wines and varieties from every corner of the country. There are famous wines from the likes of Gaja, as well as more obscure wines, like those from Fattoria Le Terrazze in the region of Le Marche. Details 601 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 847-777-6570.
Best pairingThe 2001 Dessilani Spanna ($45), a little-known Piedmont red with fine dark, dense fruit, and chef Rick Tramonto’s Ricky T’s Braised Short Rib with Parsnip Purée and Red Wine Sauce.
Best value 2005 Proprietà Sperino Rosa del Rosa ($30). This fleshy rosé is from star Tuscan winemaker Paolo di Marchi.
Restaurant Guy Savoy
Guy Savoy is the latest multi-Michelin-starred French chef to open a place on the Strip, as well as one of the most wine-conscious. Head sommelier Michael Shearin oversees the ambitious wine list—with some 1,900 selections, it includes verticals of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Château Lafite- Rothschild and Château Latour (a bottle of the legendary ’61 is a mere $11,500). Details Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd.; 877-346-4642.
Best pairingThe 2002 Charles Audoin Marsannay ($64), a red Burgundy, and the Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup with Toasted Mushroom Brioche and Black Truffle Butter.
Best value 2004 Charles Hours Jurançon Cuvée Marie Uroulat Sec ($57). This floral white has great acidity and plenty of fruit.
Bin 26 Enoteca
The second beacon hill venture from brother-sister team Babak Bina and Azita Bina-Seibel is a wine bar that offers 60 by-the-glass choices, along with whimsical bottle selections like Thunderbird and Boone’s Farm. But this small- producer-heavy, 200-plus-selection list is decidedly un-Thunderbird-like in its quality, with entire sections dedicated to top importers, like Spanish specialist Jorge Ordoñez and grower-Champagne maven Terry Theise—good choices for Bina-Seibel’s eclectic Italian menu. Details 26 Charles St.; 617-723-5939.
Best pairingManager Andy Cartin pairs the earthy, powerful 2004 Rainoldi Rosso di Valtellina ($29), a red from Italy’s Lombardy region, with Cocoa Tagliatelle with Porcini Ragout.
Best value 2005 Can Blau Montsant ($46). This Carignane-based Spanish red has lots of structure and intensity.
Richard Nalley, a regular F&W contributor, is a senior editor at ForbesLife.