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Five Most Exciting Restaurant Wine-List Trends

Food & Wine's Megan Krigbaum reports on the latest sommelier obsessions.

For its annual Best New Wine List Awards, Food & Wine scours the U.S. for outstanding wine programs, calling in hundreds of lists from more than 30 cities. Here are five of the biggest trends these lists revealed:

1. Sommeliers Making Wine

Sommeliers are going beyond the dining room and into vineyards around the world to make their own wines. They're even joining forces: Bernie Sun (corporate beverage director of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant group) has teamed up with Janet Pouchot (sommelier at Restaurant Daniel in New York City) and Julius Chai (maître d' at Ciao Vito in Portland, Oregon) to make a Napa Valley red called III Somms Amitié ($25), a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Their first vintage, 2005, is well-structured, with juicy dark-berry notes.

2. Geography Obsession

Listing wines simply by grape variety or country of origin is becoming a relic of the past, as sommeliers increasingly focus on the idea of terroir (which takes into account not only the location of the vines, but the soil and climate of the place where they're grown). Many wine lists now read like an oenophile's atlas: Spruce in San Francisco lists Bordeaux's obscure satellite appellations, and at New York's Anthos, Greek wines are divided by region, island and peninsula. At Baltimore's Cinghiale, one of this year's F&W Best New Wine List winners, the Barolos are listed by commune (individual town-ships within the appellation)—among them Fontanafredda's voluptuous 2001 Serralunga d'Alba Barolo ($55), from the Serralunga d'Alba commune in Italy's Piedmont region.

3. Eco-Friendly Wines

Green is going mainstream. Mistral in San Diego even employs a special symbol—a grapevine—to denote green wines on its list. A favorite from Napa's Ubuntu restaurant, whose chef, Jeremy Fox, is one of this year's F&W Best New Chefs: the floral, peachy 2005 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Gris ($30) from Alma Rosa winery, made with organic grapes.

4. Sake Explosion

Sake continues to grow in popularity, not only in Japanese dining rooms but in French and American ones, too. The wine list at seafood-focused restaurant Dallas Fish Market offers the earthy, anise-scented Fukucho Moon on the Water Junmai Ginjo ($40), from one of Japan's very few female sake brewmasters.

5. Esoteric Grapes

Gros Manseng, Zierfandler, Ugni Blanc and Xarello aren't words that roll off the tongue—nor are they grapes familiar to most wine drinkers—but there is definitely a profusion of these little-known varieties turning up on wine lists. Case in point: New York's Belcourt, where customers guests can try the citrusy, honeyed 2006 Zind ($38) from Alsace's Zind-Humbrecht, a blend of Auxerrois and Chardonnay grapes.

Published July 2008
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