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America's 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences

Who says you need to go to a fancy restaurant in a big city to have a memorable wine experience? F&W scoured the country to find unforgettable wine adventures from coast to coast.

Chez Fonfon

Alabama's answer to the classic Parisian bistro. At this restaurant and wine hangout owned by Birmingham restaurateur Frank Stitt, the best place to sit is at the bar, with a plate of foie- gras-and-pistachio pâté and a boutique Gewürtzraminer from the Francophile list. 2007 11th Ave. S., Birmingham; 205-939-3221.

Silversea Cruise

Alaska's best wine experience just might be off its coast, aboard Silversea cruise line's Silver Shadow. The ship's wine-themed restaurant, Le Champagne, designs each dish on its Pacific Northwest menu around a specific wine, such as rack of lamb with a 1998 Antinori Solaia. Silversea.com.

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Kazimierz World Wine Bar

Owner Peter Kasperski, who also runs Scottsdale's exquisite Japanese-inspired Sea Saw, has compiled an epic list of wines, including ones from Serbia, China and Hawaii. The list is serious, even if some of Kasperski's annotations aren't: "Monica: varietal indigenous to Sardinia and the name of my first girlfriend; both are soft, friendly and likable." 7137 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale; 480-946-3004.

Underwood Bar and Bistro

Celebrity-winemaker sightings happen almost daily at this Sonoma County spot. To sip Merry Edwards's extraordinary Pinot Noir while sitting next to Merry Edwards is a rare experience. Underwood is also popular for chef and co-owner Matthew Greenbaum's bistro dishes, like Hereford Ranch burgers. 9113 Graton Rd., Graton; 707-823-7023.

Upstairs 2

illustration The Wine House, L.A.'s mammoth store, built this new restaurant and wine bar to showcase its favorite producers. The 200-bottle list includes choices like the Sonoma Coast's Radio-Coteau, paired with Mediterranean small plates. Diners who purchase a bottle downstairs pay just $10 corkage. 2311 Cotner Ave., Los Angeles; 310-231-0316.

Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen

The annual FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, with three days of cooking demos, wine seminars and tastings, is the premier event of its kind in America— and we'd say that even if it wasn't ours. Star chef Thomas Keller will be there next June to help celebrate the 25th anniversary. June 15–17, 2007; foodandwine.com/classic.

Fat Cat Pie Co.

At this pizzeria specializing in phenomenal organic pies, there are only seven toppings to choose from, including grilled eggplant. The wine list, on the other hand, has nearly 300 bottles, many of them esoteric offerings like a 2004 Verdelho from Australia's Cockfighter's Ghost. 9–11 Wall St., Norwalk; 203-523-0389.

Dino

Owner Dean Gold offers one of DC's best deals: Bottles over $50 are a third off on Sunday and Monday. The 250-bottle list has top Italian producers like Marcarini. 3435 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC; 202-686-2966.

Sushi-Ko

While sipping Burgundy and making gumbo one day, Sushi-Ko co-owner Daisuke Utagawa popped a raw scallop in his mouth and had a revelation: The wine's tannins perfectly complemented the scallop's briny flavor. The list at his excellent DC restaurant is now 90 percent Burgundy. 2309 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC; 202-333-4187.

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Captain's Tavern

With wines like California's cult-Zin Woodenhead on hand, this is not your average fish house. Owner Bill Bowers has assembled a well-priced 600-bottle list to accompany the kitsch-filled dining room's Caribbean- and South American–inspired seafood. 9621 S. Dixie Hwy., Miami; 305-666-5979.

Jiko

illustrationLook beyond the Lion King decor and you'll find America's largest restaurant list of South African wines, including hard-to-find bottles from boutique producers like de Trafford. The combination of African-influenced dishes and shockingly good wine redefines theme-park food. Animal Kingdom Lodge, Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando; 407-939-3463.

Candler Park Market

This may be the only grocery store in America that sells deli sandwiches, lottery tickets and bottles of Mantinia Tselepos Moschofilero wine from Greece. The aisles are filled with nearly 700 globe-spanning wines, from California to Romania. 1642 McLendon Ave. NE, Atlanta; 404-373-9787.

Vino

At renowned Hawaii restaurateur D.K. Kodama's Honolulu wine bar—which also has a branch in Maui—regulars come for legendary Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya's outstanding wine list and chef Hiroshi Fukui's small-plate, Italian-inspired dishes. 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu; 808-524-8466.

8th Street Wine Co.

illustrationErik and Jennifer McLaughlin are turning Boise into wine central with a new wine shop and restaurant (8th Street Wine Co.); an elegant restaurant (Richard's of Hyde Park, where most of the 70-bottle wine list is a mere $10 above retail); and a sushi spot (Taste, with 50 wines by the glass). 8th Street Wine Co., 405 S. 8th St., Suite 100, Boise; 208-426-9463. Richard's of Hyde Park, 1520 N. 13th St.; 208-331-9855. Taste, 1530 N. 13th St.; 208-336-5122.

Nacional 27illustration

Wine pairings usually jack up the price of a tasting menu, but guests at this Latin-inspired restaurant and club get a bargain on Wednesdays. That's when every course on chef Randy Zweiban's $44 menu comes with a free glass of wine. 325 W. Huron, Chicago; 312-664-2727.

Proof on Main

Wine-obsessed New York restaurateur Drew Nieporent bet on the Bluegrass State with a restaurant adjacent to Louisville's funky new 21c Museum Hotel. Guests can dine on Tuscan-American dishes while admiring (or pondering) a rotating display of provocative artwork. The well-edited 75-bottle wine list rivals the stellar selection of 40 bourbons. 702 W. Main St., Louisville; 502-217-6360.

Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits

This hole-in-the-wall lives up to its name on the weekend: On Fridays it offers free movies, along with a menu inspired by the film and wines from the rotating inventory. On Sundays a live band performs, and chef Peter Vasquez serves ethnic-themed dinners. 600 Poland Ave., New Orleans; 504-948-9111.

The Black Olive

At Baltimore's best Greek spot, authentic dishes are matched by a terrific Greek list compiled by owner Stelios Spiliadis's son Dimitris. A highlight: five vintages of Skouras Megas Oenos Agiorgitiko Cabernet. 814 S. Bond St., Baltimore; 410-276-7141.

illustrationBoston Wine Expo

America's largest consumer wine expo might also be its best wine-tasting deal. At the cavernous Seaport World Trade Center, guests who pay the $70 admission fee can sample 1,800 wines from 450 international producers (that's about 4 cents per glass!) and food by star chefs. February 10 and 11, 2007; wineexpoboston.com.

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Symons General Store

Chandler Symons has turned the basement of Symons General Store, founded by his father in a lake-country town, into one of Michigan's best wine hangouts. By day, the space is a wine store. By night, it's a dining room that holds the overflow crowds from Symons's next-door restaurant, Chandler's. Wines from his 5,000-bottle list are also available at the wine store. 401 E. Lake St., Petoskey; 231-347-2438.

Cesare's Wine Bar

The staff at this wine bar just east of the Twin Cities is willing to open any wine under $80 on the 400-bottle list for anyone who promises to buy two glasses. The selection includes many unusual Italian wines like a Rosso Sicilia Harmonium Firriato to go with the Mediterranean-inspired menu. 102 S. 2nd St., Stillwater; 651-439-1352.

Julep

A nightspot where some of Jackson's most talented musicians come to jam, eat perfectly fried chicken drizzled with rosemary-infused honey and drink stellar wines priced barely above retail. Interstate 55 North at Northside Dr., Highland Village, Jackson; 601-362-1411.

illustrationAnnie Gunn's & Smokehouse Market

Pork and wine: two of the best words in the English language. Annie Gunn's serves nearly 800 wines with a rotating menu that includes homemade sausage and artisanal bacon. The adjacent Smokehouse Market sells bacon and 250 wines. 16806 Chesterfield Airport Rd., Chesterfield; 636-532-3314.

Rainbow Ranch Lodge

At this chic Montana resort's riverside barbecues, guests can put together all kinds of pairings from the massive wine list. Pulled pork and a $3,100 bottle of Domaine Romanée-Conti—why not? 42950 Gallatin Rd., Gallatin Gateway; 406-995-4132.

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Aureole

Sommelier William Sherer, who earned his star status at restaurants like Aqua in San Francisco, is now in charge of Las Vegas's most stupefying wine cellar: the four-story, 45,000-bottle glass tower at Aureole in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The famous catsuit-clad "wine angels" and computerized eWinebook keep the 3,600 selections flowing. 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; 702-632-7401.

Lotus of Siam

An unprepossessing, off-the-Strip Vegas restaurant with possibly the best Thai food in the U.S.—and a fanatical devotion to Riesling. Co-owner Bill Chutima offers about 150 Rieslings from producers like Müller-Catoir on his 250-bottle list—the ideal wines, in his opinion, for spicy Thai food. 953 E. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas; 702-735-3033.

illustration New Hampshire State Liquor & Wine Outlet

Travelers make regular pit stops at this state-run liquor outpost on their way to New England's mountains and beaches. Located in a big red barn just beyond the Massachusetts state line, the store is renowned for its selection of quality bottles. Interstate 95, N. Hampton; 603-926-3374.

Pluckemin Inn

This re-creation of a 19th-century farmhouse was built—literally—around wine: The 15,000-bottle trove is in a three-story glass case extending through the center of the building. Drawing from 1,000 selections on his list, sommelier Brian Hider's astute "Pluckemin 100" includes special values that pair exceptionally well with chef David Felton's contemporary American menu. 359 Route 202/206, Bedminster; 908-658-9292.

Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta

Chiles are an obsession in New Mexico, and each fall the state throws a five-day festival to celebrate the harvest. Visitors can sample spicy Southwestern dishes from top local chefs like Paul Wade of Old House, paired with wines from splendid producers like Far Niente and New Mexico's respected Gruet. 551 W. Cordova Rd. No. 723, Santa Fe; 505-438-8060.

New York Wine & Culinary Center

illustrationThis new nonprofit center in the Finger Lakes brings in New York's best farmers, winemakers and chefs to lead classes and lectures. Visitors can taste wines with Goose Watch's Dave Peterson, say, or learn about raising organic chickens from Honeyhill Farms's Fred Forsburg. The restaurant highlights ingredients from New York producers; the wine list offers a rotating selection from all 212 New York wineries. 800 S. Main St., Canandaigua; 585-394-7070.

PJ Wine

This store's enormous location at the northern edge of Manhattan allows owner Peter Yi to stock the city's best wine deals and finest Spanish inventory. PJ's offerings are also available online. 4898 Broadway, New York City; 212-567-5500 or pjwine.com.

Tommaso

illustrationIt might be owner Tommaso Verdillo's arias or the red-sauce dishes that have kept this Italian joint packed for decades, but it's as likely that the wine list—filled with top Italian, French and American producers— is the draw. Thanks to Verdillo's longevity and speed at buying wines upon release, the list contains some unbelievable deals: A 1990 Roberto Voerzio Cerequio Barolo (which can run $300 retail) costs just $150. 1464 86th St., Brooklyn; 718-236-9883.

Lantern

Indian food is great with beer, and just as great with a light-bodied, peppery German red wine. Lantern offers brilliant matches like this on weekly wine-pairing menus that might feature dim sum with Champagne, for instance, or Vietnamese food with Grüner Veltliner. Late at night, wine-industry insiders hang out in the cozy back-room bar. 423 W. Franklin St., Chapel Hill; 919-969-8846.

Alana's Food & Wine

This funky mom-and-pop restaurant generously prices its entire French- and Oregon-heavy wine list at the state's lowest-allowed markup (about double the wholesale price). Chef Alana Shock's daily menus pay homage to local farmers; her husband, Kevin Bertschi, sources unusual wines like a 1994 Château Musar from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. 2333 N. High St., Columbus; 614-294-6783.

New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro

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This unassuming six-table joint is one of the West Coast's most idiosyncratic wine destinations. Owner Charlene Rollins heads the tiny kitchen, turning out refined organic dishes, while her husband, Vernon, handles the astounding 3,000-plus-bottle wine list, a 135-page ode to French wines. 2210 S. Pacific Hwy., Talent; 541-535-2779.

Plate & Pitchfork

In this series of summer dinners, guests visit a Portland-area farm, tour the fields and then eat an al fresco five-course meal with fresh ingredients. Top local chefs like Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen do the cooking and Oregon wineries like J.K. Carriere provide the drinks. These evenings sell out quickly, so make sure to book early. $95 per person; plateandpitchfork.com.

Tria Fermentation School

Jon Myerow, owner of Philadelphia's best wine bar, Tria, has just opened a wine, cheese and beer education center. Expense-account diners will be able to take a course on how to order wine in restaurants. More good news: Myerow plans to open a second branch of Tria by the end of the year. 1601 Walnut St., Philadelphia; 215-972-7076.

Castle Hill Inn & Resort

This glorious 1874 Victorian inn, set on a 40-acre peninsula overlooking Narragansett Bay, brings its guests back to Newport's Gilded Age. Beverage director Len Panaggio has built a list of worldly wines, including many California trophies, to complement chef Jonathan Cambra's modern American menu. 590 Ocean Dr., Newport; 401-849-3800.

Ted's Butcherblock

illustrationThis year-old shop is both one of Charleston's best butchers and one of its top wine stores. Weekly wine tastings are sometimes followed by owner Ted Dombrowski's demos at the two Big Green Egg smokers outside. 334 E. Bay St., Charleston; 843-577-0094.

The Corn Exchange

Chef-owner MJ Adams has had no trouble finding an audience for her cosmopolitan French-inspired dishes—but she's had a tough time sourcing great wines. Now that South Dakota has three wine distributors—not many, but a good start—Adams has been able to offer the wines she loves most: boutique, value-priced French bottlings. 727 Main St., Rapid City; 605-343-5070.

illustration Nashville Wine Auction

The 26-year-old Nashville Wine Auction may not be as famous as its Napa counterpart, which launched a year later, but it's just as thrilling—and it includes wines from around the world. Last year, a dinner involving 13 rare wines, including an 1811 Château Lafite, sold for $102,000. At the Vintner's Tasting, guests can sample six to eight premium wines for $100. 204 23rd Ave. N., Nashville; 615-329-1760.

Cowboy Steak House

Most steak houses have pricey, predictable, Cab-heavy wine lists. At this restaurant in Texas Hill Country, however, owners Lorrie and Richard Ferris offer almost 700 well-chosen bottlings—including 160 Zins—to drink with the mesquite-broiled steaks. 416 Main St., Kerrville; 830-896-5688.

Flat Creek Estate

Young Australian Craig Parker produces what are arguably Texas's best wines at this Hill Country estate just outside Austin. Visitors can sample the Super Texan Sangiovese at the tasting room's granite bar, or sit at a picnic table under the old pecan trees along Flat Creek. 24912 Singleton Bend E. Rd., Marble Falls; 512-267-6310.

The Paris Bistro

Diners hang out at this Salt Lake City bistro's adjacent Zinc Bar for lessons in food-and-wine pairing from chef-owner Eric DeBonis. His 300-bottle French- and Italian-dominated wine list echoes the menu, where wood-fired pizzas and traditional pastas join French bistro classics. DeBonis will even create a new dish on the spot to match an inspiring bottle of Château Beychevelle, for example, or a Batasiolo Barolo. 1500 South 1500 East, Salt Lake City; 801-486-5585.

Osteria Pane e Salute

illustrationHusband and wife Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin pay tribute to Italy at their Vermont pizza-and-wine restaurant, where they serve thin-crust Tuscan-style pies, regional pastas and 100-plus Italian bottles. A 2004 Abbazia di Novacella Lagrein from Alto Adige and a Quattro Formaggi pizza: the perfect autumn pairing. Upstairs at 61 Central St., Woodstock; 802-457-4882.

Mark's Duck House

Although this Hong Kong–style restaurant has a nondescript wine list, there is a good reason for wine lovers to stop by: They might find themselves digging into Cantonese roast duck next to the world's most influential wine critic, Robert M. Parker, Jr., a fan of the dim sum and cut-rate corkage ($10). Parker frequently makes the 80-mile trek here from his home in Monkton, Maryland. 6184-A Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703-532-2125.

Vavino

At this Virginia-centric wine bar, diners can pit local wines against bottlings from other regions in "Virginia vs. the World" tastings, or sample one of the rotating flights, such as "Virginia's Bold Reds." 401 E. Main St., Charlottesville; 434-974-9463.

Monsoon

Saigon-born brother-and-sister chefs Sophie and Eric Banh prepare awesome modern Vietnamese dishes like wok-seared venison with yellow curry, complemented by wine director Tim Sipes's smart list. The focus is on Asian-food-friendly white wines from small producers, with lots of terrific Pinot Blancs, Rieslings and Gewürztraminers. 615 19th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-325-2111.

Passport to Woodinville

Many wineries in Washington State's beautiful Woodinville wine country, a half-hour drive from downtown Seattle, don't allow visitors. But during the Passport to Woodinville weekend each spring, around 20 of the area's wineries open their doors to the public for tastings and events. $45, March 31 and April 1, 2007; woodinvillewinecountry.com.

illustrationDornan's

Before trekking into Grand Teton National Park, hikers load up on exceptional wine and cheese at Dornan's. In addition to renting canoes and mountain bikes, the trading post sells 150 types of cheese and 1,600 French and Californian bottlings, including top choices from cult producers like Williams Selyem. 200 Moose St., Moose; 307-733-2415.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

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