In early July, the prestigious wine publication Wine Spectator announced the winners of its 2015 Restaurant Wine List Awards. Utah restaurants garnered 17 of them. To receive a Wine Spectator Restaurant Wine List Award is quite a distinction—a feather in any restaurateur or sommelier's chapeau.
That being said, it should be noted that restaurants must apply to be considered for Wine Spectator awards and pay a $250 annual application fee. Many restaurants choose not to participate.
Wine Spectator bestows awards in three tiers: The highest award is the Grand Award, "given to restaurants that show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine program," according to Spectator. "These restaurants typically offer 1,000 selections or more, and feature serious breadth of top producers, outstanding depth in mature vintages, a selection of large-format bottles, excellent harmony with the menu and superior organization, presentation and wine service."
Only eight restaurants were given the Grand Award this year: Aux Beaux Arts in Macau; Bleu Provence in Naples, Fla.; Capo in Santa Monica, Calif.; Marcello's La Sirena in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Pearl & Ash in New York City; the Plumed Horse in Saratoga, Calif.; Print Hall in Perth, Australia; and Spruce in San Francisco.
The second award tier is the Best of Award for Excellence, which was created "to give special recognition to restaurants that clearly exceed the requirements of the [more basic] Award of Excellence. These lists typically offer 350 or more selections, along with superior presentation, and display either vintage depth, with several vertical offerings of top wines, or excellent breadth across several wine regions." Five Utah restaurants were among the Best of Award for Excellence winners: Snowbird's Aerie; Bangkok Thai on Main, Glitretind and J&G Grill in Park City; and Salt Lake City's only representative, Tuscany.
The remaining Utah restaurant winners were given the Award of Excellence "for lists that offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Typically, these lists offer at least 90 selections." The Award of Excellence winners from Utah were 350 Main New American Brasserie, Bistro 222, Cena Ristorante, Edge Steakhouse, Fireside Dining at Deer Valley Resort, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, La Caille, Log Haven Restaurant, Spotted Dog Cafe, The Mariposa at Deer Valley Resort, The Tree Room at Sundance and Zoom Roadhouse Grill.
There were—to me, at least—some insights into restaurant wine lists and how they are judged by Wine Spectator. For example, corkage fees don't seem to enter into the equation. If I were judging a restaurant's overall wine program, for example, I would tend to favor those with small, fair (or zero) corkage fees. The Utah award winners run the gamut for corkage, from a low of $10 (Spotted Dog Cafe) to $35 at the Glitretind at Stein Erikson Lodge.
It would also seem that to garner the higher awards like the Best of Award Excellence, you'd better have France and California covered. All five Utah winners showed "wine strengths" in those regions. Interestingly—and a bit surprising—in addition to California wines available, The Tree Room's wine list was recognized for its strength in Canadian wines. Huh.
I look forward to the day when Wine Spectator creates an award for distinctive, well-chosen, smaller wine lists—the type you'd find at places like Caffe Molise, Meditrina and Martine. Let's not forget the little guy.
All of the Wine Spectator 2015 Restaurant Wine List Awards will be published in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator, which will be available on newsstands July 21.