Open Table, the website that acts as a liason between consumers and restaurants to facilitate reservations, has announced their Diners Choice Awards for the top 50 wine lists in America. The awards were compiled from more than 10 million reviews on 12,000 restaurants across the country.
These awards are almost certain to be greeted with skepticism by “established” dining critics, who have pretty much had an exclusive on handing out awards in the past (what do consumers know about restaurants, anyway—they just eat in them every day). One thing we don’t know is the methodology that was used to make the evaluations. For some consumers, a great wine list is determined by the number of vintages of Chateau Latour; for others, the key factor is the number of interesting wines at reasonable prices. Given that the awards were chosen by real people eating on their own dime, rather than critics on expense accounts, we can assume that the latter was more important than the former.
An interesting thing about the list is the geographical diversity of the destinations. While it’s true that Aureole from Las Vegas and New York’s Veritas is on there, many of the eateries are not located in major markets. Madison, Wisconsin appears as often as San Francisco, and Champaign, Illinois takes the place of Chicago. Beyond that, we also don’t know the size of the restaurants or the number of selections on their lists, although many of them are identified as wine bars.
One entry on the list, and an establishment I’ve frequented fairly recently, is the Morrell Wine Bar and Café in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza. Morrell is a small, intimate place with friendly service. There are currently 130 wines available by the glass, generally fresh and in good condition, encompassing just about every region, grape variety, color and style on earth. The bottle list is similarly impressive, but who needs bottles when you have choices such as those? The accompanying menu is perfect—an assortment of small plates and wine-friendly dishes. If the other 49 are like this, it’s truly morning in America.