Scallops at Grove, one of the restaurants recognized for its extensive wine list by Wine Spectator this year.

Image: Chad Spencer

Wine Spectator is the dominant magazine and source of information for the wine consumer. Since 1981, it has focused on rewarding restaurants that have invested in fine wines and made wine service a dominant part of their identity.

To this end, each year, they produce a list of restaurants considered worthy of awards in three categories: Award of Excellence, Best of Award of Excellence, and Grand Award. Restaurants annually submit their wine lists for judging, and may be visited for verification. The list is comparable to a road map for wine travelers. Many wine lovers will plan trips around these restaurants, especially in New York and San Francisco. While the list originally included just American restaurants, it now encompasses international locations, as well.

The Award of Excellence this year was given to 1,673 restaurants worldwide that offer a well-chosen assortment of quality wine producers. This year’s new local recipients are The Crow’s Nest, Grove and Sage.

Will McNabb of The Crow’s Nest says the restaurant has received the award in the past but he is pleased to have it again. His wine selection numbers more than 100 and represents both domestic and foreign producers.

Former recipients that maintain current standing include Duval's, Element, Ophelia’s on the Bay, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Marcello Ristorante Italiano and Maison Blanche.

Billy Virzi, the wine director at Ophelia’s on the Bay for more than 12 years, describes his selections as eclectic, with few national brands. As a level 2 sommelier, he is proud of his personal selections, which number more than 200. Recipients last year that did not repeat this year include Summer House and Marina Jack.

The Best of the Award of Excellence, with 1,141 winners worldwide, “offer excellent breadth and depth of selections,” according to the magazine. They must have at least 350 wine choices and show a deep commitment to wine, both in the cellar and through the service team. Sarasota is fortunate to have Michael’s on East as a winner in this category.

A winner of the Grand Award, according to Wine Spectator, “shows uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine program.” Winners' wine lists feature more than 1,000 selections and “deliver a serious breadth of top producers and offer the highest level of wine service.” Only two southwest Florida restaurants hold this distinction: Bern’s in Tampa and Bleu Provence in Naples. Bern’s has held the award since its origin in 1981, and there are only 103 recipients worldwide.

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.

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