The prestigious Wine Spectator Restaurant Wine List Awards have been announced for 2014.
At first glance, I thought it held few surprises: Canlis and Wild Ginger were Washington’s two recipients of the top-tier Grand Awards, given to 74 restaurants that “show an uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine program.” The 53 other Washington winners included RN74, The Metropolitan Grill, Cascina Spinasse, and some less obvious standouts like Frankie’s Pizza and Pasta in Redmond.
What got my attention, after a minute’s thought, was the restaurant that wasn’t on the list: Doesn’t The Herbfarm have one of the best wine programs around? Best Wine List in America award, Ultimate Award of Distinction, Wine Spectator’s own Guide to the Best Wine Restaurants in the World? I checked in with co-owner Ron Zimmerman to make sure his fabled cellar wasn’t running dry.
No worries. If anything, Zimmerman said, the restaurant has more wine than ever, something in the range of 26,000 bottles and 4,200 selections, enough to fill an 168-page wine list. The 9-course meals are carefully paired with 5 or 6 wines, which change along with the seasonally themed fixed-price menu, and there are other pours and super-rare samplers available nightly.
“Chateau d’Yquem in France says that we have poured more of their 100-point Sauternes by the glass than any other restaurant in the world. We also offer tastes (of) old venerable wines from Tsar Nicholas the Second’s cellar in the Crimea, 100-pt. “stickies” from Australia, Tokaji Esszencia, and a host of other amazing rarities that no one but a millionaire would actually buy a whole bottle.”
So what’s the deal? Simple: After racking up a long unbroken streak of Wine Spectator awards, Zimmerman stopped entering the contest and paying the annual entry fee.
“I just feel that we reached a point where we can be comfortable with what we do without paying $250 to an outside entity to judge our wine program… I hope our cellar speaks for itself and to our guests who visit it each evening.”
It’s a good reminder that these awards aren’t all-inclusive. The same thing happens often when I wonder why a favorite cheese hasn’t placed in a national contest, or a fantastic cookbook doesn’t receive a top award — the owners or authors simply haven’t applied to be considered.
So, as Zimmerman invites, “come by for a taste of 1795 Madeira by the glass. Or take a gander at the 1811 Tokaji Esszencia from the Year of the Great Comet. It may be the only bottle in the world of record.” Judge whether it gets your own sticker of approval.