Practically every high-end restaurant you'll ever go into has an award from Wine Spectator posted prominently on the wall. The venerable wine magazine gives out a lot of them. This year, 3,748 restaurants around the world, representing all 50 states and 81 other countries and territories, have earned Restaurant Awards.
But only some 72 restaurants across the country can boast a Wine Spectator Grand Award. It doesn't pass those out like peanuts. Only six restaurants were added to the roster for 2014, and four of them are from California.
In Northern California, the much lauded Saison in San Francisco, with one of the country’s most expensive tasting menus, got the nod. I was happy too, to see La Toque in Napa Valley added to the list. Ken Frank is one chef who’s always had a strong interest in wine. Self-taught, he was opening chef at Michael’s in Santa Monica and in 1979 at age 23 opened La Toque on the Sunset Strip. After 14 years, La Toque closed, but Frank revived the name and concept in Napa Valley when he moved there in 1998.
In our part of California, the winners are the Stonehouse at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara and the Studio at Montage Laguna Beach. Stonehouse wine director Michael Trupiano says the award has been a long time coming and he's grateful. "There hasn't been a Grand Award in the Central Coast since the Wine Cask" back in the day. The Stonehouse list of 2,100 labels has roughly one-quarter devoted to Central Coast wines. "Our strengths," he says, "are California, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone."
Writing for Wine Spectator, Gillian Sciaretta explains the award, which has been given since 1981: "Grand Award winners generally offer 1,500 or more selections, with superior breadth and depth in many of the world’s classic wine-producing regions. They have also passed a rigorous inspection that evaluates the overall quality of their wine program, cellars, service, ambiance and cuisine."
The complete list of award winners will be featured in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator (available on newsstands July 22), which also includes detailed analysis of wine list trends and full profiles of the new Grand Award winners.
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