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Another reason to drink at Spago: Sommelier wins prestigious Prix Le Montrachet

Philip Dunn, wine director at Spago Beverly Hills, wins the 2015 Prix Le Montrachet for the restaurant's Burgundy list.

Philip Dunn, wine director at Spago Beverly Hills, wins the 2015 Prix Le Montrachet for the restaurant’s Burgundy list.

(Courtesy of Spago Beverly Hills)

Phillip Dunn, wine director of Spago Beverly Hills, has been awarded the top prize in the 2015 Prix Le Montrachet. Created by Hotel Le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet in 1988, the Prix Le Montrachet is an annual award given to a sommelier working in a restaurant outside France, in recognition of his or her white Burgundy wine list.

The award is meant to gain more recognition for the white wines of Burgundy, particularly those from the Côte de Beaune. According to a news release, the winner is selected by a jury of “wine and restaurant elites” from the region, including the association of wine growers from Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault and Saint-Aubin.

Each year focuses on a different region. Last year it was Italy, the year before that Moscow and other years London, Belgium and Switzerland. This year it’s Los Angeles.

Dunn, who has been wine director at Spago for just two years, says the award is a tremendous honor and credits his entire team for the win. He was aware of the Prix Le Montrachet, but it wasn’t until Jean-Pierre Faraut, who co-created the award, came into Spago and encouraged Dunn to put in an application, that he thought about applying.

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That involved not only presenting the wine list, but also answering a questionnaire about Burgundy.

“Some of the questions were quite obscure,” Dunn said. “I remember a question about which Burgundy is mentioned in a certain novel. Or who is the largest — or smallest — vineyard owner in Montrachet. I knew the answer to that one, but not how many hectares were involved. I had to look up some of the answers.”

As far as Spago’s Burgundy list goes, Dunn admits he had a tremendous advantage.

“I inherited an amazing list from my predecessors, Christopher Miller, Kevin O’Connor and Michael Bonaccorsi,” Dunn said. “I’ve built on that by bringing on some new-wave Burgundy producers, and some older ones, too.”

His current favorites include Domaine Pattes Loup from Chablis, Boisson-Vadot in Meursault and Benjamin Leroux, former winemaker at Domaine du Comte Armand who is now making wines under his own label.

With red Burgundies, Dunn has focused more on the Côte de Beaune than the Côte de Nuits because the list already has so many great wines from Côte de Nuits.

“I’ve really pushed to bring on wines from Volnay and Pommard,” Dunn said.

Dunn said for someone unfamiliar with French wines, looking for a good bottle at a reasonable price, he would recommend wines from Volnay, Marsannay, Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rouge.

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“We carry some excellent producers, such as Bruno Clair, Joseph Roty and Domaine Leflaive, who are making great examples of the basic appellations,” Dunn said. “Marsannay and Fixin are always good places to go for entry-level Burgundy drinkers and for great value if you don’t want to spend a lot of money. I think those wines over-deliver.”

While Dunn won the top honors, Taylor Parsons of République will receive the Excellence prize. Justin Prairie of Capo was a close second. And honors also will be given to Mélisse, Patina and Bouchon.

“At end of day, L.A. is very California-driven, still, and so it’s nice to see some exposure for Burgundy at all price points,” Dunn said. “I know Taylor Parsons at République does an amazing job with that. He always has cool, interesting producers. At Spago, I try to play a little bit off of that, but keep some of the high-profile standard producers as well.”

The award will be presented to Dunn and the other honorees officially at an event at Spago on Nov. 29. For a full list of the Prix le Montrachet honorees and previous winners, visit: www.prixlemontrachet.fr.

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Spago, 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0880, www.wolfgangpuck.com.

Follow @sirenevirbila for more on food and wine.

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