Wine has become more important than ever to the world’s eaters, whether in South Africa, China, Peru, or the U.S. That’s my take-away from the 2016 World’s Best Wine List awards, which were released Thursday.
This is the third year for British publication World of Fine Wine’s annual restaurant wine list awards, which drew more than 4,500 entries from around the globe in 2016. Full disclosure: I was one of the seven senior judges who gave 817 of them one, two, or three stars. Guided by expertise rather than an official checklist, each judge picked his or her top three in each category, ranking them 1, 2, or 3 (the best). The numbers were tallied, and the lists with the most points won. The informal criteria that guided our assessments included diversity, quality of the wines, depth of vintages, and an individual stamp that marked the list as original and different in some way.
The number honored with three stars was 322 (up from 300 in 2015), and restaurants in 35 countries, including Taiwan, had at least one winner.
The overall global winner is Robuchon au Dôme at Hotel Lisboa, with its panoramic view of Macau, where you can sip one of 16,400 labels under its sparkly crystal chandelier and glass dome while dining on three-Michelin-starred contemporary French. Robuchon beat out Vienna’s grand Palais Coburg, the best European list, and New York’s Eleven Madison Park, 2015’s top award winner and the top list in North America (not to mention the No.3 best restaurant in the world).
Though a New York restaurant didn’t take the best of the best honors, as it did last year, the Big Apple still cleaned up, with 46 lists in the top three-star category, not really that much of a surprise to those of us who live there. London, in the runner-up spot, was way behind with only 22.
New this year was a category of five Winner’s Awards of top lists chosen by 2015’s global winner, Eleven Madison Park in New York. Chef Daniel Humm and wine director Cedric Nicaise picked five with star quality.
Only nine restaurants, including Robuchon, won the judges’ Best in the World awards. Here they are:
Best Overall Wine List
Winner: Robuchon au Dôme at Hotel Lisboa
This is a "wow" list that impresses with its depth of producers, vintages, regions, styles. Its more than 16,400 labels include all the greatest wines in the world, from Jacques Selosse single vineyard champagnes to 17 vintages of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti’s great white, Montrachet, to page after page of the best red Burgundy and Bordeaux. Want to try 1921 Château Petrus? It’s here, for only HK$550,000.00 ($70,870). grandlisboahotel.com
Best Champagne and Sparkling Wine List
Winner: Pix Pâtisserie
Location: Portland, Ore.
Modestly decorated with bare wood tables, a long bar, and red-flocked wallpaper, this wine bar wins for a third year in a row for its monumental collection of Champagnes. Despite plenty of competition, no other list equaled its selection of 250 top-grower Champagnes, from Savart, to Selosse, to rare special-club bottlings. Prices are incredibly low, with dozens of in-demand names for less than $150 a bottle. pixpatisserie.com
Best Dessert and Fortified Wine List
Winner: Robuchon au Dôme at Hotel Lisboa
For wine lovers who crave sweet German rieslings, I can’t imagine a better restaurant destination on the planet. (There are 27 pages of rare eisweins!) But this is no one-note location: Every top sauternes is here, with vintages of Château d’Yquem back to 1825, and such surprises as Philip Togni’s Ca Togni from the Napa Valley. This is where to spend your casino winnings. grandlisboahotel.com
Best by-the-Glass List
Winner: Rockpool Bar & Grill
Location: Sydney, Australia
Though many restaurants have upped the quality of their wines-by-the-glass lists, this one wins for its amazing diversity, high quality, and helpful descriptive notes. It includes many unusual ones I longed to try, such as Australian producer Schmolzer & Brown’s Pret-a-Rosé made from sangiovese and pinot noir. rockpool.com
Best Wine Bar
Winner: Terroir Tribeca
Location: New York City
Paul Grieco’s innovative downtown spot repeats its 2015 victory for its edgy selection that always tells you where the wine world is going next, as well as philosophical comments on wine and taste by Grieco. Just looking at the jazzy design and reading the list is entertainment, with comments by California Zinfandel maker Larry Turley, dubbed the “Master Blaster.” Expect the unexpected—and a long list of great riesling. wineisterroir.com
Best Hotel Wine List
Winner: The Barn at Blackberry Farm
Location: Walland, Tenn.
This is one of those soothing, relaxing places to stay, where your only anxiety being what to order from this list of stellar wines from around the world. But what stands out as the real treat here is the focus on hard-to-find small producers from California. Want to compare eight vintages of Williams Selyem’s Rochioli Riverblock pinot noir or 14 of Dunn cabernet? You can. blackberryfarm.com
Best Short Wine List
Winner: Charlie Bird
Location: New York City
The list at this trendy downtown spot reads like a New York hipster sommelier’s dream selection, all packed into fewer than 150 names. They range from Cedric Bouchard’s savory Blanc de Noirs champagne, to wine insider favorite Kalin Cellars 1995 Chardonnay Cuvee W, to a great bottle of traditionalist Barolo from Bartolo Mascarello. charliebirdnyc.com
Best Medium-Size Wine List
There are plenty of surprises to discover on this 450-label list, including a section of wines made from historic California vineyards, another showcasing wines made from one famous Napa Valley vineyard by different winemakers, and one with 50 wines for less than $50. But europhiles needn’t worry: There’s also a great selection of Italian wines. formentos.com
Best Designed/Most Original Wine List
Winner: Frasca Food & Wine
Location: Boulder, Colo.
Frasca wins again this year for its elegant, modern design and clever, innovative organization. Both make this list easy to read and easy to choose a bottle you’ll probably like. The mastermind behind it is master sommelier Bobby Stuckey, who offers a stellar mix of unusual, exotic wines and great classics, all for reasonable prices. frascafoodandwine.com
Best Airline Wine List
Airlines, too, are competing for passengers by offering more imaginative wine choices. Emirates stands out for the length of its list as well as excellent selections in both business and first class, and for its program of route specific wines. Flights to Australia and New Zealand, for example, pour the juicy, sophisticated Burn Cottage Pinot Noir from Central Otago in first class. emirates.com
Best Cruise Line Wine List
Winner: The World
The extensive offerings on this list would make any wine lover happy to spend a year on this luxury residence at sea, sipping and watching the world float by. Of course, there are requisite top Provence rosés to sip while on deck, such as the savory Château Pibarnon from Bandol, but you'll find enough super serious Bordeaux and Burgundy to please a connoisseur. And prices are, surprisingly, very reasonable.
Humm and Nicaise gave the Eleven Madison Park stamp of excellence to Atrio (Caceres, Spain), Daniel (New York), Geranium (Copenhagen), Palais Coburg Residenz (Vienna), and the Barn at Blackberry Farm (Walland, Tenn.).