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Best Wine Lists
Our annual guide to drinking well -- and knowledgeably. By Don Rockwell
Comments () | Published January 1, 2006

OUTSTANDING

Citronelle (Mark Slater). The patriarch of area sommeliers, Slater orchestrates a program with a full-time assistant, 700 selections from around the world--with strengths in Burgundy and Bordeaux--and more than 160 bottles priced $60 or less.

Maestro (Vincent Feraud). The polished, gracious Feraud runs a program with exemplary service, 800 selections spanning Italy, France, and America, and more than 120 bottles priced $60 or less.

Inn at Little Washington (Scott Calvert). Featuring an enormous list with more than 900 selections, the Inn delivers attentive service, a list with a concentration in Burgundy and Bordeaux, and more than 100 wines priced $60 or less.

Vidalia (Doug Mohr). The knowledgeable Mohr is responsible for assembling the most thoughtful, well-rounded list in town. It falls short only at the upper end and for a lack of older vintages.

LUXURIOUS AND EXPENSIVE

Taberna del Alabardero (David Bueno). Bueno's program--a comprehensive tour of Spain--features the best by-the-glass offerings in the area, superior service, and an outstanding, charismatic bartender in Manolo Gracia.

2941 (Kathy Morgan). The scholarly Morgan has recently taken the baton from Caterina Abbruzzetti, who was responsible for turning a long-neglected program into one of the area's finest.

Charlie Palmer Steak (Nadine Brown). Brown heads up an expensive, all-American program that looks beyond the Napa Valley and offers attentive service.

Marcel's (Ramon Narvaez). Despite great service, an ever-improving wine list, and an affable sommelier, Marcel's would do well to offer a few more low-priced "Easter eggs" for wine lovers to find.

MODERATE AND PASSIONATE

Bistro Bis. Michael Zakara is responsible for the wines and cheeses here, and the restaurant has a huge, well-priced list featuring interesting offerings from Alsace and Austria.

Corduroy. Chef Tom Power has one of the best and most versatile medium-size lists in town, a good by-the-glass program, and interesting, small-production digestifs.

Obelisk. An early pioneer in offering good, fairly priced wines, Peter Pastan's flagship remains one of the best places to unearth an interesting bottle of Italian wine without breaking the bank.

Firefly. Chef John Wabeck personally recommends each bottle and holds daily staff tastings of the wines on his small but well-chosen list.

L'Auberge Chez François. François Haeringer's restaurant offers a terrific list of primarily French wine with a concentration in Alsace and a fine selection of wines by the glass.

Tabard Inn. A fine little list full of bargains from Europe and the United States.

ECLECTIC AND FUNKY

Komi. Almost no Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon to be found on this experimental list, which features several inexpensive Greek wines.

Buck's Fishing & Camping. Good-value wines from regions ranging from Burgundy to Greece distinguish this small list.

2 Amys. A small, well-priced list featuring little-known Italian wines perfect for a world-class pizza restaurant.

BARGAINS

Dino. Owner Dean Gold is running the most visionary program in town, with Italian bargains throughout, and all wines listed between $10 and $15 over what you'd pay at a retail store.

The Crossing at Casey Jones. Lots of small-production wines on this inexpensive list. The 2001 Domaine Droughin Cuvée Laurène is priced at $54; the same bottle is on the list at Kinkead's for $105.

Tallula. A restaurant with a wine store, Planet Wine, attached to it, Tallula offers more wines under $30 a bottle than any restaurant in the area, not to mention 76 wines by the glass.

Evening Star Café. As at Tallula, you can walk into Planet Wine before dinner and select your wine, tell your server, and pay only $10 over the retail cost.

WINE BARS

Sonoma. A bustling scene with 40-plus wines by the glass, all well stored and served at the proper temperature.

Grapeseed. Featuring more than 80 wines by the glass, this wine bar is friendly, which almost compensates for the red wines being served too warm.

HANGING ON

Kinkead's (Michael Flynn). Long considered one of the best programs in town, today it doesn't crack the top ten. It's hampered by an antiquated, poorly organized reserve list but redeemed by excellent service.

Ristorante Tosca. Having only recently lost its talented sommelier, Tosca has an Italian list that still contains many affordable wines from lesser-known regions, as well as the heavy artillery from Piedmont.

Zola. A well-organized program with friendly service. Many of the offerings at the lower end remain unimaginative and should be rethought.

OVERPRICED

Galileo. Packed with the finest vintage Barolos, Barbarescos, and other treasures, this list is also vastly overpriced: A bottle of 1989 Chateau Brane-Cantenac "Margaux"--priced ten times its worth at $950--is one example of the traps awaiting the innocent diner.

Le Paradou. (Nicolas Rouet). Mercilessly priced with almost no entry point, all you can do is throw yourself into the hands of Rouet and hope he's in a good mood. A 2002 Coche-Dury Meursault 1er Cru "Les Perrières" actually is a good deal at $380, as the auction price for this wine has soared beyond this level.

CityZen (Christopher Hile). This wine list is a minefield, and it's easy to get blown up. Pricing inconsistencies abound, so stay at the low end, ask Hile for assistance, and it's possible you'll emerge unscathed.

Capital Grille. An enormous list, one of the city's largest, full of boring, overpriced wines.

Caucus Room. Though it treats all its customers like VIPs, the wine list is the deal breaker, featuring overpriced bottles and showing very little originality.

MIGHT SURPRISE YOU

Sushi-Ko. You might not think to drink a red Burgundy with sushi, but this surprising list might change your mind.

Legal Sea Foods. A rare example of a national chain with a thoughtful, well-priced wine list; a model for others to imitate.

Ray's the Steaks. Michael Landrum takes great care of his small selection of several dozen wines, fairly priced and chosen to match his great steaks.

Café Atlántico (Cynthia Beauchamp). A conscientious program distinguished primarily by its relatively inexpensive, lesser-known wines from South America.

Asia Nora. Several dozen well-chosen wines pair nicely with the Asian-inspired cuisine of chef Haidar Karoum.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 01/01/2006 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles