As we near mid 2012 it's high time we check in on five cities — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland — to see which restaurants are raising the bar with their new (or improved) wine programs. While some might assume that New York and San Francisco would lead the pack of forward-thinking lists, the last six months have shown that the some of the country's most innovative lists are popping up outside the big two. Here, now, a look at ten hot lists from Ambonnay in Portland, OR to Nellcôte in Chicago, to North End Grill in New York City.
Urban Union, Chicago
Chef/Wine Director: Michael Schrader
Located in Chicago's Little Italy, Chef Michael Schrader's Urban Union boldly swears off red sauce in favor of clean, market-driven small plates. The wine list also ventures outside of straw bottle Chianti and Tuscan vernaccia to include a long list of German and Austrian whites. The rest of the list's 150+ selections stay within Italy, France, Spain, and California and wear very low markups, with most selections falling right around $40. The wines by the glass offer a particular draw, with more than 30 (including more than a handful on tap) between $5 and $18/glass. The focus here is on acid and brightness and the producers who are bringing it are mostly small with an eye toward organic and/or biodynamic farming.
Standouts: Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs Brut, Vertus NV $93; Knoll Grüner Veltliner Smaragd "Kreutles" 2008 $63; Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2008 $55; Eric Texier St-Julien en St-Alban "Vielle Serine" 2009 $60